“Am I not a god anymore?” This particular thought moved in the mind of 14-year-old Rujan Shakya as he was relieved from the duties of a god last weekend.
Rujan got back into the normal life of a teenager after being the living embodiment of Lord Bhairav for 12 years of his life. He was three when he was chosen as Bhairav and he has known no other life.
“It feels weird to think that now I have to be out and about and not be Bhairav, to think about starting to wear western or casual clothes. And, I do not know how people will behave now,” the teenage boy shares, “In the past, people used to come and bow to me, even if it was on the road. And now, I do not know how they will see me or what they will think of me.”
Even with all the confusion, Rujan is quite excited about his first-ever night out with his family at Chandragiri hills this weekend.
Over a decade of restrictions
Getting picked as Goddess Kumari, Lord Ganesh, and Lord Bhairav comes with a lot of guidelines and restrictions. Rujan also lived all his life like that.
Rujan comes from the family of Bhairavs; his uncle, father, and grandfather along with many ancestors were all Bhairavs. From the day he was born, he was groomed to be the next Bhairav, alongside his older brother.
And he enjoyed all his years of being Bhairav. “At first, it was awkward, I could not understand why people were coming and bowing their heads to me, why there was a crowd of people around me [during festivals]. But, with time, I got familiar with it and enjoyed it.”
Every day, he had to wake up early and perform the nitya puja (the daily worship), stay away from the crowd, and stay in the discipline. “The thing I did not like the most was that I was not allowed to go to parties. Occasionally, when I did go, I would have to stay quiet in the corner while my cousins would dance around. I would long to do everything they were doing.”
There were other restrictions about his movement, his food, his clothes and appearance, and his friendship and company with others. As he was not allowed to cut his hair, Rujan has very long hair that takes a long time to comb and to make it into a bun. Unlike other kids, he had to wear his designated clothes and put extra care into making sure to not get hurt while playing his games like football and kho-kho at schools and with friends.
Restrictions were followed not just by him, also his family. His grandmother, Laxmi Tara Shakya, says, “The most difficult thing to manage was that we could not go anywhere, as we could not take Bhairav [Rujan] everywhere. There are rules and restrictions as to what to do and what not to do, so to follow them was a bit of struggle for sure.”
“Another struggle was to comb his hair and even when he got naughty, we could not scold him,” she laughs.
Now, as Rujan gets free from all the restrictions, he is most worried about cutting his hair as he is expected to shave his head for the bratabandha (coming of age ceremony for boys) soon, before he turns 16. “It will be weird to lose all my hair at once.”
His support system
But, as his family had seen many Bhairavs and gotten used to the restrictions, Rujan had his biggest supporters in them. Without his family, doing the same routine over 12 years would not have been easy. And, his biggest support was his maternal uncle, Bishwa Shakya.
“I have grown up in and around the Bhairav rath (chariot). I saw three generations of Bhairavs from our family including Shree [Rujan], I feel very happy to be a part of his journey, as his guardian and his representative,” Bishwa says, “He felt very comfortable and safe around me, and would not go anywhere without me. He tells me whatever he needs and we follow them, and he also listens to me.”
On how Rujan was as Bhairav, he says, “We had groomed him from childhood, so we were all prepared. And, we must say he has been very lucky as whatever he wished for, he got them. In the very first year of him becoming Bhairav, he wished for a dog, and when we were out to get it, we were informed that a devotee had brought him a big [toy] dog. A few years later, he wanted football and, he got that too. The devotees who used come here would say that Bhairav came to their dreams and told them. And it had been so for the whole time.”
Challenges and changes
Although there were people to meet his expectations, life was not always easy for the child god. Besides the restrictions, there are managerial challenges also, informs Bishwa.
The greatest occasion Lord Bhairav gets busy with rituals is the annual Kumari Jatra or Ye: yaa Jatra [usually during August/ September]. In the festival, chariots carrying the living embodiments of Goddess Kumari, Lord Ganesh and Lord Bhairav are pulled around different parts of the town.
“Until a few years back, Ganesh and Bhairav were either carried by their guardians or they had to walk to the chariots. So, we appealed the authorities to give Ganesh and Bhairav give palanquins and decorated seats too, to retain their separate images and for their comfort.” This is just an example.
The local government authorities provides regular allowance to take care of these gods. Bishwa, also the acting secretary of Present And Former Living God Shree Ganesh Shree Bhairav Preservation Committee, says, “When Shree [Rujan] was first chosen, the monthly allowance from the state was just Rs 5,000. But with time, we appealed that changes were evident and they gradually increased it, and now it is about Rs 30,000 a month for both Ganesh and Bhairav.” The allowance has increased for former Kumaris, Ganeshes, and Bhiravs also.
Shakya informs that Kathmandu Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya has been very supportive and active in the preservation of this culture, even before he was appointed to the position.
In their collective effort, he says, Indra Jatra Management Committee also has a bigger fund for Indra Jatra and all people and elements that make the festival.
Another change that this tradition has seen is a wider and democratic way of choosing the new Ganesh and Bhairav. Established in 2014, Shakya Mahabihar Sangha organised this year’s ritual by calling applications from the wider Shakya community in efforts to make it more systematic, democratic and end the ‘syndicate’. This is the first time the process has been conducted through an organisational manner.
“But, the rituals and the criteria to choose Bhairav and Ganesh are still the same; they are now written. Because of various reasons, this change has been delayed enough,” the organisation’s General Secretary Sangha Ratna Shakya informs. “Out of 12 applicants, we shortlisted two for Ganesh and two for Bhairav, then Rodin Shakya was selected for Ganesh and Karshav Shakya for Bhairav.”
With the organisation’s establishment, the new rule states that Kumari will be changed in 12 years while Ganesh and Bhairav will be changed in 13 years.