Padmapani Lokeshwar, also known as Avalokiteshwar, is a Hindu and Buddhist god who is worshipped by both Hindus and Buddhists. Lokeshwar is a deity and a Bodhisattva who is said to be the source of all material energies that support, direct, and relieve a human mind from various difficulties. The deity is also known as Karunamaya because it is said to have humanity’s best interests at heart (a body of compassion).
Lokeshwar exists in 108 different ways all over the world. Machhindranath is another name for them. To impose Hinduism and diminish Buddhism in the Kathmandu valley, King Siddhi Narasimha Malla changed the name Lokeshwar to Matsyendranath/Machhindranath in the 18th century.
Here are the four main Lokeshwars who are commonly worshipped:
- Rato Machhindranath
- Seto Machhindranath
- Nala Karunamaya
- Chobhar Karunamaya
These four types of Lokeshwar have temples, jatras, and rituals dedicated to them by the Kathmandu valley’s indigenous people. Here’s what you need to hear about the four gods.
The four deities are all variations of Lokeshwar, but each has its own meaning. Buddhists worship them as Avalokeshwar, while Hindus worship them as Matsyendranath/Machhindranath or a kind of Lord Shiva.
Two of the four deities are red, while the other two are white. The names Rato Machhindranath of Lalitpur (‘rato’ means red) and Seto Machhindranath of Kathmandu (‘seto’ means white) are derived directly from their respective colors.
In Sankrit, Rato Machhindranath is also known as Rakta Lokeshwar, while Seto Machhindranath is known as Avalokeshwar. Similarly, Shrishtikanta Lokeshwar is Nala Karunamaya, and Adinath Lokeshwar or Anandadi Lokeshwar is Chobhar Karunamaya.
The four deities are from various parts of the world. Seto Machhindranath is located in Janabahal and is known as Janabahal Dyo. Rato Machhindranath is located in Bungamati and is known as Bunga Dyo. Nala Karunamaya and Chobhar Karunamaya are also known as Nala Dyo and Chobaha Dyo in the local community.
2. Reasons for worship
Seto Machhindranath is worshipped as the god of rain whereas Rato Machhindranath revered as the giver of rain and harvest. Nala Karunamaya is worshipped and respected as the creator of the world, and similarly, Adinath Karunamaya is worshipped for a healthy life. Overall, all the deities are respected for their love and support to humankind during their difficult times.
Seto Machhindranath is revered as the storm god, while Rato Machhindranath is revered as the rain and harvest god. Nala Karunamaya is revered and worshipped as the world’s founder, and Adinath Karunamaya is revered for a long and stable life. Overall, both of the gods are revered for their love and protection of humanity during its darkest hours.
In Hinduism, there is a belief that Matsyendra/Machindranath was born under the wrong stars and was thrown into an ocean. A fish swallowed him and, while inside a fish belly, he started practising Lord Shiva’s secrets of yoga and became enlightened. Because of that, the deity gets the name Matsyendra or ‘Lord of the Fish’. There are a few variations in this story.
According to another story, Guru Gorakhnath was visiting Patan. As the sage did not get any alms from the locals, he captured all the rain-showering serpents. This resulted in Patan facing a drought for a long time. Then, the king of Patan invited Matsyendranath, Gorakhnath’s Guru, to Patan. All the serpents were then released and Patan started getting plenty of rainfall every year, thereafter calling it the god of rain. And, with locals still relying on agriculture, it is also regarded as the god of the harvest. This is also the suggested story of Rato Machhindranath.
Further, it is said that during the Lichhavi period, the deity was reborn as the 108th son of King Shashi of Yaksha Desh or Kamarupa, which is Assam of India today. When the Kathmandu valley was in drought, the then King Narendra Dev, along with Tantrik priest Bandhudutta of Kathmandu and porter Ratanchakra of Patan, brought Rato Machhindranath from Assam.
For Seto Machhindranath, it is said that during the time of King Yaksha Malla, people believed that once a person took bathe in the holy river of Kantipuri and worshipped the Swayambhu deity, they would go to heaven after their demise. Once, Yamaraj (god of death) also came to the river for the same. But, when Yamaraj tried to go back, he was captured by the Malla king, who demanded immortality. So, Yamaraj prayed to Avalokiteshwar and a white being (Seto Machhindranath) came out of the water and freed him. The origin of today’s idol is said to have been found by a jyapu (worker) in a hole at Jamal and later set up in Janabahal of today.
Adinath Lokeshwar is also regarded as the form of Lord Manjushree and is believed to have taken the form after releasing the water from Kathmandu that was a lake with a khadga (a kind of sword) at Chobhar.
