Dhando Chaitya in Chabahil during Gunla (Hari Prasad Sharma)

Monsoon is definitely here.  Straw mats cover Swaymbhu stupa to protect the golden spire from the rains.  I woke up this morning with the tinkling of cymbals and the rumbling of drums in my ears- Gunla is upon us!
           
    Gunla is a month long festival that is celebrated by Nepali Buddhists, particularly the Jyapu farmers of Kathmandu Valley.  It comes at a time when the main agricultural work of planting the rice is over, and the farmers have free time to devote to religious activities.  This holy month also coincides with the traditional period of the monsoon retreat, when the Buddha and his monks did not wander about, but stayed in one place, practicing meditation.  For the monks it was practical not to move around during the rains, and also the proliferation of insects and worms in the soil made it difficult walk without causing suffering to sentient beings.
  In Kathmandu most people go to Swayambhunath temple every morning. Many start as early as 4:00 in the morning playing traditional musical instruments like drums, flutes and cymbals.



 

    This is a month meant for fasting, pilgrimages, penances and abstinence from meat, alcohol etc. according to one's wishes. The festival starts fifteen days prior to the full moon in August or early September and lasts until the fifteen days that come after. The crowds begin to swell as more devotees arrive. They spin the prayer wheels around the hill and around the stupa. Then they pray before the images of Buddha and stop at the temple of Sitala Ajima, Goddess of Smallpox.



    The visit to the stupa is always in the early morning and by mid-morning most are back at their daily chores or at their jobs.

    During the month priests are invited to pray and recite the Buddha's teachings. Devout Buddhists read from holy manuscripts and sing hymns.



 

    Musical bands go out on the streets playing their drums and flutes. These bands are well organized and many are obliged by family traditions to play in such groups during festivals.



 

    In the evening hymns are sung in the vihars. It is also during Gunla that the popular Pancha Daan (Five offerings) ceremony is held in Patan. This is the ceremony of offering the devout "begging monks" five kinds of food. It commemorates the day Prince Siddhartha (who later became the Buddha) started on his life as an ascetic. Feasts are held in honor of the revered monks. Large statues of Buddha and relics are displayed in the important squares.






    Mataya, the Newari festival of lights also takes place during Gunla. 



    Also during Gunla many Buddhist housewives make small images of Buddha from clay. They are said to make as many as 125,000 of them by the end of the holy month. They are then taken in a procession to the river chanting hymns. The votive images are discarded after completing the rituals. Many other festivals, such as Nag Panchami (July 28) and Gaijatra (August 8) fall within this month and they are celebrated simultaneously.
    The day after Gunla is finally over, a massive picnic takes place at the Swayambhunath hillside. A huge crowd of devotees assembles here to spend the day enjoying an all-day feast and merrymaking accompanied by plenty of music.


Love and Pranams.
Billy