Hundreds of years of preservation and perseverance, nourished and timely practice are the basic attributes that give birth to a cultural phenomenon. Sometimes the culture becomes identity and other times identity reflects the culture. Manang, a mystical Himalayan district of Nepal, preserves itself within the largest protected area of Nepal, Annapurna Conservation Area, rated by B.B.C as one of the 12 best walks of the world! Manang Valley – indigenous people prefer to say Nyeshang Valley – is a combination of scenic grandeur and biodiversity with multicultural and multiethnic dimensions. This valley is largely occupied by Buddhists, and in some parts, Bon Po believers who worship nature as God. Manang has its own original and unique sets of customs, cultures and festivals.
Badhe festival was a forgotten festival in Manang until 2004 when the people of Manang made serious efforts for its revival. Badhe festival is basically a performance art in which actors in costumes tell a story about two warring brothers. On the other side, it is a performance about the story of a Ghale king sending his army off to battle. There are two groups, and the narration begins with two brothers visiting a temple. The elder one gets offended when the smaller one enters the temple first. Then the fight begins. They wage a poetic war and one team berates another with traditional ballad songs called dohori. All this is done in a very witty way and role play is never forgotten. To boost the morale of their teams, both sides also display their war skills through role-playing.
It is all done for the prosperity of their village and to keep away evil spirits and bad omen. Many years back when Bon religion was dominant, virgin girls were sacrificed during this festival. Later goats replaced human beings and they used to be killed not by slitting their throat but brutally by smashing their heads. The people would think of the goats as their enemies. The time when Bon must have been quite morbid. It was only later when Buddhism prevailed the sacrifices stopped. Badhe festival is celebrated once every three years on the first day of the 10th month of Tibetan calendar.
Major Hindu festivals like Dashain and Tihar are celebrated in the lower reaches of Manang district. But since upper Manang is largely Buddhist, and in some parts Bon Po, the Nyeshang valley has its own unique set of customs and festivals. Older Manangis vividly remember how villagers used to gather once every three year in the fall to celebrate Badhe, a Nyeshyang oral tradition and intricate performing art.
Basically a play, where mother earth is the stage, with courtyards and terraced fields forming the backdrop, Badhe is full of sound, color and intense drama, which tells a story of two warring brothers. The main objective of Badhe is to free the village of evil spirits, demons, enemies, diseases and natural calamities, to ensure peace, security and prosperity in the village.
Badhe is celebrated once in three years and is held on a rotational basis in Manang, Nar, and in Sampa village of Mustang. The ceremony generally falls on the 1st day (approximately 8th November) of the tenth month of the Tibetan calendar. A decade ago, the Badhe tradition started to decline, as Manangis migrated to Kathmandu and took with them economic and cultural resources. In 2004, the costumes and finery were brought out from gompas and households, and the people of Nyeshang came from far and wide to revive an ancient tradition.
No historical manuscripts highlighting the origin of Badhe exist. According to local belief, however, the festival started in the village of Ngawal, then shifted to Braga and finally to Manang where it established its roots for many years. Earlier 12 virgins used to be sacrificed to the gods at the beginning of the Badhe festival. Owing to Buddhist beliefs, the practice was stopped and goats were offered instead. Later, only the tips of the ears of goats were offered. Now that the Nyeshang community follows the peaceful middle path of the Buddha, Badhe festival in future will not encourage animal sacrifice.
In the late 1950s, King Mahendra came to the valley and, seeing the hard life of the settlers, as well as their strength and determination, declared that the people of Manang needed not to pay the government tax if they wanted to import and export goods from Nepal. The people of Manang have become prosperous traders, hoteliers, and businessmen. Many have moved down from the harsh and beautiful valley in north central Nepal to Kathmandu, but, at the same time, made their culture and traditional way of life vulnerable. At present, most of the younger generations of Manang are living either in big cities of Nepal or in foreign countries for the sake of education, business and better life.
In 2004, the younger generations saw Badhe for the first time since the past 25 years. Two decades ago, the Bade tradition started to decline, as local people migrated to Kathmandu and took with them economic and cultural resources. The Destination Manang Campaign of 2004 reinstated it. But it was only from October 25 – 27 of 2007. Moreover, it was fully revived with the ancient rituals which were forgotten for many years. The villagers hope that by reviving the Badhe festival. Moreover, they can reconnect the youth with the roots of their culture, and share it through tourism.
For seven days and seven nights, the performers, local villagers are outdoors. Apart from the roles of king and priest character roles inherited by generations of the same family. Various other roles can be enacted by any villager. Badhe has interesting ties with the cultural practices found in the middle hills and the high Himalayan regions. It is similar to the ‘dohori’ songs, a popular folk tradition in the mid hill communities of Nepal. Villagers dressed as warriors, on the other hand, display war techniques. Similarly, to that of the ancient Tibetan kings and their armies. They are dressed in gold and don exotic bird feathers on their forehead. It is a rhythmic festival full of sound, colour and intense drama leading to a peaceful climax. There are two different groups.
The narration begins with two brothers visiting a temple. The elder brother is offended when he finds that his younger sibling has visited the temple before him. The fight or rather the play of Badhe begins. In a poetic war, the two brothers who are camped on opposite sides berate each other through songs. Through song and satire, they fight out their battle. To boost the morale of their, both sides also display their war skill through role-play. Carried away in their various roles, sometimes the villagers do start a brawl that is soon controlled. By the younger soldiers who stand between the supporters of the two brothers. But actual violence does not occur. When things start getting out of hand, villagers step in to bring things back to normal. Spectators from surrounding villagers flock to Manang for the festival.
They are all welcome. Nyeshang households disperse roasted millet and wheat powder rolls from their rooftops. The spectators then sleep under the skies while the actors retire in their camps. The last day of the festival is the grand carnival day. All women folk who would be busy preparing meals and taking care of the guest also join in the merriment.
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