ON THE ROAD WITH THE RED GOD: MACHHENDRANATH
Every 12 years, impassioned devotees pull a 65-feet tall unwieldy chariot in the Kathmandu Valley, its rider an enigmatic god worshipped by Hindu and Buddhist, on a months-long journey proceeded by abundant ritual and animal sacrifice.
The enterprise calls for extreme cooperation and rigorous observance of ritual in the building, sanctification and pulling of the chariot. But the jatra (festival) is an arena of gritty reality, where participants vie for everything from a share of ritual meat, to status and proximity to the god. The chariot teeters, as does the community, between chaos and order, conflict or solidarity. Thus, every 12 years, the same question: will the journey succeed?
In the midst of elaborate ritual, the jatra’s human face is the Buddhist tantric priest Kapil Muni Vajracharya. He serves the Machhendranath deity who was, according to myth, stolen from a demoness from a far-off land, to save the Kathmandu Valley suffering from a long drought. Kapil must perform rituals, such as directing animal sacrifices, to ward off the demoness who is intent on retrieving her son. Kapil too was separated from his mother as an infant with whom he yearns to be reunited. But, unlike the demoness, Kapil’s mother has not attempted to find him.
“This eye-opening documentary maps not just the dynamic interplay between tradition and modernity, not just in our society but in our psyche and deep consciousness.”
Manjushree Thapa, author
“The film is thus a first-rate visual exposition of collective liminality, of how the performance of this widely popular ritual not only divides but also unites the human collective in shared exertion, expense, suffering, and happiness.”
Joanna Kirkpatrick, Cultural anthropologist
“Kesang Tseten’s new film captures both the Rato Machhindranath festival and the preparations accompanying the grand event in a blow-by-blow rendition.”