The photographs in this exhibit are a few of the thousands I have taken of this festival since my fateful first encounter with it almost forty years ago. Called Rāto Matsyendranāthko Rath Jātrā by the thousands of Nepali speakers who join the Newā: and many others in celebrating it, this festival is probably at least 1,400 years old, and is arguably Nepal’s largest. Hundreds of different people from different castes, clans, voluntary associations (guthis), neighborhoods, villages, towns, and religious persuasions come together to make the festival happen each year. In order to understand what they do and why they do it without disturbing them as they go about their work, I have long taken their photographs and, whenever possible, later showed them prints in order to talk with them about their “god’s work” (dya:yā jyā). As a small gesture of reciprocating their hospitality, I have given my photographic subjects copies of these prints as gifts. In the early eighties, color printing was in its infancy in Nepal, so the pictures that I gave and showed were in black and white. I shot Kodachrome slides for color because of its longevity and accuracy, but these images were impossible to share. Many of those to whom I gave prints expressed their disappointment that they were not in color, asking “Raṅgin maru lā?”
This exhibition is an attempt to correct that, as well as a continuation of my practice of learning through sharing images and thanking those portrayed within them. We have chosen only a few of the thousands that would be required to represent all those whose work makes the festival happen, based largely on the power of the images. We have focused primarily on images of decades past, as today thousands of festival participants are also photographing and filming it. This exhibit is intended to honor all those who have contributed to the longevity and continued vitality of this extraordinary tradition, and we hope all those who view it will share their thoughts and memories with us and one another.
This two-part exhibition is located in Bungamati and Ta Baha, Patan, each one focusing on the past festivals and people of the places where they are exhibited.