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Bandipur’s last generation of scimitar bearers

KATHMANDU, NOV 25 - Sankatma Bhagwaan, a new documentary by freelance journalist Renu Kshetry was screened at the Union House in Anamnagar on November 25. The 32-minute film takes a close look at a tradition that has been practiced in this hilltop settlement in Tanahun for several centuries. One of the holiest temples in the district, Khadga Devi opens its doors to the public only on Phulpati, and a big puja is conducted on this day to appease the temple goddess.

A very interesting ritual plays itself out on this day; all the local men take part in an elaborate procession and become khadga (scimitar) bearers for the day. The imposing sword or khadga is the only semblance or representation of god at the temple. There are no sculptures, idols or images here. In fact, the temple’s name, Khadga Devi, is derived from the legendary sword which, according to legend, will make any person who stares at it suffer a gruesome death by vomiting blood, and the sword is kept wrapped in cloth at all times.

The legend of Khadga Devi dates back to the Sen Dynasty ruler of Makwanpur: Mukunda Sen II, and the ritual which takes place at the temple every Dashain, even today, are traced back to this period. Kshetry’s documentary relies largely on interviews with Bandipur locals, besides footage of the local men passing this legendary sword to each other as they make their way along the village. The mere fact that a sword supposedly bequeathed with mystical powers is passed among local men in itself would not have had any meaning, if these men did not belong to different caste groups. Caste has, after all, governed the lives of Nepalis for centuries, and discrimination between various groups is practiced (even today). And this is where the documentary finds its focus, and viewers cannot help but think of the term ‘ethnically inclusive’, as they watch the ritual unfold in front of their eyes.   

One must remember that when the ritual first developed, Bandipur had not yet even been annexed to Prithivi Naryan Shah’s kingdom of Nepal. And yet, the citizens of

this village were practicing a rite that, at that day and age, was able to look beyond caste and discrimination. What is sad (as the documentary shows) however, is that the ritual, which also entails the slaughter of goat, buffalo and chicken at the end of the puja, is bleeding the pockets of the local guthi, which bears all the expense of the ceremony, and has hence become a cause for much concern.

The men who actually take part in this puja are also growing old. They are perhaps the last generation actively partaking in a centuries’ long tradition. As the documentary interviews elucidate, these individuals have no hope in their children and grandchildren continuing this tradition. It is not only the scimitar bearers themselves who are part of this long and elaborate ritual. There are the traditional nagara (percussion instrument) players, the traditional jewellers, blacksmiths and purhohits who make the entire procession possible. “We will not let this tradition die. We will fight to keep our legacy alive till we breathe our last breaths,” they say.


Posted on: 2012-11-26 09:34

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