It was a very early morning, and my mother woke me up to show me something magnificent. I was still half asleep as she pulled me out of bed and took me to the lachi(Square) at Pulchowk. As we reached the square, I remember a huge crowd had amassed. For a child I couldn’t conjure up why they had gathered.
A few moments later, still sleepy I heard an unfamiliar sound approaching towards us. It was the sounds of paujus (anklets). As the beautiful steps got closer the traditional tunes of dheme drumed in the distance. In a split second, I saw this long procession heading towards us. I wasn’t asleep anymore I was wide wake with excitement. I saw these gentlemen clad in daura and women in the traditional Haku Patasi( Newari Dress) and what followed had me smiling and laughing. Men and women dressed up in my then, little vocabulary weird and funny. Men with masks, some dressed as women,some as gods and some in a crazy mix of all. I asked my mother, “ What is this?” and she looked at me and said, this is Mataya. The next thing I remember I saw this man running towards me who had this crazy mask on, and I being the child ran as fast as I could.
The festival of Mataya also known as Neyaku Jatra, is one of the most important festivals in the Newar community in Patan. Mata in Newari means light and ya means a scared journey. Celebrated normally in the month of August in the Gregorian calendar. It is celebrated the day after, the auspicious festival of Gai Jatra. This year Matya shall be celebrated on 17th of August 2019. It is believed that the festival of Mataya was established the Lichhavi King Gunakamadeva, who is also believed to have been the King who founded the city of Kantipur( Kathmandu).(Wright, 1877, 155)
The festival of Mataya is a unique Buddhist festival, during when individuals walk to almost all the temples, stupas and monasteries in and around the old city of Lalitpur. The festival every year amasses an attendance of thousands with individuals carrying candles and torches, traditional musicians playing merry rhythms and men and women who dress in comical attire.
According to Min Bahadur Shakya, Director- Nagarjuna Institute of Exact Methods,” The preparation for Mataya begins on the first day of Gunla. After mid-night on this day a group of hundred people with nava bajan( traditional Newari instrument) gather and follow the exact path that they are to follow on the day of Mataya. They don’t finish the whole route on a single go, but gather every night for the upcoming days and mark the shrines and courtyards with vermilion, husked rice and coins as they pass by. This event is called Bogiwonegu(To Give Offering). During the day of Matya individuals gather at the lead locality from where Matya is to begin and start their journey. They walk the entire route in one day, and some choose to make the journey bare foot. They offer their prayers at the shrines marked and present offerings.”
Members of family stay show their support by offering them refreshments and various communities place stalls to offer water and refreshments to the attendees. It is roughly estimated that the devotees visit 1400, 1500 local and private shrines during Matya.
According to a local legend, it is believed that once Sakya Muni Gautam was in deep penance to attain Nirvana when the jealous Maras came to distract him. They had disguised themselves in various forms and some were in the form of fierce looking demons while some were beautiful damsels. They tried to tempt the muni but he overcame the Maras and achieved Nirvana. It is also believed that the Maras later came to Lord Buddha and confessed their sins and worshiped the lord.
For this years edition of Mataya, it is being organized by Haku Bahal Tole which is west from the cross roads of Patan Durbar Square. The festival shall normally begins before the crack of dawn at around 4 AM and make their way to the shrines marked during Bogiwonegu. It is a beautiful sight to behold, with merry music, comical dancers, and the energy is exhilarating.