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Grand Yartung Festival

Abhishek Subedi June 25, 2020

Grand Yartung Festival is one of the interesting and major festivals in the rain shadow area. This festival demonstrates the strength of the horses and the rider’s skills in horse riding and it is an ancient festival of the Manang area and is believed to be one of the oldest festivals in the Himalayas. The Males in the area take it as an opportunity to show the strength of their horses and their ability of horse riding. The bond between men and horses in the Himalayan region of Nepal and elsewhere in places like Tibet and central Asia is a special one. This relationship is a throwback to the days when the next village or the next country were an enemy and wars were frequent. In those days, the most trusted friend for the warrior was his sword and his faithful steed. 

Horses are an important part of the culture and landscape in Manang and though the wars have ended, the relation between the two have endured. Every year, people in different villages in Manang district celebrate this bond in a colorful and exhilarating festival called Yartung. The scenario is thus – the horses have been left to graze on their own in the forests and grasslands of the mountains for nearly four months as the fields are taken up by the crops. After the harvest is brought in, it is time to bring the horses back into the village. Yartung marks this renewal of tie between men and horses in a blazing test of courage, endurance and trust. The villagers, now transformed into warriors again, compete against each other and though there are no prizes to be won, there is an unspoken acknowledgement of the best man and his best horse. 

Yartung is a ritual steeped in customs and traditions and beside the actual running of the horses, the festivities at first take on a somber air of warriors going to battle and then change to one of gaiety with traditional singing and dancing at the end.

Grand Yartung Festival

Highlights of the Festival

The Grand Yartung Festival is mainly celebrated in the month of July. This festival is celebrated to mark the return of the horses and the livestock from the Leks (High pastures in the mountains). The Males in the area take it as an opportunity to show the strength of their horses and their ability of horse riding.  Picking up the khata (silk ritual scarf) from the ground in full gallop is one of the challenging things they have to do and it requires good skills in horse riding. The races, which are held in between Manang and Braga villages, are followed with the interesting and colorful rituals in the local temples. Most people in Manang, both men and women, would wear their traditional dress and nearly all villagers would take part in the feast.  

Festival also offers the opportunity for the men to demonstrate the strength of their horses and their own ability. The winner of the races has to be both fast and skillful as the rider is requested to pick up the khata (silk ritual scarf) from the ground in full gallop. The races, which are held in Between Manang and Braga villages, are followed with the interesting and colorful rituals in the local temples. Most people in Manang, both men and women, would wear their traditional dress and nearly all villagers would take part in the feast. 

Tentative Program for the Grand Yartung Festival

This grand festival of the Manang is celebrated for 5 days in the month of July. It embarks the beautiful ceremony in the village. The villagers gathered around in different monasteries and fields. This festival is one of the grand festivals of the people living in Manang valley as it carries great importance and religious value. It is the festival for the men to showcase their true strength and cleverness in front of the whole village. The festival is also taken as the test for the men of the village as if they are capable to run their household properly or not. For young and unmarried men, it is an opportunity to showcase their manliness to the unmarried and young girls of the village.

First Day 

The festival is started after the people of villages start gathering at Teen Dhara. They gathered around the large barren land surrounded and decorated by many colorful Buddhists flags and Shortens.  The men and women are dressed in their beautiful traditional dresses. Women also fancy the various ornaments around their hair and ears. The festival is started with them singing a song in their native language and men riding over their horses. Then from here, they move to the Thang where the race is held. Men have to compete against one another and the man who wins the race is known to be the strongest among them. They hold some races and come back to Manang. Around late afternoon,  both the youngsters and adults gather again at the Teen Dhara and sing a song and head down to Thong and hold the race again and go back.

Second Day

The same series of events is held on the second day. It is also the part of the racing day where men have to showcase their strength in front of the whole village. You can witness the chattering of girls and villagers and cheering for their loved ones.

Third Day

This day the event starts in the late afternoon. The villagers are dressed in their traditional dresses and they pay their visit to the Pocho Gompa and light the butter lamps. After lighting the lamps , they head to the Thang and race. Then they go back either to home or gompa. Around evening, the villagers are divided into two groups and one group is led to Pocho gompa and the other to Karki Gompa. Then the Oley dance is performed at both the gompas. 

Fourth Day

Villagers gather at Pocho Gompa in the afternoon as usual and go for a race at Thang. After the completion of the race, they come back to Manang.

Fifth Day

This is the last day of the festival . Various feats are arranged throughout the village. Young boys and girls dance on the top of the Gompa at Manang Village and conclude the grand Yartung Festival. Most people in Manang, both men and women, would wear their traditional dress and nearly all villagers would take part in the feast.

July, the month when the Yartung festival is celebrated, is actually a very good time to visit Manang. The landscape is lush green and flowers of different colors make this event a grand ceremony.  Manang is one such place – it is old, it is rugged and it is very beautiful. In this backdrop the Yartung horse festival inspires visions of Central Asian hordes as they rampaged and plundered through half the world under the thundering hooves of their trusted horses many centuries ago. 

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