Gathe Mangal: Verbal History and Contemporary Celebration in Nepal

No community in Nepal has as many festivals and celebrations as Newar community. All these festivals have a common significance of victory of good over evil. One of such many festivities is Gathe Mangal. This festival is also known as Ghantasurako Jagaat.

Like every celebration starts with an incident, there is an interesting folklore about how people of Newar community started celebrating Gathe Mangal.

Gathe Mangal is celebrated on Shrawan Krishna Chaturdashi by burning dummy-like figures of serpents, demons, wind, water and fire. Also known as Gaanthaamo or Gathaanmo where gaan means bell and mo meads head, this celebration is for victory over demon named Ghantakarna who wore iron bells on his ears and created havoc in Newari societies. In this essay, we have used his names interchangeably- Ghantasur and Ghantakarna.

He used to hate gods; the folklore mentions that he used to ring the bells on his ear to prevent hearing the names of gods. His name has two words- Ghanta meaning bell; and Karna meaning ears.

He used to terrify people by destroying their crops, animals and sometimes even the humans. This created panic in the community. People used to run and hide in safe places when one said “Ghantasur arrives”. People started gathering and developing ideas to destroy the demon. They tried their best to remove him but were unsuccessful.

One day, Ghantasur / Ghantakarna came out for a hunt. He suddenly forgot his way to Kathmandu and asked a local frog. This clever frog generated an idea. He lured the demon to a swamp and trapped him. Next day, local people gathered and killed the demon by throwing stones towards him. They were finally able to get rid of the demon and live in peace.

The local people then praised the clever frog and marked the day as the day of celebration. The day is Shrawan Krishna Chaturdashi. Since then, people started worshipping the frog to honor his deeds and make his name known to future generations.

During this day, local Newar people of Kathmandu valley erect the dummy of Ghantakarna on the crossings of roads and alleys in the city. Male members of the society raise the fund from the local area for cremation of the demon Ghantasur. Whereas the female members offer money, clothes, salt and handmade dolls to semi-naked man who volunteers to be the offspring of Ghantasur demon. This man often makes over as dirty and savage – covered with tar on his face and paints all over the body. This man is also among the local men for collecting the fund.

In the evening, people clean their houses and surroundings. Some perform Shanti Swasti in homes. They collect dirt from the homes and take those dirt to throw at Ghantakarna‘s idol. After cleansing the homes, they hammer the 3-legged nails on the wooden doorframes before nightfall to evade from demons and evil spirits. Some keep nails along with jantar which is believed to have power preventing such evils entering the house. Gathe Mangal is also known as the metal day. Newar communities wear gathemangal ko authi (ring) which as per belief has power to safeguard people from evil.

On this day, people eat Samya baji– a dish consisting of seven food items namely chatamari, beaten rice, roasted soybean with small pieces of ginger and garlic, fried boiled egg, boiled beans with extra spices and potatoes.

On the same night, the man volunteering as Ghantasur‘s offspring rotates the idol of Ghantasur three times. He then puts the fire onto the idol for cremation. The other men then drag the dummy throughout the city. Ghantasur‘s offspring (a local man playing the role) also walks with these men. He acts to seem pathetic whereas other men act victorious. At the end of the day, the dummy is taken to the nearby river and immersed signifying defeat of the demon.

Gathe Mangal
GhantaKarna Demon (Image Credit: Punya | WikiMedia Commons)

Temporal Change in Gathe Mangal

Historian SatyaMohan Joshi says that many smaller fairs of Nepal have become extinct. However, this tradition of cremating the dummy of Ghantakarna demon has remained till now. After the democratic movement of 2007 BS, the marchers who take the dummy to bury at the local river started to chant slogans like ‘Om Shanti‘, ‘Jaya Nepal‘ etc.

He adds that the people among the marchers used to argue on self-superiority among themselves. After the consensual slogans like Om Shanti and Jaya Nepal started, the tradition of arguing during the march is now a matter of past.

While many communities paint the face of Ghantakarna demon on Nanglo– the traditional tool of Nepalese farmers, some have started to put a printed face on the dummy.