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Praying for prosperity, Nepalis carry on ancient tradition

  • Nepalese members of the Newar community pull the Rato Machindranath Chariot in Lalitpur. AP

  • In this April 27, 2017, photo, local children help members of Barahi community pull wooden logs that will be used to assemble the Rato Machindranath Chariot in Lalitpur, Nepal. The wooden chariot is built to appease the gods in hopes of being blessed with a good rainfall followed by a bountiful harvest. The Barahis are responsible for repairing the giant wheels, carving the base and erecting the tower of logs for the chariot. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this April 20, 2017, photo, members of the Chitrakar team of artists carry the statue of Rato Machindranath for painting and repairs in Machindra Bahal in Lalitpur, Nepal. The wide-eyed statue of Machindranath is made from red-painted clay, decorated with gold ornaments and kept under lock and key for months until it is brought out for the Rato Machindranath festival. The harvest festival, that preludes the monsoon season in Nepal, centers on a five-story high chariot that carries the deity in the capital Kathmandu. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this April 23, 2017, photo, a Chitrakar artist paints details on the statue of Rato Machindranath in Machindra Bahal in Lalitpur, Nepal. The wide-eyed statue of Machindranath, made from red-painted clay and covered with gold ornaments, is kept under lock and key for months until it is brought out for the Rato Machindranath festival. The harvest festival, which preludes the monsoon season in Nepal, centers on a five-story high chariot that carries the deity in the capital Kathmandu. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this May 2, 2017, photo, Nepalese revelers attend the Rato Machindranath Chariot festival in Lalitpur, Nepal. The legend says that around the 7th century there was massive drought in the Kathmandu valley. It was believed that the arrival of the red deity would end the drought and bring back the rainfall. Hence then King Narendra Dev along with a priest and farmer travelled to what is now the Assam state in India and brought back Karunamaya, the god of compassion. It is popularly now known as Rato Machindranath. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this April 30, 2017, photo, devotees fill the streets in the Rato Machindranath Chariot festival in Lalitpur, Nepal. Lines of followers pull on two thick ropes to move the massive chariot along the narrow roads of Patan. With no steering or brakes, men throw wooden blocks under the wheels to turn or stop it. The harvest festival, that centers on the chariot in the capital city Kathmandu, preludes the monsoon season in Nepal where majority of the population still depend on farming for livelihood. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this May 2, 2017, photo, Nepalese gather to watch the Rato Machindranath Chariot festival in Lalitpur, Nepal. The legend says that around the 7th century there was massive drought in the Kathmandu valley. It was believed that the arrival of the red deity would end the drought and bring back the rainfall. Hence then King Narendra Dev along with a priest and farmer travelled to what is now the Assam state in India and brought back Karunamaya, the god of compassion. It is popularly now known as Rato Machindranath. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • Hindu priests carry the Rato machindranath deity to its seat inside a 48-foot tall wooden chariot to be taken around Patan. AP

