Bhatbhateni: The Deities for Children

The temple of Bhatbhateni is situated in the vicinity west of a location called Hadigaun inside the city of Kathmandu. It is a two-storeyed Nepali pagoda style temple and is believed to have existed since the Licchavi times as testified by the presence of several stone inscriptions from that period. The temple is surrounded by idols of Asta Matrika; the gatekeepers are Ganesha and Kumara. In addition to the popular name Bhatbhateni, it is also known by other names such as Mopatadyah, Nepal Devi, and Akashe Devi.

Besides being popular because of its religious values, this temple is also noted for some unique features that are scarcely seen in other temples of Nepal. The shrine is apparently dedicated to two deities hanging by a rope or chain which sometimes is misunderstood as a temple of two suicides. Another interesting feature is that the upper storey of the temple hosts common households hanging by the wall which many believe to be possessions of  the widows who self-immolated themselves as satis. There could have been a tradition of donating belongings to the temple before sacrificing one’s own life but besides household objects, one can also see different kinds of weapons hung in the same fashion. Surely the satis were not warriors, or were they? 

Let us now explore the tales associated with the temple and see if we find answers to the peculiarities described above. According to the first tale, there was a priest and his wife living in the area where the temple now stands. It is said that the couple had done significant penance to please Vishnu in their earlier lives. The god, obliged by their drudgery, came to them and asked for a boon. They asked the god to bless them with a son, and not just an ordinary son but an incarnation of the Lord himself. After hearing their strange wish, Vishnu said to them that the wife of the priest was beyond the age of conception and therefore, promised them to grant their wish in their next lives. Lord Vishnu kept his words and in the following life, the priestess bore a son who was no other than himself. One day, while the wife and the baby were basking in the sun outside, an uncommon incident happened. Out of nowhere an eagle came soaring down, snatched the baby from the mother’s lap and flew away. Both the couples having supernatural powers chased the predator in the sky. The pursuit continued for a while until the infant transformed itself into its actual form and told them to stop chasing the eagle who was in reality, Garuda, the mount of Vishnu. Vishnu said that he had already fulfilled their wish by being born to them however, he had never promised to stay with them forever. But for all their hardships, he granted them divine status and gave them the responsibility to look after all the children of the world from then on.

Another tale mentions that a man once came and stayed in the house of the priest for some time. One day he announced that he was going on a long pilgrimage and left his possessions with the priest and priestess for safekeeping. Some stories say that this man had given gold and ornaments while others say that a walking cane was left behind. In the latter version, it is said the inside of the hollow cane was filled with gold. Regardless of the trivial discrepancies, both variants agree upon the fact that after many years of waiting and realizing that the traveler would not return, the couple decided to inherit the abandoned wealth and uplift their poor lives. As the wife had recently given birth to a son, their financial demands were higher than ever which compelled the couple to commit such an act regardless of its consequences. Indeed, the stranger’s gold elevated their life from misery to that of comfort but unfortunately, it did not last long. One day, to the astonishment of the priest couple, the traveler returned from his voyage. He greeted them and enquired about his possessions. The ashamed and afraid couple hurriedly made up a story in an attempt to save themselves from the possible indignation and disgrace. But the traveler did not believe in their words and seeing their transformed life, it did not take much for him to realize the truth. Angered, he cursed them that their most valued possession, their infant son, would vanish instantly. Hola! Out of nowhere an eagle came flying, snatched the baby from the mother’s hand and took it away. The priest couple, poor but spiritually strong, used their supernatural powers to fly and chase the eagle. The baby, like in the previous story, transformed itself into lord Vishnu and blessed them to be deities from then on. Another version of this same story does not involve Vishnu in any way. It was the traveler who cursed the couple to be hanged from the sky for eternity. But how they obtained their divine state remains unanswered.

Besides the above-mentioned tales, there is a somewhat different anecdote given in the book Medieval Nepal by D.R.Regmi that is well worth reiterating. Regmi describes that the female deity was an ogress who devoured children of the locality while her husband was completely unfamiliar to the situation; partly because the ogress kept him in dark and partly because she showed no hostility to her own children. But unlike her husband, Lord Vishnu, the all-knowing protector, was ever troubled by the woes and sorrows of the childless mothers. He could no longer tolerate the vice of the ogress and thus ordered Garuda to abduct the youngest child away from her. Garuda promptly followed his master’s order but the ogress and her husband chased him in the sky. Then, seeing that he had to interfere, Vishnu materialized and harshly berated the couple for doing such a vile act. The ogress apologized for her crime and begged the Lord for mercy. After hearing her, Vishnu promised to return the child only if she would abstain from devouring other’s children. The ogress not only agreed but promised to regard every child of the world as her own. Since that time the couple has been treated as deities where people go mostly in hopes of curing their sick children. Regmi mentions that Duins, Balamis, and Tamangs primarily visit this temple.

As enumerated by the tales, the temple of Bhatbhateni still attracts a large number of people who come to this temple in hopes of curing their children of some kind of maladies. A huge number of people come here during the festival of Dashain. Animal sacrifice is a common ritual here; roosters, ducks, and goats are favorites among the worshippers. Like other shrines of Kathmandu, this temple also celebrates its Jatra or procession which is held in the month of Chaitra.