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Masto God : The Ancestral Deity of Kshatriyas (Khas)

Tradition is a set of customs and established beliefs which has been practiced continuously since ancient time. These are passed on from generations to generations by means of verbal description, practice, folklore, proverbs and myths.

Among them, Masto Tradition is the one which is regularly practiced by Kshatriyas (Khas) in Mid-Western and Far Western Development Region of Nepal. There is no any specific idol of Masto God. During the practice of shamanism, Jhankri (Shaman) calls Masto God's spirit within his body. It is said when Masto God enters into the body of a Jhankri (Shaman), the Jhankri can perform various divinely miracles, for example, plunging hands into boiling oil, walking barefoot on burning coal, drinking flaming mustard oil, revealing past activities and uttering future, etc. The Jhankri (Shaman) utilises variety of ritual instruments and processes to invoke Masto God. The instruments are Dhengro (One sided drum) to communicate with Masto God, a stick to beat the drum, a Kalash (red copper vessel) to hold the holy water and fulpati (Flowers and leaves) to sprinkle the holy water, a receptacle to contain ashes of burning incense and juniper resins, a Khukuri (Gurkha Knife) to slaughter the goat or chicken, a belt containing many Ghanti-haru (bells) to wear around the waist when it chimes during the ritual that is to let the Masto God know that The Jhankri (Shaman) is present, A white shirt overlapped to ankle length, a necklace of beads, and a headband made of Dumsi-ko-kanda (Porcupine Quills) and mayur-ko-powankh (Peacock Feathers).

There are various reasons, such as ailments, misery, torment, ancestral worshipping, adversity and witchcraft, to approach Jhankri to perform rite in order to solve the suffering. The rite always occur at night which can end in few hours or whole night. After enrobing the attires, setting of altar begins which comprises of human skull, tooth of lion, crystals, an offering of uncooked rice, coins, a containers of wine, a kalash (red copper vessel) to contain holy water and fulpati (flowers and leaves) and goat or kukhura-ko-bhale (cockerel). Then the Jhankri offers raksi (home made wine) to the Masto God and starts drubbing the dhengro with a stick to reach out to Masto God. He calls upon to Masto God for help by incantations. Others play chime to help the Jhankri. As the Jhankri pounds the dhengro with an escalating velocity, he begins to quiver and tremble forcefully, making the bells ring loudly. Then he becomes tranced deeply and possessed by the Masto God. His shaking and shivering shows that the Masto God has entered into his body. Now he can communicate with Masto God who may speak through him, thereby receiving details necessary to aid sufferer or to ameliorate any agony effecting the Khas community. Chanting incantation, he compels the harmful spirits to reveal their identity and the reasons why they are afflicting the concern party. Through the healing powers obtained from the Masto God, he chants incantations and blow blessings to sufferer. Then the Jhankri makes the sufferer to drink some of the holy water from the kalash which he sprinkles water upon him as well. Jhankri then rises up and starts to dance still drubbing the drum and moving around back and forth as it suits him. Customarily he takes periodic breaks to take a sip of raksi after about an hour of chanting and drubbing. After that he sits down by the altar and then disclose the sufferer the cause of distress. After then he gives instruction to the sufferer to fulfil his obligation towards the Masto God. Standing up he again dances around the altar for another hour chanting incantations all the time. The sufferer seems emotionally and psychologically cured through the rite. It is believed by the Khas- Kshatriyas community that these distresses are of supernatural power which cannot be treated by modern medicines and only the power of Masto God can heal. In some rituals animal sacrifice is also carried out by Jhankri (Shaman).

Translation of one folklore regarding Masto God is shown below;

Oh Masto God,

Strips of red and white cloth would be offered,

Please become visible and come to us,

Emerge from Himalayas,

Like Karnali river who flows through Tibet,

Flow to plain, Oh Masto God, please come,

Golden idols, Conch Shell, Chime and Lamb meat would be offered,

Oh Masto God, please come,

Panchamrit (Five Nectars; milk, yoghurt, ghee, honey, sugar) and Kalash (red copper vessel) will be offered,

Oh Masto God, Please come,

Enter into the body of our Jhankri, speak and heal through him.

Oh Masto God, Please come,

The tradition of venerating Masto God is on the verge of extinction day by day due to modern influences. Therefore, it seemed important to research about Masto God and prepare an article which is based on review of available literatures, sight visit, personal observation and interviews of those people living in different parts of Western Nepal and still practicing the Masto tradition. The objective of this article is to impart the knowledge and to conserve this tradition as a part of cultural heritage of Kshatriyas (Khas). Without Masto culture, there is no identity of Kshatriyas (Khas). Therefore, it is of paramount important to write about Masto culture in order to establish the indigenousness of Kshatriyas (Khas). If not mentioned then the history and nation's cultural heritage would be incomplete or crippled.

