Popularly known as Gathemangal, Ghantakarna Chataurdasi celebrates the expatriation of the GhantaKarna- a mythological demon. The festival usually falls towards the end of the Nepalese month of Shrawan (July/ August) and is observed with much fanfare by Newars. In order to chase away evil spirits from entering their houses and keep themselves, especially children, safe from diseases, the Newars offer sacrifices to demons, serpents and other supernatural and natural elements including wind, water and fire.
On the day a special dish- Samaya- of garlic, onion, flattened, meat, and beans and different variety of traditional Newari food is served at homes. The Newari people wear iron rings in their finger with a faith of protecting themselves from demon Ghantakarna. They also make an effigy of the demon and erect it at street crossroads. They place beaten rice, rock sugar, blood and lungs of animal, egg, among others, on a small plate and keep it at a road intersection close to their houses. A man wearing black and blue paint all over his body roams around the streets and begs for money from all the houses. At the end of the day, the dummy is dragged to the nearby river bank for disposal with the painted man sitting on it. People offer the dummy food and meat. It is the day when Lord Kumar Kartikeya is specially worshiped. The houses are cleaned and dirt is dumped outside in the night, symbolic of throwing evils away from the residences. After cleaning the houses, Bou, a special set of food, is offered to the spirits, followed by hammering three-legged iron nails at the main entrance of the houses to keep evil spirits away.
And what’s a festival without a legendary story? According to a local legend, there used to be a demon named Ghantakarna who had spread havoc amongst the people. He used to terrify the public by stealing children and women and demanding money and other gifts from the villagers. His body was painted in red, blue, and black and had a pair of bells on his ears. Because of these bells, he was given the name of Ghantakarna (bell-ears) i.e. Ghanta means ‘bell’ and Karna means ‘ears’. He was a big bully and looked very scary and every time he moved, the bells jingled. The farmers were very scared of him and did not dare to go out even in the plantation season. The villagers were helpless but one day the large numbers of frogs came to rescue the residents from the tortures of Ghantakarna. The frogs started to croak so the demon got very agitated and tried to catch them then the frogs jumped ahead, led him on to a swamp and hopped into the water. The demon also plunged into the water; the frogs then swarmed all around his head and sank him to his death.
To mark the death of the demon, every year legendary drama is acted out on the street as a part of celebration during this festival. To begin with, children in each neighborhood collect money from the passerby to make an effigy of the demon. The effigy remains in the center of a rough tent-like structure erected from bamboo poles and one man disguises himself as Ghantakarna by smearing himself with white paint and roaming around the area with a begging bowl asking for donations. At the end of the day, the person imitating Ghantakarna is placed on the bamboo poles, now taken down, is dragged to a nearby river and is burnt representing the victory of good over the evil.
The colorful festival is especially fun-filled for children, as they get to wear glittery junk rings and run around the effigy laughing gaily and enjoying them thoroughly.