One of the global tendencies of contemporary research is to revisit myths and attempt to unfold the discourses that came into play when their most primordial shapes were coming into being. Myths no longer posit a case of ‘innocent storytelling’ to express popular experiences. They codify several social and cultural logics, ideologies and discourses and open rooms for critical analysis. They also give a gateway into the social unconscious, especially of communities living around the site where such myths develop and prosper. The knowledge — however partial or fragmentary it might be — of such social unconscious helps us interpret the general nature of a community.
Surya Lakoju’s Makar Mela of Panauti is a mythopoetic, religious and cultural study of the religious fair that takes place in a minor form every year, and in a grand form once in twelve years on the river banks in Panauti, a small town in Kavrepalanchok District of Nepal, way north to Kathmandu. The carnival is a famous cultural-religious event, and its original dates back to ancient times. A close study of the origin and development of this tradition shows strange connection of the people of Panauti with many ancient cultures dispersed across a large geographical area to the south of the Himalayas. This allows us to conclude how religious and culture cohesion and syncretism have always been a characteristic features of the cultures thriving in this region, and how, in spite of spatial and temporal variations, these cultures have so many intersections and overlaps.
One proof of this claim is the story of Ahalya and Indra that features in Lokaju’s research. Indra’s seduction of Ahalya and their subsequent sexual intercourse, and the outrage of Ahalya’s husband Gautam, leading to his curse converts Ahalya from a human being into a stone and renders Indra a male with degenerated testicles and a thousand vaginas emerging all over his body. Later, penance and repentance at this location freed Indra of this curse, and out of humility and devotion, he founded the temple of Indrashwar in Panauti. This story, which has crept into the mythological property of many, many cultures in South Asia, has various versions and locales, and one cannot perhaps determine its original locale. This is the advantage of a myth; it is so elastic that it can be located, adapted and domesticated by any culture that believes in the religiosity of the myth, and such cultures, connected by common myths give an important insight into anthropological study; they suggest which societies grew up from the same social pool, and later, parted, moved into different directions and settled in various parts of the region.
Lakaju’s story not only retells the myth in a new tempo, temperament and tone, it also brings Panauti into limelight. It discusses Panauti’s location, its pristine natural landscape, its existed around the confluence of three holy rivers Padmavati, Lilavati and Rudavati, its cultural and social make-up and its ancient, religious and mythological significance. It cites Panauti is a site of liberation and salvation, tagging the claim with the stories of several Hindu deities who attained salvation at this location. Many stories of the Mahabharata take this place as their locale. A few stories of the Buddhists, especially the story of Namobuddha, and those of some ancient rulers of Nepal also revolve around this location. This makes Panauti a place so significant from historical, religious and cultural points of view. Its natural and topographical beauty is always there.
Besides foregrounding such multiple significances of the ancient town of Panauti, Lakoju’s work gives a detailed description of the Makar Mela that makes one of the religious trademarks of Panauti. The Mela, or the religious fair, draws devotees not only from its vicinity but also from several parts of Nepal and India. This way, Panauti is a region religious pilgrimage site, and its further development can make it one of the most coveted sites of visit for religious tourism in Asia. Lakaju’s account, in detail, presents the story of the origin of the fair, its development, stories connected with it, its religious and cultural significance and its latest version. This opens a gate for multifarious academic studies and researches and gives a wonderful point of departure to begin with.
I congratulate the researcher Surya Lakoju for this painstaking feat of great cultural, religious and academic import and wish the work a great success. I also urge him to undertake similar researches on other sites of such important around his location and make it available for the international readership. I am particularly happy to see this work coming in the English language. It will, I believe, generate a greater academic and hermeneutic appeal.