Regarding the origin of tradition, upon asking, 92 year-old Bhunte Thapa of Chaudabisa says "It is an age old tradition established by our ancestors and we should maintain it," and "If we do not keep up the tradition, misfortune plus destitution would befall us and our crops would be destroyed."

Masto God is taken as the family deity of the Kshatriya (Khas) group. While other gods are of specific kind, Masto God is considered to belong to even those who are marginal and insignificant. The reason is that people believe if there is pain, suffering, illness, loss in business, trouble in agriculture, obstacle, mystery, misfortune, frustration, regret, or at any kind of discomfort, when venerating the God Masto, there would be recovery. People believe that the God Masto would sort out their problems, which is why Masto God is worshipped as a family deity throughout the country in one name or the other. Masto God is the outcome of Nepal and Nepali land, he is the symbol of Nepali religious tradition, and the cultural model. The popularity of Masto God is prominent equally outside Nepal as well. Dr Raja Ram Subedi has written that in order to be more explicit about the existence of Masto God, wherever Kshatriyas (Khas) are living, Masto God exists. The Khas group has spreaded in the countries such as Nepal, India, China, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Belgium. For example the fact that Adolf Hitler belonged to Khas group has been justified by the history itself.

It is significant to know the origin of Masto God. Prayagraj Raj Sharma is the first person to write about Masto God in Nepali language. Then, Purna Prakash Nepal, Satya Mohan Joshi, Saint Narhari Nath, Bal Krishna Pokhrel, Bhim Prasad Pokhrel, Bhim Prasad Shrestha, Raja Ram Subedi and Jai Raj Panta researched and published about Masto God. Western scholars such as J. G. Campbell, W.F. Winkler and John T. Hitchcock have also researched in great depth and have published books on Masto God.

Kul Chandra Koirala, in a booklet, tried to clarify the traditional concept about the Masto God. Those who worship Masto God as the family deity (Kul devata) generally worship Naga (Snake), Yaksha, Asur or Danav (Demon), Devi (Goddess), Gandarva, Vishwakarma, Kshetrapal, Manyur (Peacock), Deurali (Valley), Chandi, Bhairav, Bir Masan, Ban (forest), Bhayauni, Dash, Bayu (Air), Bandevi (Goddess of forest), Megha (Cloud), Briksha (Tree), Nadi (River), Chattan (Cliff), Jal (Water), Dhatu (Metal) etc. These all are the symbols of God-Goddesses or Deity-Devils who may or may not appear in concrete form. The reason for summoning other deities and spirits residing in mountains, valleys, lakes, forests, streams and cliffs is to request them to assist and protect people from misfortune, rivalry, contempt, ailments, epidemics and to ensure a bountiful crop. The Khas who worship these God and Goddesses also reckon the Jhankri (shaman) as the representative of these Gods. Thus, it has been the original faith of the Khas to take the Jhankri as a mediator to reach these Gods. The Khas don't wish to be detached from their tradition and culture. The culture has given them a distinct identity.

Unlike other caste groups, who assimilate themselves to fit to the existing situation, the Khas group generally bring the situation to their favour. The tradition of venerating 'Masto God' is an example that identifies the Khas community.

There are variable names of Masto from place to place, such as Maidha, Maudho, Maidho, Mastha, Musto, Masto, Musda, Mundha, Mundho and Muidho etc. There is no written and authentic document on when and where Masto was originated. Different kinds of folk histories, folk melodies, and prayers provide some information about the origin of Masto. There are different views on the origin of Masto.

The first story relates to Hindu Religious Literature where it has been said that human beings were emanated from Lord Shiva in the world. It is said that in Great Lake (Mansarowar), one of the very place where human being emerged from the divine gamete of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva's gamete was discharged in Great Lake (Mansarowar) which converted in to a flame. Two Angles of Heaven, after having dips in Mansarowar (Great Lake), were enjoying the warmth of that flame which caused them to conceive. One gave birth to Masto and other to nine Durgas. Thus, Masto and nine Durgas are the symbols of Shiva power.

In the second story which is stated in the ancient Rig Veda that, when the God Shiva sent ten Gadha (Battalion) to guard ten boundaries, it was Masto, who was appointed as the chief commander of the Kailash region. Continuing this story, it is again stated that Kushas were defeated in the war with Hitti group, which occurred in the Junggar & Tarim basins in the west of Hindukush mountain range. Later, when Kushas and Pramindas castes got united, they were then called Kasa, which turned out to be Khas. As God Masto mediated to unite these two groups and made them stronger, he became reverence to the Gods and the family deity of the Khas.

