Browsing articles in "Shrawan (Jul-Aug)"

Mattya

Temples of Patan in Nepal

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Matya (Mata Ya:, Mattya, Deep Yatra, Festival of lights, Candle walk festival) 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 worshiped 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. Buddhists 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.

Rakshya Bandhan (Janai Purnima)

Janai Purnima falls on the full moon day of August. Brahman and Chhetri communities in Nepal change their sacred thread “Janai” on this day after taking a holy bath or dip in the river. Meanwhile, for people in these communities and others like Newars, Brahman priests tie an ornamental thread to their wrists and in return receive gifts. These sacred threads are sanctified by the Brahman priests, worshiping Gods and Saptarishis. Saptarishis are the Tutors of the Gods in an ancient time who could forecast the past present and future episodes exactly in the Golden era. The sacred thread Janai and the thread is venerated as a feature of Lord Vishnu and it protects us from being and kind of spiritual sickness as well.

Many people throng to Pashupati and Budhanilkantha temple on this day to change Janai and tie thread (dhaago) from the priests there. Brahmin and Chhetri people get Janai only when they have completed their Bratabandha (a special type of religious rite, approximately before the age of 15).

A religious fair takes place at Gosaikunda Lake in Rasuwa district on this day. Thousands of devotees throng there to take the holy dip in the lake to eradicate their sins. A similar religious fete takes place at Kumbheshower temple (Bangalamukhi) in Patan. People who can’t visit the Gosaikunda pilgrimage take holy dip in this pond and worship to Lord Kumbheshower there. It’s believed that the water there has been brought from Gosaikunda Pilgrimage.

Nag Panchami

An Indian cobra in a basket with a snake charm...

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Nag Panchami is celebrated to commemorate the battle between Nag and Garud. Legend has it that the stone image of Garud at Changu Narayan is said to perspires during the festival and priests are sent to wipe the perspiration off with a handkerchief. They later present it to the king and water is used to make it into a snake bite remedy, despite the fact that there are few snakes inhabiting Nepal.

Nag Panchami translates to the “Festival of Snakes”. In the ancient Nepal, Nags or Serpent Kings were worshipped and it was believed that their relationship with the Gods and nature would secure devotees’ survival. The myths and legends surrounding the Nags have a few versions of the story that led to a creation of the festival. In one story version, it is said that the Kathmandu Valley used to be a vast lake. As the story goes, when humans started to drain the lake to make space for villages and settlements the Nags became enraged. To protect themselves against the wrath of the Serpent Kings, the humans gave the Nags certain areas as pilgrimage destinations and that through these actions harmony was restored to nature.

Another popular tale is one of a Tantric King that used the powers he possessed to force the Nags to return rain to the land which they had taken away. The Nags did give in to the King’s amazing powers, but he also recognized their powers. To honor the power of the Nags, the King created the Nag Panchami festival to honor the Gods. As the serpents were believed to be capable of controlling the rains, it is important to the people of Nepal to show their respect during the festival to insure that they do not offend the Gods.

The festival usually takes place in the month of August and as part of the celebration, residents post pictures of serpents above the doors to their home to ward off the evil spirits. Prayers are said during the festival while people wearing demon masks, dance in the streets entertaining festival participants. It is also believed that offerings should be given to the Serpent Kings during the festival and residents leave food items such as milk and honey in their gardens for the Nags, or snakes. The offerings and prayers are then honored by the Serpent Kings by ensuring rain and protection for the people of Nepal.

Gathe Muga:

Gathe Muga: or Ghanta Karn (or Gathe Mangal) refers to the celebration of the expulsion of a Rakshyas or evil spirits and bring peace and prosperity to the society. This also marks the beginning of several festivals that will follow.

So how is it celebrated? Effigies of the demon Ghantakarna are erected at street crossroads and corners. Each area with the effigy will have a boy, painted all over his body and face impersonating the demon, with other kids chasing him. At the end of the day, the effigy is dragged to the nearby river bank for disposal with the painted man sitting on it. The demon escapes on the way to the river. Some variance is observed in the celebration. In some communities, the demon’s effigies are burnt during celebrations. People wear iron rings on their fingers to ward off any possible influence of the evil spirits. People also place pots of cooked rice at the crossroads as food for the evil spirits to eat so that they don’t harm anyone.

It is believed that this festival started in the Lichhavi era. It is also a festival of appeasement, of cleansing and of purifying. Legend has it that demon Ghantakarna, literally meaning bells like ears, used to terrify the people by stealing and eating children. People could not go out because of the terrors of the demon. Entire society looked deserted and lifeless. Frogs, friend of farmers, too were as sad as the people. Ultimately, the frogs decided to come to the rescue of the people. Frogs assembled in different directions and began agitating the demon by croaking loud when Ghantakarna was on his way for the man-hunt. Furious Ghantakarna tried to catch each of the frog. But the clever frogs led him to jump into a big swamp leaving him to die there. The valley was liberated from the fear of the demon. Frog is, therefore, worshipped by the farming communities, till today.

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