Karunamaya Jatra in  Newar

Buddhist Culture



- Munindraratna Vajracharya


(This is the summary of the paper presented in Newari during the 'Conference on the Buddhist Heritage of Nepal Mandal' in 1998.)



Every nationality has its own culture. The same culture helps that nationality to adjust in the society. Nepal is a sacred land, a mosaic of  different cultures. The country is mainly a meeting point of two main religions, Hinduism and Buddhism. Apart from this, Buddhism occupies a most eminent position in Nepal. Buddhists have a great role in making Nepalese culture a glorious one. As Swayambhu Jyoti originated in the Kathmandu Valley, the civilisation of Nepal began from the Kathmandu Valley. After the emanation of Swayambhu Jyoti, Adi Buddhas and other Buddhas came to Nepal. Nepal is also universally known as the birthplace of Shakyamuni Buddha. Due to the influence of Buddhism, the people were increasingly attracted to the life and deeds of Tattagata Buddha and Bodhisattvas. With the popularity of Mahayana Buddhism, Bodhisattva Lokesvaras were conceived and their images were created in a large number. Due to the quality of Karuna (compassion) of Lokesvaras, they were also called Karunamaya. With the enhancement of the fame of Lokesvara, the number of Lokesvara pantheon increased to 108, and to 360.


The emergence of a large number of Lokesvaras was accompanied by the development of worship rituals, rituals of fasting and recitation of mantras. In this trend of  development the Newar Buddhiss  worshipped four prominent Lokesvaras. They are : Bungadyo or Lokanath of Patan, Adinath  ( Anandadi Lokesvara) of Chovar, Kachapal parvat,  Sristikanta Lokesvara of Nala, and Argyaavalokitesvara of Janbaha, Kathmandu. The worship of these Lokesvaras has continued since the ancient times. These Lokesvaras have their special virtues of their own. Sristikanta Lokesvara is known for the deed as  creator. Bungadyo of Patan is known as harbinger of rain which is indispensable for growing foodgrains. Adinath Lokesvara of Chovar is known for the virtue of keeping away diseases and improving ane’s  luck. And Janabahadyo is remembered for the virtue of prolonging longevity of one’s life. These four Lokesvaras are specially recognised in the Newar Buddhist culture.


As a mark of tribute to the fame of these four Lokesvaras, they are worshipped by all the Buddhist. Prayers are offered. Fasting is observed with piety and devotion. Thus, the Newar Buddhist culture has been kept alive. People perform religious activities for prolonging their lives, for attaining prosperity, for fulfilling their cherished desires and for success in life. It is for these reasons that the Newar Buddhists worship these four Lokesvaras by performing uposadhavrata every Ashtami in a month, by doing Saptavidhanutara satvapuja and by offering pate (parasol). The procession of these Lokesvaras is taken out every  year by devotees with and fanfare. If the procession of Bungadyo and Chakvadyo of Patan and Janabahadyo  of Kathmandu is taken out with the participation of a great number of people, Chovadyo and Nala Karunamaya are also taken out in procession. But in a different manner with mirth and jubilation.


These festivals demonstrate religious tolerance between Hindus and Buddhists as both the religious  people take part in these festivals quite enthusiastically. But, nowadays no effort has been made to preserve and promote this cultural. There is foreign culture  invasion against these native culture in the present time. Due to upheavals in political forces, inflow of foreign nationals, outflow of native people and due to economic problems, the time–hnoured culture is disappearing. An attempt has been made here to give a special highlight of Karunamaya Jatra of Patan which has been continuing since the ancient times and which has been given recognition by the nation as whole.


2          Origin of Lokesvara Jatra

A large number of Lokesvaras have appeared in  the Pauranic history of Nepal. It is believed that Karunamaya Lokesvara came to earth for the elimination of the sufferings of all sentient beings and for the welfare of mankind. The ancient scripture Gunakarandayuha sutra has mentioned a out the origion of karanamaya. According to this, sutra, Karunamaya Lokesvara in the form of Mahabuddha orAdiduddha was considered to be a  protector of the world.


It is not only in the Pawranic period but since the beginning of Nepal’s history, various kings  conceived of Karunamayas. Kings who followed Buddhism erected the image of various Lokesvaras. Similarly, various festivab were created toeing. This line, Licchavi king  Narendradeva brought Bungadyo (Lkanath) from Kamaru Kamarkshya (Assam) and established the jatra of Bungadyo. Similarly, the practice of taking the procession of Janabahadyo Chovadyo, and Nala Karunamaya was started. Most of the jatras (procession, festival) were discontinued. Some jatras continued to be observed with undiminished enthusiasm and mirth. Of all the jatras, the jatras of Karunamaya Lokesvara is prominent. By observing jatras, the Nepalese people demonstrated social and religious unity.


