Beloved Bamboos of Budha Subba in Bijaypur (Dharan)

A kid and pryaer threads
A kid plays with prayer threads

I first visited Dharan in 2001. I was on my way to Kimathanka, the remote and smallest village of Nepal by population bordering China. I stopped for a few days in Biratnagar, booked my air ticket to Tumlingtaar, and went to explore nearby towns of eastern Nepal. Dharan, Itahari and Birtamod. Back then my primary beat in journalism was Information and Technology. (The coverage got me CAN’s “Best IT Journalist Award- Nepali” in 2003.) So I wanted to get sense of the latest IT scene in that part of Nepal. Internet Cafes were recent phenomenon; connection was primitive and expensive. A lot of computer training institutes were sprouting everywhere targeting youths. I made it a point to visit Cyber cafes in all towns and computer institutes. Later, after coming back from Kimathanka with a cover story for Nepal magazine, I did a story on IT scene in eastern Nepal. The story was euphoriant (Title: पूर्वमा आइटीको रन्को) ।

Apart from checking in to a Cyber Cafe that was divided into several cabins and interviewing a friendly man who ran a Computer institute and a website on Dharan what I fondly remember about that trip is a relatively quick hike to the Bijaypur hill. Budha Subba was waiting for us. The mild mannered and soft spoken young boy who gave me a tour of the famed temple is now a staff reporter (sports) with the newspaper I work for.

Like many of my generation I had first heard about Budha Subba from one of my text books in school. The old man and his slingshot. The absentee crows and the unique bamboos. Then, not sure if it was mentioned in the text books, came another information about the temple with a romantic angle: lovers thronging in to the Budha Subba temple complex to carve their names on the bamboos nearby. The lovers were “attracted by the legend”, according to a magazine, “that writing the name of your beloved or tying threads blessed at the temple to one of the bamboo plants will bring luck and success to your relationship.” Every now and then the youth magazines like this or some other publications would come up with a story about the declaration of love on the woody stems of the tropical grass that blesses Nepali hills all over. The teen in me had understandably been excited by those stories and other hearsays. When I reached there, on the spot in 2001, I saw innumerable names carved on the bamboos. Coupled names were separated only by the + sign. I admired and took photos of what I saw.Almost eight years later I paid second visit to the Budha Subba temple (and those bamboos)- sometime in the past 365 days. Carving names on the bamboos was not allowed, I understood, ostensibly to save the bamboos from untimely death. Instead, you could tie sacred threads on the fence. That’s what we did.

बिपना का खेतबारी मा मनको माया रोप्न पाँउ
तिमीलाई नै नबश्रिगार मा पछ्यौरी ले छोप्न पाँउ।

सात समुन्द्र पारी बाट फर्किएर अर्को बर्ष
बुढा सुब्बा का बाँसहरु मा तिम्रै नाम खोप्न पाँऊ।
तिमीलाई नै नबश्रिगार मा पछ्यौरी ले छोप्न पाँउ।

History’s no mystery: The Budha Subba temple is part of the ancient Kiranti kingdom of Bijaypur, writes Dambar K Shrestha in Wave Magazine, in the region which, some say today, should be called Limbuwan. However it attracts people from a whole range of ethnic groups, religions, and cultures. Visitors, mostly young couples and newlyweds, arrive daily, with numbers climbing during weekends.

“Budha Subba’s attraction hasn’t waned,” says the temple’s head priest Dambar Bahadur Ale Magar, whose family has maintained the temple for generations. “In fact, its fame is spreading, and more and more couples are coming here to pray.” He appreciates the visitors, but laments the fact that the bamboo groves are suffering from rough handling. Besides couples, a lot of other people come to the Budha Subba temple to sacrifice roosters, believing that in doing so their wishes will be fulfilled.

Besides its romantic and religious associations, there’s plenty of legend and history surrounding Budha Subba. Historically, the area was an ancient Kirant stronghold. Historian Iman Singh Chemjong says Bijaypur was the capital of the Kiranti kingdom during and after the reign of King Bijaynarayan Rai. Other historians have argued that Bijaypur was named after the Sen king Bijay Sen when he won the village during his expansion campaign.

The temple itself gets its name from the legend that Kiranti hunter Budha Subba and his sister Subbini used to play and hunt with a slingshot on the hill. One day, they accidentally hit the tip of a bamboo tree instead of the crow they were aiming for. From that day on, the top of the bamboo never grew back, and no crow ever came to Bijaypur. As a result, Budha Subba gave up hunting, buried his slingshot, and meditated and gained enlightenment on the very spot where the temple now stands. Even today, despite the picnickers and offerings at the temple, there are never any crows on the Bijaypur hill.

According to that legend, the simple mound of soil inside the temple is where Budha Subba meditated. However, some historians challenge this, saying it’s actually the burial mound of the last Kiranti king, Budhikarna Rai, whose rule of Bijaypur began after the murder of Kamdutta Sen in 1762 and ended with Prithvi Narayan Shah‘s invasion in 1775. Budhikarna Rai fled, but was discovered by Gurkhali troops in 1785, and charged with and brutally executed for Karmadutta Sen’s murder.

However, despite the violent history that surrounds Bijaypur, its love has conquered all today, as hopeful couples, young and old, come here to strengthen their love.

PS: I found that poem, written by Ly Kaudinya, posted as a reaction to another poem here