Once upon a time, there was a pretty Nepalese princess from Bhaktapur whose husbands died one after the other, devoured at night by snakes. An Indian prince, a follower of tantrism and nevertheless very much in love with the beauty, decided to marry her in turn. During their wedding night, he heard a hiss and saw two snakes come out of his sweetheart's nostrils; they grew bigger and bigger until they reached a length of 55 cubits! Listening only to his courage, he grabbed his vajrayogi sword (like Escalibur) and cut off their heads. The story does not say if he also cut that of his beloved… but to pay homage to his bravery, the king had a pole erected on which he hung the remains of the reptiles for all to see.

Intrigued, the protector Bhairava, a wrathful aspect of Shiva residing in Benares, came to attend the feast. The people of Bhaktapur flattered by such a visit asked the local goddess Bhadrakali to seduce him to stay in their city. What was done, So they built him a temple and put him there.

Since then, every year at the time of the Nepalese New Year, the inhabitants raise a gigantic pole on which are hung two strips of fabric that symbolically represent snakes. Are then installed in two dowdy carts with full and wobbly wheels, Mr. Bhairava and Mrs. Bhadrakali who come with great fanfare to watch the show. The whole town is on the square: the young girls on the balconies, the toddlers in their arms while several hundred men struggle to make the two carts progress through the winding alleys in bewildering shambles. Meter by meter because it pulls to hue and dia in total anarchy, everyone wanting to be for a moment at the bow or at the stern, the ephemeral captain of this uncertain skiff wandering in the storm. Then the ropes holding the mainmast are released and the crowd seizes them screaming. Again it pulls, it rolls, it pitches on this human swell, the electric wires are swept away, the tiles of the temples torn off but who cares? After a few indecisive minutes, under too much pressure, the gigantic mast burst with a thunderclap and fell on the crowd... A bad omen but this year at least there were no deaths.

Later in the evening, by the light of myriads of oil lamps placed on the street, the carts of Mr and Mrs couple three times and the crowd, from children to old people, in the same gasp enjoys the unison of the divine couple! Artificial insemination certainly but ecstasy shared by the whole community which then returns to its household in the now silent night.

Tomorrow, the entire city, with its stalls and cybercafés, its peasants winnowing rice in the squares and its stressed businessmen clinging to their cell phones, will have gotten back on their feet as if nothing had happened in the 21st century.

Bhaktapur, from the ‘Snake Death Festival’