Mahendranagar, 17 September
The vibrant and culturally rich Atwari festival is currently underway in various districts of the Sudurpaschim and Lumbini regions. Atwari brings together the Tharu community to celebrate their heritage, pay respects to their legends, and strengthen bonds of unity.
On this auspicious occasion, the government has granted a public holiday in these regions, allowing people to fully engage in the festivities. The Atwari festival is of immense significance to the Tharu community, particularly in the districts of Kailali, Kanchanpur, Dang, Banke, and Bardia.
A Celebration of Tradition:
The Atwari festival holds a special place in the hearts of the Tharu people, as it is the most original festival of their community. During this festival, Tharu caste members pay reverent homage to Bhima, one of the five Pandavas and a central character in the epic Mahabharata. In the Tharu community, Bhima is lovingly referred to as 'Bhenwa' and is venerated during this auspicious event.
A Legacy of Legends:
According to popular legends within the Tharu community, Bhima once wandered into the Terai region where the Tharu people resided. During his visit, he encountered a menacing demon who wrought havoc, causing suffering and distress, particularly among the girls of the region. Bhima's valiant intervention and subsequent liberation of the community from these adversities left an indelible mark on the Tharu people. To honor his memory, the Atwari festival became a cherished tradition.
Another legend associated with the festival recounts the close bond forged between the Tharu king, Dangisharan, and the five Pandavas, who visited the region along with Draupati. During an unfortunate attack on King Dangisharan's kingdom, Bhima, known for his immense strength, stepped in to help. While Bhima was in the midst of baking bread to aid the king, the villagers attempted to flip the bread in the pan but failed. Bhima, it is said, only resumed baking the bread after successfully defending the kingdom. Tharu elders recount that the tradition of celebrating the Atwari festival on a Sunday stems from the day of this benevolent act, which happened to fall on a Sunday.
Rituals and Significance:
The Atwari festival typically falls after Krishna Janmashtami, coinciding with the Ojrya, or full moon. Fasting begins on the night before Sunday (Saturday) and extends for half a day on Sunday. During this fasting period, individuals consume only fruits after performing their worship. Once the sun sets, fasting is concluded entirely. The following Monday morning is marked by special worship ceremonies or 'Farhar.'
On this day, various dishes are prepared and divided into two parts. One portion is set aside as agrasan (koseli) to be offered to maidens, while the other portion is reserved for consumption by those who fasted, known as Farhar. Additionally, it is customary to visit Agrasan on Monday morning after performing the ritual prayers and having a meal.
A Celebration of Women's Respect and Brotherhood:
Married girls play a significant role during the Atwari festival, as they visit their brothers' homes to satisfy their hunger, thus strengthening the bonds of family and community. The Tharu community also has a tradition of married girls honoring their brothers and sisters with various types of poko.
Dil Bahadur Chaudhary, coordinator of Tharu Civil Society Kailali, highlights that the Atwari festival symbolizes respect for women and the sense of brotherhood within the Tharu community.
As the Atwari festival unfolds, it remains a testament to the rich cultural heritage and strong bonds of unity within the Tharu community, fostering respect and togetherness among its members.