Nrisimha Yatra of Lalitpur, Nepal


Lord Nrsimhadeva prepares to destroy Hiranyakasipu
Photo: Prabal-tamraker @ Flikr

Oct 23, 2012 — CANADA (SUN) — A royal religious processional in honour of Lord Nrsimhadeva held yearly in Lalitpur (Patan), Nepal.

Each year in the Lalitpur district of Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, on the sixth day of the month of Shravan (July/August), a sacred processional is held in honour of Lord Nrsimhadeva's slaying of the demon Hiranyakasipu. Known as Nrisimha Jatra (Yatra), this religious procession has been conducted for hundreds of years in the tradition of the local Rajopadhyaya brahmans.

While Nepal is widely known as a center of Buddhism, there is also a very significant population of Vaisnavas and Saivites in Nepal. The Nrisimha Yatra is one of several festivals in honour of Sri Krsna and various Visnu-avataras.

Narasimha Jatra participants
Photo: A.D. Rajopadhyaya

Each year, one male member of the Rajopadhyaya brahman community is chosen to organize the festival for that year. He gets his turn according to a sequential record in which the names of Rajopadhyaya brahman are written as each young man comes of age. The male role being fulfilled is referred to as upakarma guthi.

The Rajopadhyaya brahmans trace their origination to Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh. Known as Kanyakubja in ancient days, this great Northern Indian city was an important political, religious, and cultural site. Successive Muslim invasions in Kannauj and the surrounding region in the 11th and 12th Centuries forced many Hindus to migrate, and many of them went to Nepal.

Lord Nrsimhadeva with Laksmi and Saraswati
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The grand Narasimha Yatra takes Lord Narasimha on procession around the city of Lalitpur (Patan), accompanied by Laksmi and Saraswati Devis. The great devotee Prahlada Maharaja is also there, walking backwards throughout the procession, facing the Lord with a dhoop offering. Accompanying these divine players is an entourage of musicians, singers, and six pairs of apsaras, along with all the devotees.

The apsaras offering various items to Lord Narasimhadeva along the yatra route, like chhadi (lamp), chamar (whisk) , pankha (fan), lawa abir (milk), etc., while devotees sweep the street in front of the procession.

Narasimha Jatra moves through the streets of Lalitpur (Patan), Nepal
Photos: A.D. Rajopadhyaya

Dragging along behind Sri Nrsimhadev are cotton dolls, which perhaps represent the annihilated asuras. Pregnant women are not allowed to touch them, because doing so is said to bring on miscarriage.

There are several procession routes (pradakshinapalha) in the city of Lalitpur, and the yatras the move along them are greatly varied over the year. While the great festival of Mataya attracts many thousands of participants, the Narasimha Yatra is smaller, being the province of only one caste of brahmanas, the Rajopadhyayas, and it therefore follows its own particular route.

Photo: A.D. Rajopadhyaya

Processions through Lalitpur are organized in a very specific manner. Some processions are for the purpose of worshipping a particular Deity, while some are not. Essentially the only processional that falls into the latter category are the funeral processions, or 'Way of the Dead'.

Another important distinction between processionals are those in which the devotees move from place to place, visiting fixed (installed) images of the Deities, and those in which moveable images of the Deities are transported through the city.

Hiranyakashipu and his sibling demon
Photo: Prabal-tamraker @ Flikr

Some processions, called 'centrifugal processions', begin in the center of Lalitpur, and wind their way towards the edges of the city. Others, known as 'centripetal processions', emphasize an integration of the city space in the event. They process around the city, moving clockwise, keeping the center of the city always on the yatra party's right side. Among the yatras in this category are the Narasimha Yatra and Krishna Yatra, which circumambulate the city clockwise.

Both the Narasimha and Krishna Yatras also consider 'royal centripetal' processions, meaning that when the yatras arrive at the royal palace, they turn to move the devotees in a direct line heading towards the front of the palace. The ritual purpose of this is to involve the king by giving him darshan of the Deities, thus the name, 'royal centripetal' pradakshinapalha. The origin of these royal centripetal yatras is thought to be no earlier than the beginning of the Malla period.

Scene after Hiranyakasipu is killed - Lord Nrsimhadeva is placated by Prahlada and an apsara
Photo: Prabal-tamraker @ Flikr

The annual Narasimha Yatra begins at Gabahal, goes to Pimbahal, Ashok Hall, Palakhu, Kumbheshwor, Kobahal, Mangal Bazar, Sundhara, Ikubahal, Mahabouddha, Tangal, Tichhu Galli, Haugal, Ikhalakhu, Purnachandi, and by that night, back again to Gabahal. Along the way, there are many ritual aspects of Sri Nrsimhadev'a pastimes that are enacted for the pleasure of the Lord and His devotees.


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