Travel Video: Rato Machhendranath Jatra Festival

Suraj Ratna Shakya is a freelance photographer and filmmaker from Kathmandu, Nepal. Each spring, his hometown hosts the Rato Machhindranath festival. Growing up with the sights and sounds of these celebrations inspired Suraj to get behind the lens and share the experience from the ground. To learn more about Suraj and his film, we asked him a few questions.

What makes Kathmandu such a special place?

I was born in Kathmandu, and I am who I am because of this place. Kathmandu is a bustling city with stories waiting to be told. There’s always something interesting happening. It’s chaotic, but somehow I find my harmony here. I believe that I’m fortunate to be born here and, as a filmmaker and photographer, I couldn’t ask for more.

For those unfamiliar with the event, can you explain what it’s all about?

The festival is known as “Rato Machhindranath Jatra”, and celebrates the god of rain. This festival dates back to 879 A.D and starts every year somewhere between April and May, depending on the lunar calendar. The big spectacle of the festival is the 48-foot chariot, which is wheeled around a specific route by long ropes.

Do you have memories of the festival as a child?

I remember the huge chariot, pulled down through the streets by men of all ages, towering over the houses. I would watch from my window and shout along with the crowd, “Hoste Haiste.” It’s an amazing feeling. Everyone is praying and chanting  along with the music.But when the chariot stops for a break there’s a distinct calm and quiet that follows. That was what intrigued me to film it — the two sides of the festival.

How important are events like this in preserving the Nepalese culture?

Culture is always evolving and adapting. There are few festivals today that somehow retain their original practice, but this is one of them. Festivals and events like this comprise the identity of a certain place and, more importantly, its people.

What’s your favorite part about the festival?

For me, the festival is all about the energy of the people. While filming, especially, I look for the human side of the festival, and this celebration doesn’t disappoint in that respect. The streets are immersed in the smell of butter lamps and incense. People gather in crowds around the priests, waiting to be blessed with “pure” water. Others play traditional music and dance while children run around searching for dropped money and empty lamps.

How was the idea to make this video conceptualized?

I didn’t initially plan to  film the festival, but after watching the action, I had the idea to shoot it in slow motion. Essentially?, the video was conceptualized on the spot. I wasn’t able to document the festival in its entirety, but what you see is a portion of the celebration.

How did bringing your camera along change your view of the event? Did you notice anything new while filming?

The festival is ostensibly about people pulling the chariot and touring the city. But, with a camera, I noticed and captured little details that make this festival unique, such as the butter lamps, people praying in small groups, and the detailing of the chariot. It was a truly special experience.

What do you want people to take away from your video?

My main intention with this video was to show the festival from the people’s perspective. I wanted to encourage the viewers to participate and learn more about the festival and the culture behind it.

To view more of Suraj’s work, follow him on Instagram.

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Brad Donaldson is a writer and editor proudly based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Although his roots are in Canada, his desire to see more of the world frequently takes him away from home. His work, both as an editor and writer, has appeared in local newspapers and publications, most recently showcased through the co-founding of his former university's inaugural creative writing journal.