Tag Archives: Patan

Get Old in Nepal and Become a God: Celebrating Janku

Patan Durbar Square was teeming with tourists as the mid-afternoon, autumn sun beat down on us all from above. There were people from everywhere: Spaniards with their signature (and rather eccentric) hair style of a shaved head with several long dreadlocks hanging down their backs, stodgy Germans muttering something underneath their breath about the old Nepali men staring at them and Americans, easily recognizable by their shorts, tennis shoes and starch-white tube socks pulled half-way up their shins. Everyone, Americans, Spanish, Germans, Chinese, Japanese, seemed to have a multi-thousand dollar DSLR camera hanging around their necks and everyone seemed to be snapping the same pictures: Krishna Mandir temple, the ancient bell, the skyline full of fluttering pigeons and the old Nepali “milk man,” who actually just wanders around Patan Durbar Square with two empty tin cans attached to a wooden pole, looking very “authentic” and asking tourists if they would like to take a photo of him in exchange for some rupees.

I sat on a nearby bench, curiously watching the human comedy of tourists and locals unfolding in front of me, trying to guess if the woman over there with the ridiculously revealing tank-top was Italian or Spanish, and if the guy to my left, mousey and gaunt, was from Russia or Britain. Suddenly, a racket of horns, trumpets and drums jostled me out of my languid tourist-watching session. Patan Durbar Square is never quiet, but the din was rather unusual even for this central square.

I immediately got up and went to investigate. I peered down the long “sidewalk” area that goes from one side of Patan Durbar Square to the other, passing most of the major temples on the way. In the distance I saw a mass of people, dressed to the nines, the women in sparkling saris and the men in freshly pressed shirts and slacks, carrying some sort of colorful palanquin. As the procession, complete with a full band, approached, I noticed that inside the palanquin was an old, gray-haired woman. She wore a colorful crown with turquoise peacock feathers tucked into it and a gold and red tailored sari. On her forehead was a large red tika, with smaller orange and black tikas above and below the main red one. As a number of men carried her through Patan Durbar Square, the woman lounged back on cushy pillows and peered out through sparkling garlands that adorned her seat.

“What in the world?” I wondered to myself as I snapped photos of the whole scene.

I noticed a middle-aged British couple five feet to my left who seemed to be listening to a Nepali tour guide explain what was going on. Like the good budget traveler that I am, I nonchalantly inched closer to the British couple to “accidentally” listen in on the information they were gleaning from their guide. My eavesdropping strategy worked and I learned that the procession was to celebrate this woman’s “janku,” which is a sort of special birthday ceremony that can happens five times and begins at the age of 77. This woman, it turned out, was celebrating her first janku with her family, for she had just turned 77 years, 7 months, 7 days, 7 hours, 7 minutes and 7 seconds old. Supposedly, said the Brits’ guide, this was the exact time when the procession began, which would wind all over Patan. When the 77 janku, or birthday, begins, the whole family gathers around their wise old relative, treats them to a grand procession, decks them out in fancy clothes and worships them like a god. Basically if you reach 77 and are part of Nepal’s Newari community, you’ve now reached god status.

“Wow!” I thought. “Getting old here is awesome!” I decided I wouldn’t mind spending my 77th birthday in Nepal, if, that is, I can make it that far.

I later came home to read more about the janku celebrations. The janku festivities are a unique part of Newari culture in Nepal (Newaris are considered the indigenous inhabitants of the Kathmandu region). This special ceremony can happen five times total in a life span, given you don’t live past 106. It happens for 77 years, months, days, etc…, 88 years, 99 years, and also for specific times during the 83rd and 105th year corresponding to a certain number of full moons that the person has seen in his or her life.

Here are some photos from the 77th year janku procession:
Above: The procession approaches from a distance.  At this point I could only tell that the group was carrying some sort of colorful palanquin.
Above: The army of family members parades through Patan Durbar Square with their 77-year-old grandmother.
Above: The men headed the procession.
Above: After the men came a group of women all wearing matching red and gold saris.  I’m not sure what the significance of this is, but I guessed that maybe these women were in the immediate family of the 77-year-old granny.
Above: After the red and gold saried women came another group of women wearing sparkling, solid colored saris.
Above: The women carrying up the rear of the procession.
Above: The woman of the day, carried on a colorful palanquin by her family members.

