Namaste! A legendary Lakhe is one of the cultural symbols of Newar indigenous community of Nepal. Its flamboyant mask dance performance is jubilant to watch during Newar festivals. A terrifying Lakhe however able to assimilate with local community and became a popular household name has certainly assure its existence.
Also known as Royal Lakhe, Majipa Lakhe is brought out only in the month of September for the Indra Jatra Festival. Surrounded by lighted oil lamps, Lakhe mask is worshipped and offered variety of food items in the belief that Lakhe must be kept happy so it will provide blessings and protect villagers from outbreak of epidemic diseases.
Before a performer wears the Majipa Lakhe attire to be publicly displayed in the streets of Kathmandu, it is first worshiped on its throne. Lakhe and Jhyalincha masks are brought out into the procession for mending, grooming, and repainting for the upcoming Indra Jatra Festival. It is kept in its throne until it is sent to a craftsman chitrakar (a painter) of Newar community. Similarly, yak hair is dyed, brushed and fitted in a mask. This is a closed session that public viewing is restricted except for the guardians of Lakhe.
Majipa Lakhe mask bearer is getting ready to perform a Lakhe dance at Indra Jatra Festival. Lakhe dance requires skills, knowledge, and great determination. As the dance is physically demanding many Lakhe performers retires early yet there is no shortage of young people who aspire to become a mask bearer.
Before going out to perform in public, Majipa Lakhe visits a place called Rengal at Lagan to worship and receive blessing for a successful day ahead. Earlier, Jyapu (a farmer clan in Newar) people were responsible taking care of Lakhe. During the course of time, Jyapu find this practice difficult to carry out and handed over to Ranjitkars (another Newar clan). To this day, Lakhe visits Jyapu house to drink water and light its chilaag (oil torch) to begin the procession.
When Lakhe is ready to perform, a guardian (Mr. Rajib Ranjit) assists Lakhe to come out from its house called Lakhe Nuni. Lakhe's first prayer is held in Kebuche, the house of a clan in Newar known as Rajbhandari who made offerings to Lakhe. Lakhe comes out with musical instruments, Bhushyaha (a drum), Jhyali (cymbals), Jhyalincha, a bag, and an oil torch called chilaag.
Legend has it that the first Malla king brought the Goddess Taleju Bhawani in Kathmandu where it is enshrined. Lakhe, not finding his patron Goddess Taleju, simply followed the footprints of the Malla king and arrived in Nepal from the south. Later, Goddess Taleju appeared as Living Goddess Kumari and Lakhe continued to walk the chariots of Kumari in this great festival.
After Indra Jatra concluded on the eighth day, Lakhe mask with its attire is placed to its throne and worshipped for one last final ritual. It is offered with shamhya baji (legumes). A guardian of Lakhe puts away the mask and other accessories back to the chest, leaving the house until next year. This marks the end of Majipa Lakhe. Public viewing is restricted to this rituals.
Majipa Lakhe keeper, Mr. Rajib Ranjit, has inherited the Lakhe tradition and rituals from his forefather and uncle. Mr. Ranjit is optimistic that one day his son will follow his footsteps to keep this family tradition alive. His uncle, Mr. Laxmanram Ranjit, has retired after 28 years as a care-taker of Lakhe due to old age.
"Infamous But Captivating Lakhe Dance of Nepal" is an online exhibition created by National Foundation for Development of Indigenous Nationalities (NFDIN), Nepal based on 2017 ICHCAP ICH Online Exhibition. This exhibition has been made possible by grant from International Information & Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region under the auspices of UNESCO (ICHCAP).
Photograph courtesy of Rekha Shakya, Sharan Dongol, Subesh and Rajib Ranjit.
Filmed by Indigenous Media Foundation, Nepal
Short movie clips edited by Red Chillies Advertising Pvt. Ltd., Lalitpur
Narration, caption & settings by Hitkaji Gurung
Special thanks to: Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation, Nepal; UNESCO Kathmandu; Newa Deya Dabu (Newar indigenous community); Rajib Ranjit (A Lakhe guardian); Prof Dr Prem Kumar Khatry; Dr Chunda Bajracharya; Rajbhai Jakami Maharjan; Ganeshram Lachi; Ekaram Singh, Laxmanram Ranjit; Som Bahadur Dhimal and NFDIN team.