MATYA -The Festival of Lights


January 2019

Matya is a typical Buddhist festival of Nepal which in Newari means the festivals of lights. It is however, quite different from Deepawali which we celebrate every year in the month of November. This interesting festival begins early in the morning on the third day of the dark fortnight of Shrawan (August).

One of the most fascinating features of this festival is a long parade of the enthusiastic shrine-walkers who go round all the Buddhist shrines scattered in and around the city of Patan. It must be remembered here that Patan alone has more than 1300 Buddhist shrines. The number of shrine-walkers who colorfully form this impressive parade is around three to four thousands. Men and women both participate in this festival. They carry variety of interesting gifts to make offerings to Lord Buddha. The offerings of rice, grains, flowers, red Powders, sweets, incense and guru patra (a gift cup for guru) are quite common tin the scene. However the offering of oil or butter lamps to Lord Buddha on this auspicious day is a dominant feature. It is interesting to note that the majority of the shrine-walker are the lamp offers to the shrines. Offering lamps in particular to the Buddha on this day is said to signify great enlightenment obtained by overcoming the Maras (temptations).

There is a very interesting story about the origin of this festival. Once Shakya Muni Gautam was in deep penance to attain Nirvana. The Maras, awfully jealous of his determination came down to detract him. They came disguising themselves in different forms. Some were in the form of fierce-looking demons and some in apsara form (damsels) and so on. They all made every possible attempt to seduce him but all in vain. In a long run Shakya Muni overcame the Maras and became Buddha, the enlightened one. It is said that later on, the Maras came to confess their sin to lord Buddha and worshipped him with great honor. Ever since this festival is believed to have come into existence to mark this great day.

The expression of this fantastic story can be found in this festival. All those devil dancers and the apsara actors and several other funny mask-wearers who are the part and parcel of this festival parade are said to represent the Maras. This parade is always accompanied by several groups of musicians playing various kinds of traditional musical instruments. The route prescribed for this parade to pass through looks quite confusing yet a accepted as most perfect shortcut. This parade is supposed to move on in an unbroken chain. The route map of the entire parade is a leading group of musicians who always go ahead of the parade playing a kind of music. People here are not used to maps. It takes seven to eight hours to complete going round the entire Buddhist shrines.

It is interesting to note that the ten different neighborhoods of Patan have long been devoted to the regular running of this festival parade. The responsibility of organizing this parade goes to each of those neighborhoods once in every ten years. There is very interesting tradition according to which the sponsoring Tole of this parade must train a team of traditional drum-players who are expected to display every best skill they have when they are asked to perform in the public on this day. The name of these drummers team is known as Naubaja Khalah. They perform this show in a very special way only at the member Toles devoted to this Matya festival. It is quite exciting to see the way they go round the town and perform this typical musical show with great enthusiasm. Some of the drums that are used for the occasion are so richly decorated that people sometimes mistake them for temple treasures.

The most enjoyable part of this festival Parade for the children is the devil dancers and funny mask-wearers. Quite a number of them are clad from head to foot all in worn out sacks and rags. Whenever they came across the inquisitive kids they suddenly jump in a dramatic way and try to scare them away. The kids who are too slow to get the fun always stay away from the scene and those who are smart enough to push themselves in the front never wait to tease those devil dancers and enjoy themselves to their heart's content. uddhists have a tremendous respect to this festival and so they celebrate it with great feast and fun. They seem to have attached a great deal of significance to this day which as they believe is an unforgettable day as all the Maras surrendered themselves to Lord Buddha and confessed their sins paying tribute to the all-compassionate Lord Buddha.


The Nepal Festivals-Dhurba Krishna Deep
National Library, lalitpur
Photograph: Sudeep Shrestha

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