In november 2004 was ik in Nepal, om met B. Shrestha, een Nepalese antropoloog, een documentaire te maken over de installatie van een nieuwe priester in de Vedische Vuurtempel in Patan.
In de IIAS Newsletter staat een artikel gepubliceerd over het filmproces. (Bal Gopal Shrestha en Wendy van Wilgenburg: Filming fire rituals in Nepal. IIAS Newsletter/#42/Autumn 2006, p. 26).

Agni (fire) is an important god in Hindu religion. Especially in the Vedic tradition, fire is considered to be a means to link the human world and heaven. Establishing fire implies ‘life, wealth, procreation and continuation of family, clan and lineage’ (Heesterman 1983: 76). In Nepal, Rajopadhyay Brahmins have maintained the cult of fire at the Agnimatha fire temple for centuries.

It is told that a long time ago an old Brahmin couple arrived at the present location of the Agnimatha to spend a night. They carried a walking stick, which they laid down on the ground before going to sleep. The next morning, when they woke up, they saw the stick rooted in the ground and sprouted on its top. Seeing this miracle, they thought this was the right place for them to settle for the rest of their lives. The couple started to perform daily fire sacrifices and installed the pañcagni or the five fires. It is believed that the Agnimatha existed in this place since then. The Rajopadhyay Brahmins in Patan, claiming to be descendants of the same couple, assume that the Agnimatha in Patan has been there for at least four thousand five hundred years, as researchers found out that a holy Varuna tree at the temple courtyard is about this old.

Sanskrit ritual manual

The priests in charge of the Agnimatha fire temple believe that if the tradition of maintaining fire at the temple is discontinued the world will come to an end, as would be the case if the sun would stop shining.

The daily sacrifices performed in honour of Agni are most commonly known as Agnihotra, and have been preserved until today at the Agnimatha in Patan. It is the oldest fire temple in Nepal and one of the most important religious sites in the Valley of Kathmandu (e.g., Witzel 1986; Van den Hoek 1992; Van den Hoek and Shrestha 1992). The Agnimatha temple contains five fires, one of which is permanently burning.

The most important participants in the fire ritual are the agnihotrin, oryajamana, and his wife. Once they have been chosen, they accept the responsibilities of keeping the fire burning at the Agnimatha and of taking care of all daily and fortnightly (darsapurnamasa) offerings, until one of them dies. Only at the death of the yajamana, or his wife, are the fires of the Agnimatha discontinued and all five fire hearths in the Agnimatha broken down. The newyajamana is chosen among the elders of each of the six Rajopadhyaya lineages in Patan. The elaborate initiation ceremony of the new agnihotrin must be completed on the first full moon after the turn of the Nepali New Year in November.

The new priest and his wife

The old priest Vishnu Jwalananda died at the age of 94 on 27 March 2004. Elaborate installation procedures were carried out at the Agnimatha fire temple from 20 to 26 November 2004. This installation of new fires and of a new priest and his wife at the Agnimatha fire temple was filmed.

The recorded footage is about forty-six hours in length. Editing the film in the Netherlands is the next step. Recited texts in Sanskrit and Newar are being translated into English and the footage will be brought back to 90 minutes. A budget necessary for editing the film has to be arranged.

Involved in this project are: Bert van den Hoek † (research), Bal Gopal Shrestha (research), Jan Houben (Professor of Sanskrit), Sri Laksmi (translations Nepali, Newari), Dirk Nijland (camera and editing 1992 footage), Han Vermeulen (coordinator), and Wendy van Wilgenburg (camera and editing 2004 footage).