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Late-night Buddhas

Saturday, February 25th, 2012
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photo: Deep Samsher Rana

photo: Deep Samsher Rana

We were on the way to a Patan pasni when we first saw them. Two huge Buddha busts on man-sized frames on the road leading to Mangal Bazaar, casually positioned by the side of a kirana store as if waiting for their mates to finish buying cigarettes and beer, c’mon it’s the weekend let’s go. Another was being adored in some style in one of the chowks before Bangalamukhi, rubber neckers we were then, ignorant of the full signficance of the Dipankar Buddhas being out and about the neighbourhood, not realising it was the Samyak Jatra.

But after the pasni – a traditional chyaang and chwoela in the chowk affair to celebrate the second child of a Britisher and a Newar – we could avoid the gods no longer. It was close to 11pm, but the streets were jammed, and as we circled Patan Durbar Square we saw them, thronged by devotees, whom we joined in a trice.

One Dipankar Buddha is an impressive enough sight: the eerily tranquil features sculpted onto an expanse of gold-plated metal evoke an otherworldliness even for non-believers; the intricacy of the surrounding metalwork inlaid with precious stones and the heavy brocaded silks only enhance this effect. Imagine two and a half dozen multiplications, with variations of size and style, and you begin to see that the gathering is truly a council of the gods. There they stood, in two rows, revealed to the community in all their glory. Devotees buzzed about them like bees.

But all stood back when, one by one, the gods got up and began to walk, in a stately procession, out of the square. All were entranced by the vision of the gods, supported by willing devotees, moving amongst them. The syncopated beats of Newari percussion clashed and fused with the strained melody of a clarinet. As we headed in the opposite direction, we encountered two more Dipankar Buddhas entering the square, hurrying to catch up with the main body. They swayed gracefully, face tilting from one side to another, as if blessing those fortunate enough to cross paths with them.

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