Shristikanta Lokeshwar is regarded as the main Lokeshwar and the creator of the world. When people faced a drought and famine, an assembly of gods with locals concluded that it was because of King Dirgharath and his ill intentions. Then, Shristikanta Lokeshwar and Bhagawati rained elixir and crops grew again in Nagipuri. The locals requested the former deity to live among them, and she promised to adhere in the Kaliyug and appeared in Bungamati.
5. Jatras and their nature
The four deities have their own set of jatras and festivals, as well as their own backstories. However, only two of the four deities–Rato and Seto Machhindranaths–have chariots, while the other two, Nala Karunmaya and Chobhar Karunmaya, are paraded on a khat (a kind of palanquin) and in a kalash, respectively (a holy pot).
The Rato Machindranath jatra is said to be performed to show respect for Guru Machhindranath. Also, it is said that Patan’s agricultural production was poor in ancient times, so the gods decided to hold one jatra instead of 32 different festivals to correct this and make people more effective. Since then, the deity has been dragged across the city with Minnath for locals to witness the Jatra.
It is also Kathmandu’s longest chariot festival, held according to the lunar calendar. It begins on the fourth day of the waxing moon in Bachhala, the lunar calendar’s seventh month. The Rato Machhindranath chariot is made of bamboo and wood, and it is drawn by devotees from Pulchok to Gabahal, Mangal Bazar, Sundhara, Lagankhel, Kumaripati, and Jawlakhel. When the chariot arrives in Lagankhel, there is a special coconut-throwing competition, and the winner is said to be blessed with a son. The Bhoto Jatra, a ritual in which the bejewelled vest of the’rain god’ is shown in front of the living goddess Kumari, brings the festival to a close. Rato Machhindranath is then returned to the Bungamati temple for the next six months.
Seto Machhindranath is said to have ordered King Yakshya to build a temple and a chariot procession where the god will search the people and bless them with joy and long life when he emerged from the sea. Seto Machhindranath jatra is held for three days starting on Chaitra Shukla Ashtami, which is typically in March. The deity Seto Machhindranath is transported from Jamal to Ason, Hanumandhoka, Jaisidewal, and Lagan in a wooden chariot. It is also said that the deity paid a visit to his mother in Lagan during this period.
Adinath Karunamaya was originally a god from Siddhipur (Thasi), but during his time there, the villagers became ill and various diseases spread. As a result, the villagers threw the god into a nearby creek. A shepherd found the god when it arrived in Nakkhu. The deity instructed the local to position him in the temple at the top of Chobhar’s Kachhapala hill, where he has remained ever since. Adinath Lokeshwar is taken near the river where the Chobhar people discovered the deity, Nakkhu Khola, for certain rituals to commemorate this. After that ritual is completed, the jatra officially starts, and Anandani Karunamaya is later carried around the temple in a small chariot.
Nala Karunamaya is revered as the world’s founder. When the Kaliyug began, the Kiratis stole the Lokeshwar from Bungamati. They couldn’t take it any further and threw the god into Nala’s Punyamati stream. The god summoned the priest of Nala, Bhaktapur’s lord, and Bungamati’s paneju (priest), and it was discovered. After much deliberation, it was determined that the deity would be installed at Nala’s Narayan temple. Every year, the locals hold a jatra there as a commemoration, an honor, and a way to worship the deity. The Nala Dyo is borne around the Nala on a khat during the jatra.
6. Bathing rituals
The ‘nhawa’ or the snan (bathing) ritual of all the deities includes the activities where priests pour water, milk, ghee and honey at Nhawa Manda (a platform built for the ritual). The ritual is done yearly in the presence of the main priest. The deities undergo Dashkarma or ten rituals of life, including birth, coming of age ritual, wedding, etc.
Annually, on Poush Shukla Ashtami, the eighth day of the waxing fortnight in the month of December-January, priests of Seto Machhindranath bring the deity into the courtyard in the premises of the Kanak Chaitya Mahavihar for the ritual, in presence of living goddess Kumari. The deity is kept covered beside the temple, repainted for the next week and reinstalled into its place after the dashkarma.
Similarly, 15 days before the chariot festival, the bathing ritual of Rato Machhindranath is performed in Lagankhel. The deity is taken to the platform on a khat, where all its ornaments and clothes of the deity are removed and the deity is bathed.
Likewise, on the next day after the new moon of Chaitra (Sukla Pratiprada), in March-April, the members of the Nemkul family carry the god to a platform in Nani Tole, where the bathing ceremony of Adinath Lokeshwar is held. Following the ritual, the jatra is held the next day.
Last but not least, on the first day of the bright half of the month Shrawan (July-August), the bathing ritual of Nala Karunamaya is performed right in front of the temple. And, after a week of this ritual, the Nala Karunamaya Jatra begins.