Above: This woman made it to 77 and now she’s basically a god! Awesome.
Above: The birthday girl, celebrating her first “janku” at 77 years old.  If she’s lucky, she’ll be able to celebrate 4 more of these (if she can life to 106).
Above: The procession passes by me in Patan.

Above: Patan Durbar Square after the procession passed through.

PHOTOS: Krishna Janmashtami Festival

Last Thursday I attended the fantastically colored festival, Krishna Janmashtami, also known as Krishna’s birthday party. Krishna is one of the main gods worshipped by Hindus. The festival, which began before the sun had risen over Kathmandu, was ushered in at Patan Durbar Square with much pomp and circumstance. I have been to Patan Durbar Square dozens of times, but have never seen it as packed as it was for Krishna Janmashtami. There is a Krishna temple located in the main courtyard of Patan Durbar Square, which was where most of the day’s activities were centered.

There were two main lines (one for women and one for men) that wound and roped all around the neighborhood. Everyone was standing in line to actually enter the Krishna temple to give offerings and pray. There were thousands of attendees and I predict that it probably took around five or six hours for those waiting in line to actually reach the Krishna temple. Someone had planned ahead, though. There were several Red Cross tents set up with water and food and first aid kits, which I presume was for in case anyone fainted from the heat. There were several people sleeping in the tents when I passed by.

In my quest to understand the riots and fanfare surrounding this Krishna, I asked all my Nepali friends what kind of god he is and what makes him special. I came away with a number of varying answers, but mostly I came to understand that Krishna was somewhat of a “playboy.” According to one of my sources, Krishna had 1,000 wives. While winding through the crowds at the festival, it soon became apparent that the women’s line to enter the Krishna temple was about ten times longer than the men’s line. My friend told me that many women come to this festival because they want to pray to Krishna, who is apparently regarded as a “women’s god,” and ask him for a good husband. I wondered why all these thousands of women wanted to stand in line for six hours to ask for marital bliss from a god who had 1,000 wives. I decided this was a fruitless question to ponder, so I abandoned the thought and began snapping photos of the spectacle. Here are some of my photos from the event:


Above: The women’s line was exponentially longer than the men’s line. These women probably have another two hours before they get to enter the Krishna temple.

Above: Krishna Janmashtami festival attendees carried long, fluorescent peacock feathers. The peacock feather is significant because Lord Krishna wears one in his headdress.

Above: Pigeons scatter near the front of the line. The festival was held at Patan Durbar Square.

Above: Patan Durbar Square was packed with festival attendees and onlookers. A band periodically squeezed its way through the main cobbled street, banging out a rhythm for devotees to enjoy in the sun.

Above: A woman shades her eyes with her peacock feathers. This group has almost made it to the front of the line.

Above: After the devotees enter the Krishna temple, they proceeded to go around to the back of the complex where dozens of Brahmin priests had set up shop on the ground to give out prayers and tikka (red dots on the forehead).

Above: A Brahmin priest waits to perform another ritual. On his forehead is a mixture of rice grains and red tikka powder.

Above: A Brahmin priest gives a tikka to a devotee. Those who visited the priests after entering the temple paid a fee for the prayer and tikka. Someone told me that they priests work on a “sliding scale.” Attendees paid whatever they had, anywhere from a few rupees up to 100 or more rupees.

Above: The priest’s provisions displayed on a tarp around his feet. The provisions included various powders, pastes, rice grains and colored thread.

Above: A Brahmin priest sits in a line with others of his caste, waiting to give prayers.

Above: The same priest finds someone to bless. Notice his hands that are stained red from all the prayers and tikkas he had given since morning.

Above: Two women receiving blessings.

Above: A priest gives a blessing.

Above: The priest shows a woman how to properly hold the offering, which is a leaf bowl full of rice.

Above: After the Brahmin priests gave tikkas, they also received them from the devotees. This priest has quite the build up of tikka paste on his forehead.

Above: Provisions for the day’s blessings.

Above: Two priests sit on a structure behind the Krishna temple.

Above: As I left the festival, these women near the back of the line still had another five hours or so until they reached the temple. Luckily, they had reached a spot in the line that offered some shade.