The Ghantakarna festival is a unique and vibrant celebration observed in Nepal, particularly among the Newar community. Ghantakarna is also traditionally known as Gathemuga or Gathemanal in the Newari language. This festival holds great cultural and religious significance and is held annually on the day of Shrawan Krishna Chaturdashi which the fourteenth day of the dark lunar fortnight in July or early August. This year 2023, the Ghantakarna festival will be celebrated on July 17th, which falls on Monday. Next year, this festival will be celebrated on Monday, July 29th, 2024.
Gathemangal is celebrated in the Newar community and observed in different parts of the Kathmandu Valley. On this night, Nepalese people celebrate their victory over the evils and demons that terrorize the place.
Ghantakarna was an evil being with glaring eyes and fangs in his mouth. He was so bad that he even vilified the gods themselves. He would often destroy the homes and fields of the people while roaming. He would steal children and harm the weak, killing them and spilling their blood.
He was the sworn enemy and rival of Lord Vishnu, the preserver. To prevent the name of this god from reaching his ears and weakening his powers of evil and black magic, Ghantakarna always wore earrings with jingling bells. This is why people named him Ghantakarna, as ‘Ghanta’ means bell and ‘Karna’ means ear.
During the festival, the streets and public spaces are adorned with colorful decorations, traditional music fills the air, and the aroma of incense and local delicacies permeates the surroundings. The Newar community, renowned for its rich cultural heritage, plays a significant role in preserving and promoting the Ghantakarna festival.
One of the distinctive aspects of the Ghantakarna festival is the creation of large and elaborate effigies of Ghantakarna. The face of demon is painted with glow. These effigies, made from bamboo, straw, and cloth, are crafted with intricate details and stand tall in the community squares. The sexual organ of the demon is also made in between the legs. They represent the demon Ghantakarna, known for his menacing appearance with glaring eyes, fangs, and a fearsome demeanor.
As a part of the festival, the effigies of Ghantakarna are eventually set ablaze in a grand bonfire. This act symbolizes the triumph of good over evil, as the flames consume the embodiment of the malevolent force. The burning of the effigies is accompanied by cheers, chants, and fireworks, creating a mesmerizing spectacle that engulfs the night sky.