This week has been mostly about Naradevi for the people of Kathmandu. Its 19-character dance was performed after a dozen years on Thursday; four days after they were taken around the city in a special musical procession.
Naradevi holds a special place in the hearts of Kathmanduites and has several legends associated with it. One such legend presents the story of a king of Banepa who got separated from his army when hunting animals in the forest that once covered central Kathmandu. Lost and scared, he roamed frantically around calling for his men. His calls did not reach his soldiers but instead fell on the ears of a huge elephant who got angered by the stranger’s presence in its territory. He let out a loud wild trumpet and charged towards the king.
The monarch, to save his life, ran west and a little distance away encountered a bright white light burning under a giant tree. Upon seeing the light, he fainted. In his unconscious state, he was visited by the white mother goddess Swet Kali who gave him the blessing of life. After the visit, the king woke up and found the elephant gone. Grateful, he constructed a temple for the goddess at the base of the divine tree and declared her the protector of all men – Naradevi.
The place where the king ran into the elephant came to be known in Nepal Bhasa as Kisi (Elephant) Lya (Encounter) Ga (Spot) which over time morphed into Kilagal.
Another legend also links Naradevi’s origins with a king, this time the king of a united Nepal Mandal. Once upon a time, a horde of demons attacked the city and killed many people. Unable to repel them, the king went into hiding and called on his three matron goddesses – Mahakali, Mahalaxmi and Mahasaraswoti – for help. They appeared with their armies and pushed the demons out. However, fearing that the rakshasas could return, the ruler and his subjects begged the matriarchs to stay in Nepal and guard the populace. They also built homes for the three goddesses – at Bhaktapur for Mahalaxmi, Lalitpur for Mahasaraswoti and Kathmandu for Mahakali. It is said that the Mahakali who stayed at Kathmandu is Swet Kali or Naradevi.
Widening our focus from the temple of Naradevi and looking at the community that surrounds it, we find that the locality developed in the ninth century AD after the Suryavanshi (descendant of the sun) royal Gunakamdev established the Naradevi Temple there. The temple’s caretakers, Guthi members and farmers who worked its lands naturally settled around it. Later, as Naradevi gained additional prominence as the goddess of trade, specifically trade with Tibet, merchants from the Tuladhar community started migrating to the area and by the 12th century, Naradevi (Nyatapacho) had become an important communal and commercial hub.
Similarly, as mentioned in Professor Dr. Jagadish Chandra Regmi’s book ‘Lichhavi Itihas’, a man named Katipal Bharo of Lalitpur supported either the opening or reopening of the fort of Yatumvihar (Itumbahal). Quoting the Gopal royal chronicles, he says that with the expansion of the fort, military and social activity in the area increased and Naradevi, which had already been established by this point, along with the whole central region of Kantipur (old name of Kathmandu) developed.
Meanwhile, the annual dance is not the only celebration that occurs at Naradevi. More than three dozen worship ceremonies have to be performed at the temple throughout the year. Some of the more important ones are Gathamuga:, Panchadaan, Gunla Paru, Yenya Punhi (Indra Jatra), Bijaya Dashami (Khadga Jatra), Bala Chaturdashi, Yamari Punhi, Shivaratri and the temple’s establishment day puja. These rituals acknowledge Swet Kali’s form as the calm yet stern protector of all humans.
Naradevi is also worshipped as the mother of goddess Kumari Chandeswori Bhagwati.