3.            Karunamaya jatra

Among many Lokesvaras that emerged in Nepal, the place of Bungadyo who is also called Raktalokitesvara Karunamaya is of special importance. Bungadyo is still now worshipped as deliverer or benefactor of mankind or giver of rain.


Bungadyo was brought to Nepal from Assam by King Narendradeva, Tantrik Bandhudatta Acharya, Rathchakra Lalit and Karkotak  Naga. The procession of this Bodhisattva is taken in a chariot every year after doing the ritual of Nhawan (ritual bath). Separate guthis were created for this Karunamaya jatra Another special attraction of Bungadyo Jatra is the demonstration of Bhoto (vest made of preeious  jewels) in which even the King of Nepal takes part. Every 12 year Bungadyo is taken to Patan from Bunga by crossing the river. The Bungadyo jatra is especially connected with the  Buddhist culture. First of all, a special musical instrument is played throughout the city of Patan to inform the coming of Bungadyo jatra. Bungadyo is worshipped and sutras are recited to propitiate the god of compassion for all. Guthiyars of various places recite verses and sutras in the name of a host of gods or demons. There are various trusts and income sources in the name of Bungadyo Jatra is observed  in the form of a great festival.


While talking about Karunamaya, mention must be made of Chakawadyo Chakawadyo is called Minnath. Minnath is also called Jattadhari Lokesvara. Chakawadyo is a deity who liberated Triloka (earth, heaven and hell ). There is a story in Purana about Chakawadyo. This god was created round the time of Amsuvarma. There is a story which says that the festival of the chariot   procession of Chakawadyo is taken before the chariot precession of Bungadyo Therefore, Chakawadyo is given importance equal to one given to Bungadyo.


Adinath Lokesvara of Chovar is one of the four Karunamayas of Nepal. Newars call Adinath Lokesvara in the name of Chovahadyo. The name Anandadi Lokesvara is given to Chovahadyo because this deity blesses the devotees with god health and mental peace. In the past, the charvot procession of Chovadyo is taken out every year. But now, only Nhawan Jatra is done by worshipping with auspicious silver- made Kalash (flask).


Among the four noted Karunamayas, Nala Karunamaya was one. He is also called Sristikanta Lokesvara. This Karunamaya is honoured as the creator of the world.

There is a story about the origin of this Karunamaya in Purana. One of the four Karunamayas was lost. Nala Karunamaya was found later. The festival of Nala Karunamaya started in 1935 A.D. Full Moon Day of Phalgun. On completion of this, procession of Nala Karunamaya is taken out by the ritual of Dasakarmavidhi (ten sacraments).


The most important four Karunamayas of  Nepal is Aryaavalokitesvara of Janabaha, Kathmandu. He is also called Seto (White) Machhendranath. This Karunamaya is especially known and  honoured as a deity  capable of liberating all sentient beings. There are legends connected with Janabahadyo (local name of Seto Machhendranath). It is said that an idol of vihar or bahal at Jamal, Kathmandu, was taken to Janbaha, and installed there. A great  vihar was constructed there to install the idol. Later, it was called  Kanakchaitya Mahavihar. Nhawan of Janbahadyo is observed Jon the Astami of Poush. Dasakarma vidhi is performed. Like Bungadyo, the chariot procession of Janabahadyo is taken out on Astami, Nawami  and Dashmi of Chaitra to symbolise the travel to heaven, earth and hell. Hence, Janabahadyo has a special importance of its own.


Conclusion :

The festival of four Lokesvara  Karunamayas who are capable of  blessing energy indispensable for daily life is observed in Nepal with great faith and devotion. Vrata (fasting) is observed in 12 months to propitiate 12 Karunamayas. Mantra recitation   is done in the name of 108 Karunamaya Lokesvaras and 360 Karunamayas. It is therefore evident that Karunamayas  occupy a place of great importance in Buddhist literature.


In the context of Nepal, religion and culture are inseparable. Numerous festivals are observed for the  preservation of temples, auspicious  and sacred days. The only speciality of Buddhist culture is to do good to the entire mankind. But, it is sad to note that  religious consciousness is on the wane. There is apathy   towards  culture. The practice of observing festivals, preserving guthis and rituals has declined due to financial weakness  and negligence of the government. This is responsible for the decline of the traditional culture.


Culture is very important in the life of  a Newar. Culture is  an  integral part from birth to death  which  can be seen in every activity of a Newar  household. This  culture is protecting the country  with the development of culture  and civilisation by observing the festivals of Karunamaya. Therefore, it is the responsibility of all to preserve such culture.