Bala Chaturdashi - An Important Hindu Festival

The beginning of Bala Chaturdashi is on the Marga Krishna Trayodashi, which falls on November 21st this year (2022), whereas the ritual day falls on the following day i.e. November 22nd.

Pashupatinath Temple at Night

Lionel MessyiCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Followers of this ritual maintain a strict fast, eating only once on the first day, and refraining from foods such as fish, eggs, garlic, onions, and other allegedly impure foods.

They arrive at the Lord Shiva shrines or temples at Pashupatinath in the evening of the first day, where they spend the entire night praying and chanting hymns to him.

At the temple, they ignite the akhanda jyoti (eternal flame) in honor of the departed souls of their relatives. It is the tradition to stay up at night, light the lamp, and recite hymns without blinking one’s eyes one day before Chartudashi, that is, on the day of Trayodashi, to sow the Shatbij.

On the Bagmati River or other nearby bodies of water, people also light butter lamps and throw them into the air.

The following morning, Marga Krishna Chaturdashi [November 22 this year], they take a holy bath before beginning their journey around the Pashupatinath temple grounds, scattering seven different types of grains all along the way.

Satbeej refers to seven different varieties of grains that are to be planted in sacred woods such as Kailash Danda, Shleshmantak woodland, and other forests for ancestor redemption.

The seven grains, or Satbeej, are dhaan (rice), jau (barley), til (sesame), gahun (wheat), chana (chickpeas), makai (maize), and kaguno (foxtail millet). It is thought that the seeds dispersed around the earth will grow in the world of the departed ancestors, ensuring that they will never go hungry. Mangsir Krishna Chaturdashi, also known as Bala Chartudashi, is a highly important day in the salvation path of departed family and community members.

The pilgrims travel the following route: Kailash-Suryaghat-Gaurighat-Aryaghat-Guhyeshwari-Mrigasthali-Bishworup-Kirateshwar-108 Shivalinga. This path they take is thought to have been used by Lord Shiva to travel from Kailash to the Pashupati region.

Pilgrims go to several Shakti Peeths and Triveni Dhams in Nepal and India, spreading Shatbij. Pashupatinath in Kathmandu, as well as Kirateshwar, Gaurighat, Guheshwari, the coast of Aryaghat, the Shleshamantak forest, including Chatara, Barahkshetra in Eastern Nepal, Setiveni Dham of Parbat district, Chakreshwar temple of Gulmi Santipur, Devghat Dham of Nawalparasi, and Kshireshwar in Dhanushkhun, are some of the famous places that pilgrims visit to sow Shatbij during Bala Chaturdashi.

How did Bala Chaturdashi (Chatbij Chharne Din) start?

The Himavat Khanda of the Skanda Puran is a Hindu doctrine that contains the occasion’s narrative.

Chapter 84, verses 134–135 of the Nepalamahatmya of Himavat Khanda contain a significant passage on this festival:

Mrigasthaligirim Bhrantwa Brihincha Bikshipennara: Subarnaratikatulyam Lawate Twaritam Phalam | Margakrishnachaturdashyaam Matpriyayam Tirtho Mayaa Mrigarupam Dhritam Tatra Kshipet Beejam Shatadhikam

Here, Lord Shiva recounts Goddess Parvati a tale about a period when he lived in the Mrigasthali jungle in the Pashupati region and assumed the appearance of a deer.

According to the legend, Shiva instructs Parvati that on Marga Krishna Chaturdashi, distributing one grain of any of the aforementioned crops in the wild is equivalent to giving one ratti, or one-fourth of a tola of money.

It is believed that doing this ceremony wholeheartedly may offer atonement to one’s departed ancestors or loved ones.

In another story regarding how the ritual started, there was a trader named Bala Nanda who arrived in Aryaghat in Pashupati.

On the banks of the Bagmati, he was dining and he could see a fire burning a body nearby. Unknowingly, Bala Nanda consumed a piece of the human brain that fell from the body’s explosion. After that, Bala began to crave human flesh and transformed into a demon-like creature living in the jungles with untidy hair and long nails, known also as Balaasur.

People were afraid to enter the Pashupati region for many years because of him, for fear for their life. Brisha Simha was a childhood friend of Bala. In order to get rid of their terror, the people resorted to Brisha and begged him to kill Bala. Brisha granted their request and persuaded Bala to spend time with him, as they used to do previously. When they first met, Brisha mixed drugs into Bala’s meals and beverages to make him unconscious. Bala was slain by the townspeople after they had knocked him out. But being responsible for his friend’s death filled Brisha with guilt.

He desired to atone for his sins and sought guidance from Lord Pashupatinath. Then he was told to undertake the sacred rite of burning a lamp in the name of his buddy and singing hymns all night long. He was told to spread the seven different types of grains in the Pashupati forest the following morning in honor of his friend, who had passed away so that he would find peace in the hereafter.

Bala Chaturdashi is the name given to this rite later on. There is another version of the story related to Bala Nanda. It states that Bala was a cremator at Aryaghat. Once Bala was sitting near the burning body, eating beaten rice mixed with curd, when a piece of human brain dropped into his plate from a burning body. Unknowingly, Bala consumed the human meat due to which he later became a cannibal. After the transformation, he started killing people causing chaos in the community. As the mythology says, he was hiding in the Mrigasthali jungle, and to bring him to the public area, a deer was sent into the jungle which enchanted him and brought him out into the light. Once he was in the public area, he was killed by the people.

Who and when did the ritual start?

The date when the ritual was first observed cannot be determined because it has been observed for decades. Nobody appears to know who began it.

For generations, it was thought to be a part of pro-Brahmic Hindu culture practiced by Hindu devotees. The Arya community living in the country followed the culture but they were not the ones to initiate the ritual.

Historians opine that Chaturdashi or Chahre is a significant day in the Newa: calendar. It is the day before a new moon when demonic or evil spirits gain strength and during this time of the month, they worship Lord Shiva, also known as the god of the gods, goddesses, and demons, for safety. There is evidence in other community festivals, such as Paachahre, Silaachahre, and Gathamuga Chahre of the Newar community so it is likely that they were the first to celebrate this ritual.

There is also a print version of the Himavat Khanda Puran, first published in 1955, which was brought from Bhaktapur. Till date, the author of the Puran is unknown however, it was discovered that it was written in Sanskrit and in Bhaktapur.

Since everyone wants their loved ones to be at peace [even after death], and they all want punya (good deed), people began to imitate the Newa: community’s ritual, and now, it is being performed outside of Kathmandu. The ceremony has evolved into a community activity that is enjoyed by people of all castes and creeds including Tamang and Lama Communities. They may be spotted staying near the Kailash forest and doing rituals during Bala Chaturdashi.

People visit the Pashupatinath shrine all year. Among the various festivals that draw devotees and tourists from all over the world to the temple, Bala Chaturdashi has its own charm and holy significance in people’s hearts. It is one of the unique events that can only be found in Nepal.

When the ceremony was initially supposed to be observed, it was confined to the Pashupatinath temple region. However, for convenience, other shrines and temples devoted to Lord Shiva have also become places for worshippers to commemorate the day throughout time. At the end of the Satbij sowing, people yell and cry in the ears of Lord Ganesh‘s idol at the Bishwaroop temple, to rouse him awake. It is thought that Ganesh set up there is deaf and that people simply attempt to wake him up with their ridiculous activities