Kathmandu Valley celebrated the Gathemuga festival on Sunday by setting fire to effigies of demons, burning mustard to ward off evil spirits and driving three-pronged iron nails into the thresholds of their homes to keep out bad ghosts.
This age-old festival actually marks the end of the paddy planting season, and the beginning of the season of festivals that includes Indra Jatra and Saparu. It probably has its antecedant in farming communities having more free time after the planting, and making merry while waiting for the monsoon to run its course.
Chasing away evil spirits is probably also related to the fact that this was also the season of epidemics like cholera and small pox that used to leave many dead every year.
The festival is intrinsically tied to the agrarian lifestyle of the community, and has evolved over the years. After the Gorkha conquest, non-Newas adapted the festival into the Ghantakarna, but kept some of the elements of lighting bonfires, wearing iron rings on their fingers, and beating implements to ward off evil spirits.
Unlike in the past, small pox has been eradicated and there are no more epidemics of cholera. But many must have been hoping that the ritual will keep COVID-19 at bay.
Hari Bhakta Dangol in Khokana and Bikram Rai in Bhaktapur capture the festival.