Ghode Jatra – Festival of Horses in Nepal
Ghode Jatra takes place between March/April and a grand horse parade takes place at Tundikhel. Although this festival does not have much of religious aspects, a large number of people, even from outside Kathmandu flock around Kathmandu to witness the horse race and other exciting sports activities performed by the Army. Tundikhel is at the central point of the city. This ground is reputed to have been, in the former days, the largest parade ground in Asia. It is said that in the olden days the Kings of Kathmandu used to go to worship at the Bhadrakali temple in a courtly cavalcade following the Living Goddess Kumari. This visit could have been modified into the parade of horses and finally the horse athletics and racing contest as it is today, held by the army in the presence of the King or Head of the State.
There are other stories as to how Ghode Jatra started. Legend reveals that this festival was held to celebrate the victory over a demon named Tundi who resided over the meadow, today known as Tundikhel. Tundi was a terror, so when he met with his death people rejoiced by dancing on his body with horses. So it’s believed that the clamor of horses’ hooves on Ghode Jatra at Tundikhel keeps the demon’s sprit at bay as it still threatens to ruin the city. It’s said, the faster the horses run quicker will Tundi’s spirit be dispelled. The swift running of the horses on this day is also considered to be a good omen for the Nepalese people.
Another event takes place on Ghode Jatra at Bal Kumari area in Patan where a horse is intoxicated with spirits and an equally drunk person in a traditional Newari attire rides it. People shout to frighten and enrage the animal until it runs widely with the rider clinging to it. This race is thought to have been commenced in the olden times by a certain king of Patan to give a better show in comparison to Tundikhel’s parade, as in those days no one from Patan could attain it. There was a time when the festival was considered only for the residents of Kathmandu. But today it’s popularity has attracted people from all over Nepal. The most worshiped goddess on this day in Bhadrakali also known by the Newari people as Lumarhi Devi.
The festival has two sides of its celebration. Its cultural side involves the Newars of Kathmandu who celebrate it for several days. The idols of the gods of many localities are taken in a procession in their area in portable chariots. Every household is feasting at this time. A demon called ‘Gurumumpa’ is also propitiated at this time in Tundikhel. This festival is called Pahachare. The other aspect of the festival is provided by the function organised by the Royal Nepalese Army at Tundikhel in the afternoon of the main day. Horse race and acrobatic shows are presented at this time in which His Majesty the King is present. A meeting of Lumadi, Bhadrakali, Kankeshwari and Bhairav takes place during the day time at the main celebration at Ason. The deities are brought in their portable chariots. The same festival is repeated at night in Tundikhel.