  • In this April 21, 2017 photo, members of the Barahi community assemble the Rato Machindranath Chariot in Lalitpur, Nepal. The Barahis are responsible for repairing the giant wheels, carving the base and erecting the tower of logs for the chariot. The wooden chariot is built to appease the gods in hopes of being blessed with a good rainfall followed by a bountiful harvest. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this April 21, 2017, photo, locals and members of the Barahi community roll out a wheel to the construction site of the Rato Machindranath Chariot in Lalitpur, Nepal. The Barahis are responsible for repairing the giant wheels, carving the base and erecting the tower of logs for the chariot. The wooden chariot is built to appease the gods in hopes of being blessed with a good rainfall followed by a bountiful harvest. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this April 27, 2017, photo, an elder member of the Barahi community watches the construction of the Rato Machindranath Chariot in Lalitpur, Nepal. For generations now, men have worked for weeks every spring season to build the chariot for the annual festival. The wooden chariot is built to appease the gods in hopes of being blessed with a good rainfall followed by a bountiful harvest. The Barahis are responsible for repairing the giant wheels, carving the base and erecting the tower of logs for the chariot. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this April 27, 2017 photo, members of the Barahi community construct the Rato Machindranath Chariot in Lalitpur, Nepal. The wooden chariot is built to appease the gods in hopes of being blessed with a good rainfall followed by a bountiful harvest. The Barahis are responsible for repairing the giant wheels, carving the base and erecting the tower of logs for the chariot. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this April 21, 2017, photo, members of the Barahi community skillfully construct the 15-meter (48-foot) tall Rato Machindranath Chariot without safety harnesses in Lalitpur, Nepal. If a chariot falls during the annual race which takes place in Kathmandu, it is seen as a bad omen for the Himalayan nation. The last chariot crash was just weeks after the then king seized absolute power and in the months that followed Nepal was in turmoil with political unrest, escalating communist insurgency and a dwindling economy. This year workers hope for a clean race and good times ahead for the country. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this April 18, 2017, photo, members of the Yanwal community use strips of cane to construct the Rato Machindranath Chariot in Lalitpur, Nepal. The wooden chariot is built to appease the gods in hopes of being blessed with a good rainfall followed by a bountiful harvest. The chariot built every year is 15-meter (48-foot) tall and based on a chassis that is only wide as a small truck. The Yanwals have the task of tying the tower of logs together with truck-loads of cane fibers. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this April 27, 2017, photo, a kettle of drinking water is hoisted up with a rope by a Barahi community member during the construction of the Rato Machindranath Chariot in Lalitpur, Nepal. The 15-meter (48-foot) tall wooden chariot is built to appease the gods in hopes of being blessed with good rainfall followed by a bountiful harvest. Without the use of safety equipment, these men hang from five-story heights tying the massive logs together. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this April 18, 2017, photo, a member of Yanwal community works with cane fibers to construct the Rato Machindranath Chariot in Lalitpur, Nepal. The wooden chariot is built to appease the gods in hopes of being blessed with a good rainfall followed by a bountiful harvest. The chariot built every year is 15-meter (48-foot) tall and based on a chassis that is only wide as a small truck. It is believed that this year is the 1350th time the chariot is being pulled around Patan, a suburb of Kathmandu. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this April 21, 2017, photo, members of the Barahi community construct the 15-meter (48-foot) tall Rato Machindranath Chariot in Lalitpur, Nepal. The wooden chariot is built to appease the gods in hopes of being blessed with a good rainfall followed by a bountiful harvest. The Barahis are responsible for repairing the giant wheels, carving the base and erecting the tower of logs for the chariot. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this April 18, 2017, photo, a member of Yanwal community use cane strips in the construction of the Rato Machindranath Chariot in Lalitpur, Nepal. The wooden chariot is built to appease the gods in hopes of being blessed with a good rainfall followed by a bountiful harvest. The chariot built every year is 15-meter (48-foot) tall and based on a chassis that is only wide as a small truck. The Yanwals have the task of tying the tower of logs together with trucks loads of cane. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this April 19, 2017, photo, members of the Yanwal community tie bundles of cane together in the construction of the Rato Machindranath Chariot in Lalitpur, Nepal. The wooden chariot is built to appease the gods in hopes of being blessed with good rainfall followed by a bountiful harvest. The chariot built every year is 15-meter (48-foot) tall and based on a chassis that is only wide as a small truck. The Yanwals have the task of tying the tower of logs together with trucks loads of cane. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this April 20, 2017, photo, a man soaks cane in hot water cauldrons to make it flexible for use in the construction of the Rato Machindranath Chariot in Lalitpur, Nepal. The wooden chariot is built to appease the gods in hopes of being blessed with good rainfall followed by a bountiful harvest. The Rato Machindra festival that centers on the chariot in the capital Kathmandu, preludes the monsoon season in Nepal where majority of the population still depend on farming for livelihood. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this April 22, 2017, photo, paint and brushes sit at the feet of the statue of Rato Machindranath as it is painted in time for the Rato Machindranath festival, in Machindra Bahal in Lalitpur, Nepal. Legend says that around the 7th century there was massive drought in the Kathmandu valley. It was believed that the arrival of the red deity would end the drought and bring back the rainfall. Hence then King Narendra Dev along with a priest and farmer travelled to what is now the Assam state in India and brought back Karunamaya, the god of compassion. It is popularly now known as Rato Machindranath. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this April 19, 2017, photo, Chitrakar artist Amir Nekhu helps repair the statue of Rato Machindranath in Machindra Bahal in Lalitpur, Nepal. The wide-eyed, red painted clay statue of Machindranath is kept locked away for months until it is to be carried in a chariot for the Rato Machindranath festival. For generations now, men have worked for weeks every spring season to build the chariot for the annual harvest festival. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha

  • In this April 17, 2017 photo, a Hindu priest performs rituals in front of a wheel that will be part of the Rato Machindranath Chariot in Lalitpur, Nepal. The legend says that around the 7th century there was massive drought in the Kathmandu valley. It was believed that the arrival of the red deity would end the drought and bring back the rainfall. Hence then King Narendra Dev along with a priest and farmer travelled to what is now the Assam state in India and brought back Karunamaya, the god of compassion. It is popularly now known as Rato Machindranath. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Niranjan Shrestha



Associated Press
Saturday, May 06, 2017

The last time the five-story-high chariot crashed during Nepal’s Rato Machindranath festival, participants knew something bad was coming. Months later, in February 2005, then-King Gyanendra seized absolute power, and the Himalayan nation was in the grip of political unrest, an escalating communist insurgency and a dwindling economy.

This year, as workers from the ethnic Newar group finished building and decorating a new chariot, they hoped for good times ahead. The 48-foot tall wooden chariot, which began its annual monthlong procession on Sunday, is meant to please gods so they can provide for a generous rainfall, harvest and prosperity.

“We have to build it strong so that it does not collapse. If anything happens to the chariot, there will be bad luck for the country,” said Krishna Dangol, the latest in a generation of chariot builders.

The Rato Machindra festival, in which Hindu and Buddhist devotees pull two thick ropes tied to the chariot though the narrow streets of Patan, a Kathmandu suburb, preludes the monsoon season in a nation where a majority of population still depend on farming.

It is believed this year is the 1,350th for the chariot. There are no scripts describing when it originated, but the stories have been passed down generations along with the skills and task of building and pulling the chariot.

The chariot is based on a chassis that is only as wide as a small truck. Four giant wheels, which are twice as tall as humans, make it mobile. The wooden wheels are painted with giant eyes, and the towering beams are tied together with canes and covered with green pine leaves.

There is no steering or brakes and men throw wooden blocks under the wheels to turn or stop the chariot.

Devotees line up the street praying when the chariot passes through their neighborhood. It takes days for the chariot to complete the 2-mile route as it stops in different neighborhoods. People offer flowers, sweets and fruits to Machindranath – a deity whose statue is made from clay and covered in red paint with eyes wide open – and extended family members gather for feasts.

The legend says that around the seventh century, a massive drought hit the Kathmandu Valley, and people believed that only the red deity could bring back rainfall. King Narendra Dev, along with a priest and farmer, traveled to what is now Assam state in India and brought back Karunamaya, or the god of compassion. It is now popularly known as Rato Machindranath.

For generations, men divided in three teams have worked for weeks every spring season to put together the chariot.

The first team, called Barahis, is responsible for the woodwork and repairing the giant wheels, carving the base and the wooden beams.

The team of Barahis would then erect the tower of logs.

Another team of Yanwals are tasked with tying them together with truckloads of cane.

Without using a safety harness, the Yanwal workers hang from a six-story height tying the logs together, wrapping the tower with pine leaves and capping it with Bamo, a circular bamboo tray that resembles a Mexican hat.

“My father and grandfather worked on the chariot and two sons are also building the chariot. We are working for the gods to bring good fortune for the people of the country,” said Dangol, 63. His ancestors used to be paid in grain but now get a meager remuneration of about $30.

Amir Nekhu, who leads the Chitrakar team of artists to paint and beautify both the statue and the chariot, said that he began working by helping his father when he was in school and has continued the task ever since.

The last day of the festival used to be reserved for the king, but since the monarchy was abolished in 2008, the president has continued the tradition.