The Myths and Folklore of Nepal

Nepal is known as a country with a distinctive and strong cultural heritage. It is therefore little wonder that Nepal's folklore plays a large role in society. Nepali folklore and mythology provides readers and listeners with extensive insight into the lives of the various ethnic groups as well as Nepal as a whole. Such folktales can reveal much about tradition, activities, emotion, superstitions, customs and inhibitions. The Perhaps nowhere on earth myth features so prominently in the beliefs of the people as it does in Nepal. For Nepal has millions of myth-ridden gods and goddesses, mighty snow-clad mountains - some of them the very embodiment of the gods and goddesses themselves. Added to this, are the rivers and valleys - each of them dotted with a legendary myth of their own. Not even the planetary system in the universe escapes these myths. In- deed myth in Nepal amounts to a lively legend which manifests itself in the folklores of its diversified ethnic commu- nities. That is why even a layman in Nepal is a great story-teller, be it a part of a myth he has heard or something of his own coinage.

  • Why Ganesh is Elephant Headed?
  • Why the stone Ammonite fossils (shaligram), the Basil Plant (tulasi) and the Banyan Tree (pipal) are holy in Nepal?
  • Why the moon has ascending and descending nodes?
  • Why does the Seti River flow partially underground at Pokhara, and how did Kali make the deepest gorge?
  • Why death is not seen?
  • The king who did not fear death...
  • The potter's choice
  • The naga who won the heart of garuda
  • When Laxmi changed her mind


Why Ganesh is elephant headed?

Ganesh is the elephant-headed god who is in the forefront of all worship. As the remover of all sorts of obstacles no ritual is undertaken without worshipping him first. This is what the myth has to say about his strange looking human body. It says that Parvati, the wife of Shiva, was in some kind of trouble with her over- romantic or jealous husband, who always needed to knwo too much. Her friends advised her to employ her own body-guard who would safeguard her privacy. So she collected some "bukuwa" (a kind of paste) to wash her body and from this she moulded a child and gave life to him. One day she asked him to guard her door and not to allow anybody in while she took a shower, but Shiva returned home and wishing to enter her room was prevented. Shiva became angry, and not knowing who the child was, decapitated him. Parvati came out and cried at the fate of her som, while Shiva trying to pacify her ordered his servants to find any creature, chop the head and bring it to him. They found a white elephant, chopped its head off, and brought it to Shiva, who added the head to the torso of Ganesh and provided life to him.


Why the stone Ammonite fossils (shaligram), the Basil Plant (tulasi) and the Banyan Tree (pipal) are holy in Nepal?

The story goes that in earliest times Britasura was a very powerful demon. He conducted a reign of terror in which the troubled people were scared to death. Even the most powerful gods including Lord Shiva were no match for him when it came to fighting. Britasura was to be killed at any cost but he wouldn t die as long as the chastity of his wife, Brinda, remained intact. Lord Vishnu in the disguise of the demon succeeded in violating Brinda s chastity and the demon was killed in the subsequent encounter. The furious Brinda cursed Vishnu so that he became a stone, plant and tree. These three are regarded as some of his holy incarnations and are worshipped even to this day.


Why the moon has ascending and descending nodes?

The story goes, that the moon was very handsome, attractive and enjoyed its life with 28 constellations. One day, he saw Ganesh and laughed at his appearance, but Ganesh so humiliated cursed the moon that he should be destroyed by tuberculosis. The curse worked immediately with the moon thinner and darker every day. The worried moon went to Shiva who advised him to go and apologise to Ganesh. Ganesh blessed him for his apology, and said that for only 15 days would he lose his rays, and again would begin to grow bigger and stronger. So now we have the cycle of the moon, growing to full moon and then waning.


Why does the Seti River flow partially underground at Pokhara?

The folklore has it that Seti the white river, and Kali the black river, that flow from Jomsom are sisters born to the same Himalaya. Once they had a bet as to which of them would make it first to the ocean. In their wild, adventurous jour- ney to the big sea, they ran an amazing race. Their shooting down from the Himalaya, their falling from the cliffs as waterfalls, the breaking down of rocks, the knocking off of mountains, hills and highlands that stood in their way, was an incredible sight to behold. Upon reaching Pokhara Seti saw an old woman plough- ing her field and another working on the slanting roof of a village house. She felt sorry for these women and went under- ground to avoid any such encounters.


