Dipankha Yatra: Nepal’s Longest and Greatest Walkathon

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Well, where do I even begin to describe what Dipankha Yatra is and its significance to both Buddhists and Hindus in Nepal. The first time I heard about it, was way back in 2005 when it was going to be held after 38 years. I wanted to participate in it knowing only that the yatra (travel) was like a very long walkathon circling numerous temples and stupas in and around Kathmandu and Lalitpur cities.

To walk around the two cities all day, Oh why I would love to! And to see the sights of all the beautiful shrines, well that would be like a BONUS.  I cannot explain how much I love to walk, so, this would have been a treat for me and my soul. I didn’t have any idea about how special and unique this festival really was at the time or that it was actually being held after ages. I just thought the gap must have been merely like 3 or 4 years, why are people making such a fuss about walking around two cities, it’s not the Olympics! Boy was I wrong big time! Having absolutely no clue or where to get accurate details on it, plus I didn’t have anyone to accompany me for this auspicious journey. I let it go without giving a second thought.

 

THE JOURNEY

Eight years passed, and then Dipankha Yatra came knocking on my doorstep. I was beyond happy when heard the news about it being held. I immediately asked my best friend, Sarita if she was going to take part in it. She said YES! She would be walking with her cousins and I could join them if I want to. To which I said HELL YA! To say I was jumping around with joy would be an under statement. I was freaking out! I get to go on this epic journey with my best friend. I say epic journey now because the minute I heard the news of the festival being held I scrambled to get the details from the internet and the organizers. I finally knew the value of what I was looking forward to, which also build up my anticipation even more for it. The details for which, I will provide you with in just a minute. Have patience!  So, there was no way I was going to miss it and that for the second time in a row. No way!

Dipankha map

Map for the epic journey.

Knowing the significance of the journey now, I decided to ask few of my close friends if they were going to take part in the festival. They said they had already participated and wasn’t going this time around. This came as a shock for me, gathering my composure after giving them a piece of my mind for not inviting ME! I asked WHY?! They told me that even if they invited me, my parents wouldn’t have let me go with them. I calmed down as I knew they were (unfortunately for me) right on the money. Back in those days, it was like my parents grounded me, without the poor me even doing anything wrong!

18th October, 2013 D-Day for the much awaited religious journey. I didn’t sleep a wink that night just lying there in bed wide awake waiting for alarm to go off. When the time came, I got ready with comfy shoes and clothes and met up with my friend and her cousins at Jawalakhel. Thus, the epic journey began offering a mix of 9 different grains along with a small copper tablets with ox imprint on them and paying respects to gods residing in all the temples we were supposed to visit following the footsteps of 9 Gurus in the sea of thousands other devotees. Later we found out around 100,000 people participated in Dipakha Yatra, the previous one in 2005 which was held after 38 years gap recorded 100,000+ participants!

Boudhanath Stupa, Nepal

The soulful Boudhanath Stupa lit-up with lights at night.

I haven’t got enough words and words that could encompass what the experience was like in those 1 night 2 days or 2 nights 2 days to be exact as we started at 2 AM in the morning. For me the highlight of the journey among many others would be sleeping on the Boudhanath Stupa for the night. From where we then shifted to a nearby monastery where I couldn’t sleep because of people using the toilet all night right by the side where we were resting along with others. So, you could imagine how comfortable and quiet it would have been for the sleepy heads. Still many lying on carpets in the central court of the monastery were sleeping like a log even with all the commotion surrounding them or at least were able to rest. I could not sleep and ended up waking up my friend to keep me company while others semi-slept in the open courtyard. We stayed up staring at the dark clouds passing by the moon and taking care of our tired feet with herbal ointment and spray, eating snacks to pass the time till we start the walk again in a few hours, two hours to be exact.

The following morning the walk was painless enough except for the parts with bad or graveled roads. At the end of the journey all of us were separated from our little group in the wave of people.  Somehow we all made it through Asok Chaitya to Mahalaxmisthan Temple among throng of people, although separately. From what I felt, the second day of Dipankha Yatra came to an end pretty quick.

It is believed that you cannot enter your home until you receive Sagun – offering of Tika and some fruits and sweets from anyone in your family. So, my mom and dad both present at the premise of the Mahalaxmi Temple who came to receive me handed Sagun marking the end to my wonderful and tiring journey. Same goes for my best friend and everyone who participated in the yatra and for those whose family couldn’t come, the organizing committee made sure they got the Sagun too outside the Ashok Chaitya!

 

ABOUT DIPANKHA

Dipankha Yatra, Nepal

The iconic symbol of the journey: Blue-horned Ox.

Oh yeah, this is what I found out about Dipankha Yatra from my research at the time. This unique festival happens only when 5 astrological and astronomical events align on one single day according to Lunar calendar. The five elements needed for the yatra to happen are:

  1. Sauryamas Sankranti (First day in Solar Calendar)
  2. Chandramas Purnima (Full Moon)
  3. Rewati Nachetra (An astrological event)
  4. Harshana Yog (An astrological event)
  5. Chandra Grahan (Lunar Eclipse)

And this is exactly why the festival has such huge gap between years as these five elements to come together in one day is a rare incident in itself. The other religious implication to the Dipankha Yatra is the legend and history associated with it.

 

THE LEGEND

Blue-horned Ox

The statue of legendary Blue-horned Ox at Nagbahal in Patan.

There once was a white bull with blue-horns (Neel Thusa in Newari language) that by nature was gentle, compassionate and helpful to any suffering creatures. This bull was considered to be one of the incarnations of Lord Shakyamuni. The bull was a follower of Buddha’s teachings and always paid homage at different monasteries to Lord Buddha. As the story goes, for once he was late in paying respect to Buddha. It was already dawn when he arrived at Lord Dipankar Buddha’s monastery. So, he hid himself in a corner to avoid being seen by others where he started emitting bright light and slowly turned into a stone statue. Few people who happened to witness the transformation and combined with auspicious alignment of astrological events on that day thought the bull was scared and started to worship him.

Kisili, Nagbahal, Patan

Kisili, a simple & unique form of registration for the Dipankha Yatra.

The tradition of Dipankha Yatra has been continuing for 900 years now, where the devotees visit 131 temples (Yap! That’s the number) from all around Kathmandu and Lalitpur cities covering 60-62 km on foot within 2 days. Devotees need to offer a ‘Kisili’ (an offering of rice grain, whole beetle nut and a coin kept in a small clay vessel) to the Neel Thu Boddhisavttow at Nagbahal on the previous day praying for one’s safety and successful completion of the journey. The procession is led by nine Gurus belonging to Newar community and starts from Nagbahal in Patan ending at Mahalaxmisthan near Lagankhel. It is believed that the devotees who join the procession gain ‘Dharma’ with each step they take amounting to 1 tola (11.664 gram) of gold offered to the gods.

The next Dipankha Yatra is supposed to be held in 2028 A.D. But I am not 100 percent sure on that, may be it will happen then.

See you there in 15 years!

Dipankha Yatra: Nepal’s Longest and Greatest Walkathon
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