Matya, the festival of lights is here! ‘Tis a unique Buddhist festival celebrated in Patan, a day after Gai Jatra. The festival is known for taking out processions in many Buddhist temples and stupas in Patan. This day-long parade around the historical city starts at the dawn, on the third day of the dark fortnight of Shrawan. This year, the celebration falls on August 17, only three days from today.
The Newar community in Patan believes that the festival is celebrated to honor the victory of Lord Buddha over vice. Matya is actually a long parade of the enthusiastic shrine-walkers who walk around all the Buddhist shrines scattered in and around the city of Patan. Patan alone has more than 1300 Buddhist shrines. The number of shrine-walkers who colorfully form this impressive parade is around three to four thousand every year.
The historical background of this festival, Matya is quite interesting. Once, Shakya Muni Gautam was in deep penance to attain Nirvana. The Maras, awfully jealous of his determination came down to distract him. They disguised themselves in various forms and some were in the form of fierce-looking demons while some in the form of beautiful damsels. They all made possible attempts to tempt him but all in vain. However, Shakya Muni overcame the Maras and became Buddha, the enlightened one. It is also believed that the Maras came to confess their sins 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 ten chosen localities of Patan—Mangal Bazar, Chakrabahil, Ikhachen, Bubahal, Haugal, Ukubahal, Ikhalakhu, Kobahal, Saugal, and Nakabahil—take turns to organize this yearly festival, Matya by sponsoring the musical instruments, musicians and all the other expenses for the festival.
This year’s Matya is being organized by the Haugal locality. The interested ones gather at the lead locality at dawn and start their yatra with excitement and some with uncertainty in their cheerful faces; as they must walk all day long often bare-footed and fasting. It is a great scene to watch people prepare for their procession around the four principal Ashoka stupas spread in and around the four corners of Patan.
On this festival, during the parade, people disguise themselves as devil dancers (laakhe), damsels, and other funny mask-wearers who are said to represent the Maras. Not only these, the parade includes several groups of musicians playing different traditional musical instruments. Below is a glimpse of the enthralling Matya festival.
People carry a variety of interesting offerings for Lord Buddha during the parade. The offerings can be rice grains, vermilion, incense, flowers, sweets, candles, coins and more. The offering or oil or butter lamps signifies the enlightenment of Shakya Muni Buddha. The family members of the dead also take part in the parade, ignite the light and pray for the departed souls. The journey continues for a whole day, walking in a line of thousands and ends where it started.
Matya is one of the most interesting and exciting festivals celebrated in Patan, the heart of Kathmandu Valley. And the festival not only amuses the foreigners but even the locals are thrilled to watch the colorful parade of Matya.
Being one of the Newars in the locality, I really enjoy watching this colorful festival with my family and friends, and I am very excited about it being held this Saturday. If you also want to experience the excitement of Matya, we suggest you visit the Patan area on August 17.