Kali, on the other hand, came across a different situation in the course of the journey. There were male porters in bare feet carrying heavy loads on their backs on narrow mountain trails, to support their wives and children at home. Kali too after Jomsom decided to hide her- self by digging the deepest gorge on earth.


Then both Seti and Kali during their fur- ther journey to the ocean joined a number of big rivers. By the time they reached their destination they had learnt a lot more about human suffering on this planet. That was when they decided to visit their parental home, the Himalayas, in the form of rains, but maintained the usual course of their river without complaint.


Why death is not seen?

It is believed that death was a visible body. When the time for one to die would come, death would come to the person and the person would accept to go to the Yamaloka (the place for the dead). Death was thus accepted and was celebrated. Once, while death was going through the list of people who had to die he came across a young blacksmith who was not ready to die. He still had a lot of dreams to fulfill, so, when he saw Death come to him he was polite with death for he wanted Death to leave him alone. Death would not leave him. He then told death that he wanted to show him his work and took him to a multi-chambered iron building, which he had built. He guided death to the innermost chamber and asked Death to relax there. He then locked Death inside the chamber, locking seven doors. The blacksmith told no one his secret.


Lord Shiva found out that Death was trapped and entrusted his consort, Parvati, to carry out a plan to release Death. Parvati, disguised as a beautiful woman working in the place where the blacksmith went every evening to drink, went to the world of the mortals. She served the young blacksmith many fine drinks, acting very seductive, and tried to find out his secrets. The intoxicated blacksmith revealed all she wanted to know. Then, Death was released and from then on, death never went to the world of the mortals in its visible form.


The King who did not fear death

There was once a philosopher king, Yoga Narendra Malla,who believed that he was immortal. So, to convince people about his belief he installed a statue of himself in front of his palace. The statue had a naga forming a canopy over his head and a bird on top of the nagas head, which looked as if it was about to fly. The statue was devoted in prayer to taleju, the goddess of Patan state. Then the king proclaimed that as long as the bird perched on top of the naga, his subjects should know that he was still alive.

One day the king disappeared mysteriously. The staue prayed to Taleju and the bird had not flown away. Thus, once a year there is a big festival at which the golden window of his palace is left open in the hope of his return. A dish of meal is also served for him regularly.


The potter's choice

There was once a potter, who was a great devotee of the lord Shiva. Once the lord, impressed by the potters actions granted him a wish. The potter wished that all the pots he made would never break. The lord granted him the wish, smiling mysteriously. The potter tested the promised and he found out that his wish had indeed been fulfilled. Soon, he was famous far and wide for his unbreakable pots and everyone came to buy them. This went on for a few years but since the pots would never break, people did not want new pots. His business suddenly stopped and his family went hungry. He could not understand how the boon given by Shiva had brought him misery.


One early morning as he was praying to Lord Shiva, with utmost sorrow in his heart. The Lord was moved by the hard times he was going through, thus the lord asked why he was unhappy. The potter, falling at the lords feet, pleaded the lord to take the boon back and asked for forgiveness. The Lord was pleased and so he took back the boon. From then on, the potter happily made pots that would break and crack and would need to be replaced in due course of time.


When laxmi changed her mind...

Once Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, granted a wish to Vishwakarma, a great architect, for building a beautiful house for her. When Viswakarma told her that he would accept anything she would give, she told him that she would give him gold enough to cover his body and a luxurious life. Then she brought an enormous jar of gold-powder and started to pour it over his body. The jar of gold did not suffice and so she went to get more. This display of magnanimity started to worry Vishnu, the lord of balance and preservation. Vishnu was worried that the boon would make him lazy and forget his talents as an architect. He made a plan and accordingly put fleas and ticks inside the gold dust, which made Vishwakarma to move for relief. On the other hand, Laxmi was tired of filling and pouring the gold dust without succeeding in completing her task. She finally decided that the Vishwakarma was moving because he wanted more and more gold. She, deciding that he was getting greedy, put a curse on him saying that he must work hard even on her ceremonial birthday (laxmi-puja day). At first Vishwakarma was confused, but he wasn t sad for he was relieved of the fleas. Thus, in this way everything went back into order as usual.


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