The Festival of Gathemangal

Visitors to the fascinating country of Nepal are likely to encounter a festival at just about any time of the year. Gathemangal is a prominent festival among the Newari population of Nepal, and takes place during the month of April each year. The festival is a celebration as a reminder of the death of the mythical demon Ghantakarna.

The legend tells of a grotesque demon by the name of Ghantakanra. This frightening demon’s body was painted in red, blue and black and he had a pair of bells attached to his ears which would make a constant jangling noise wherever he went. Ghantakanra used to terrorize the local population, demanding money and other gifts from the villagers, and even going so far as to steal their womenfolk and children.

Trapped in their villages by this fearful creature, the farmers were unable to tend to their crops in the fields and the villagers became filled with despair. Just when it seemed that there was no hope for the future, relief came from a most unexpected source. A multitude of frogs arrived at the place where the fearsome demon was living and all the frogs started to croak simultaneously, which caused Ghantakarna to become extremely agitated. He tried to catch the frogs but they kept on jumping away, continuing to croak loudly. Eventually they led Ghantakarna to a nearby swamp and jumped into the water. Ghantakarna followed and was soon up to his ears in slimy mud. The frogs swam around the fearsome creature’s head until he sank to his death. The villagers rejoiced in being freed from Ghantakarna’s reign of terror.

An alternative version of the legend is that a singular frog enraged Ghantakarna with its incessant croaking. He tried to catch the frog which jumped into a deep well with Ghantakarna following him. Vengeful villagers then threw stones down the well to kill him. Either way, the villagers celebrated their freedom.

The festival of Gathemangal is celebrated by re-enacting the legendary drama of Ghantakarna in the streets. To start off the celebration, children collect money from passersby in the streets. This money is then used to make a figure of the demon, which is placed in the center of a tent-like structure made from bamboo poles. One of the local men proceeds to impersonate Ghantakarna by smearing himself with paint and roaming the streets begging for money. As the day draws to a close, the tent is dismantled and the bamboo poles are laid together. The Ghantakarna effigy is burnt on the street with its scorched remains being placed on these poles and dragged to a nearby river, signaling the end of the festivities.

During Gathemangal, men and women wear iron rings on their fingers and hammer iron nails into the door lintels of their homes to ensure that Ghantakarna never returns. This Newari festival is enjoyed by all participants, but most especially by the children who get thoroughly involved in all the activities. If you are traveling in Nepal during the month of April, maybe you will have the opportunity to observe Gathemangal – a celebration of the demise of a bullying demon.