According to the fourth story, when Pandavas were advancing towards heaven they took the path of Khaptad region. Then, Arjun, the son of Indra called his brother Jayanta to Khaptad and asked him to protect the humans. Jayanta was the next son of Indra.

The fifth story says the Khas came in contact with Yaksha, Kinnar, Kirat, Bidhar, Naga, Tangan, Kulinda, Huna, Pulinda, Palkas, Abhir and Kank, then a mixed culture was developed due to give-and-take between them. Thus Masto culture emerged as a result of accepted culture for all. The same turned out to be the protector of the family.

According to the sixth story which asserts that Masto God appeared in the dream and then was established (Raja Ram Subedi).

There are basically two types of Masto: Darhe Masto and Dudhe Masto. Darhe Masto accepts the sacrifice of the animals and / or birds, while Dudhe Masto does not. Both Mastos are equally venerated. However, the Khas offer whatever they eat to their family deity, vegetarian Khas worship Dudhe Masto, while non-vegetarian Khas worship Darhe Masto. Masto likes to stay around Deurali (valley), Path, Pass, Underground, Shrub and Solitary place. While making Masto mandu (Masto home) squalid is not permitted. The form of Dudhe Masto is yellow, while Darhe Masto looks black and red. The structure and form of Masto is revealed by the Jhankri (shaman). Each Masto has a geographical domain in the Khas region.

While the sister of Masto is called Nine Durgas or Durgabhawani, brothers are twelve.

The following are the Nine Durga Goddesses;

1. Malika / Kalika

2. Tripurasundari / Bhawani

3. Khesmalini / Sunnada

4. Pungelni / Kanaka Sundari

5. Kanaka Sundari / Malika

6. Jalapa / Jalpa

7. Thingyalni / Alanakannada

8. Himalini / Tripurasundari

9. Bindhyabasini / Ugratara

The devotees of the Masto God believe in the existence of twelve brothers of Masto. The twelve main Masto Gods are as follows:

1. Adi Masto

2. Khappar / Khapad Masto

3. Babiro Masto

4. Rumal Masto

5. Kala Masto

6. Dhadare Masto

7. Tharpa Masto

8. Bani Masto

9. Kaba Masto

10. Mandali Masto

11. Dade Masto/Dudhe Masto

12. Darhe Masto

According to the mythology of the ancient period, after the end of war between Gods vs Devils, all the Devils were compelled to ask the Gods for shelter. However, the devils were always intended to take revenge with the Gods. Slowly and gradually the Devils started getting unified and started doing mischievous activities. Occasionally they achieved success in doing so. One example of their mischievous activities, is that they attacked Goddess Durga, captured and imprisoned her believing that she was the main cause of their defeat and failure during war with Gods. The Gods could not discover the location where she was kept thus the confusion aroused. Then a prayer was made to God Shiva who sent a powerful force under the leadership of the Masto God to search the Goddess Durga. Masto God found out the location of Goddess Durga along with her nine sisters who were kept in a metallic fort. After the fierce fight, Masto God was successful to enter the fort and rescued the Goddess Durga and her sisters. After that incident, Goddess Durga regarded Masto God as her brother and blessed that wherever she would be worshipped Masto would be invited.

It is believed that Masto God overpowers the devils. Instantly he knows if anything impure is offered. If a thief, traitor, mugger, robber, dacoit etc. try to offer anything to Masto, the Jhankri (shaman) throws them away. If the innocent victim appeals Masto God with pure devotion and belief then he would surely give justice to him or her. Masto God is the powerful god with the power of creation and destruction. It is believed that where there is a settlement area of Khas, lives Masto God who protected them from ancient time to present time, and even in the future. The fame of Masto God as the protector in difficult or dangerous situation and belief in him has profoundly remained intact in Nepal. The power of Vaidyanath emerges in the devotee of Masto God. Whether Aryans or non-Aryans, the origin of Masto can be traced from Turkistan of Mid Asia, Kailash, Jalandhar, Dhandar, Banni, Khaptad to whole Nepal.

Raja Ram Subedi writes that Masto culture seems to have developed along with human civilization. Masto God favours equality. He is the family deity of tortured, exploited, oppressed and marginalized group. Having understood these realities, the Khas have adopted Masto culture, which still prevails in the Khas community. There is no doubt that Masto God is merciful God of the Nepali Khas community as he welfares the country, people, family and the whole environment. Masto culture is the main pillar of the Nepali culture and originality.


Submitted by: Krishna Bahadur Thapa Chhetri

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