Shikali Jatra is celebrated by a section of the ethnic Newar community living in Khokana, a medieval Newari heritage village in the southern part of Kathmandu valley. The villagers, though practicing Hindus, do not celebrate Dashain. In place of Dashain they observe the colourful Shikali Jatra. The five-day long festival is dedicated to goddess Shikali also known as ‘Ajima’ or mother goddess. Masked dances following tantric rituals are performed by dancers garbed in colourful attires during the festival. The dancers represent 14 gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. A wooden chariot with the idol of Goddess Rudrayani is carried through the village streets, finally resting in front of the Shikali Temple located on a grassy hill just outside the village. The procession, led by Newar priests wearing their white ritual costumes, sees the participation of devotees from Khokana and other parts of Kathmandu valley. The temple is surrounded by magnificent vistas of Chandragiri and Champadevi hills; Kirtipur and Chobar.
Though now Khokana seems like just another sleepy farming village, it was once regarded as a modern neighborhood. It owns the distinction of being the first place in Nepal to get electricity in 1911 AD, during the reign of Chandra Shamshere Rana. The village is known for the production of mustard oil and its traditional oil pressers. It its heyday Khokana used to supply mustard oil to Kathmandu valley as well as the rest of Nepal. Its popularity waned after the market was flooded with oil produced by companies at cheaper rates. The traditional oil mills that were once the heart and soul of this village closed down one by one and now only a handful are in operation.
Lined with traditional houses, the well-paved streets of Khokana lead to the large three-tiered pagoda temple of Shree Rudrayani at the center of the village. The temple is dedicated to the female manifestation of Lord Shiva. Near the temple is the traditional pond known as ‘De Pukhu’, the venue of another festival unique to this village. Known as ‘Goat Festival’ it is celebrated during the ‘Gai Jatra’ celebrations and involves youths chasing a goat in the pond.
(Image: Heikki Rainio)