LEGEND OF ORIGIN
When Buddha was in his trance in order to reach enlightenment, there were many demons who hated it and his determination for ending everyone’s suffering. So to distract from his meditation, these demons called Maras, took different forms of living and other worldly creatures like grotesque beasts, Apsaras (beautiful temptresses) and ferocious beasts in an attempt to get any reaction out of him and disrupt his concentration. To tell you what happened for all their efforts: They failed spectacularly!
Buddha found enlightenment even though Maras tried their hardest to stop him. In the end, he had such a profound impact on them that they all gathered in front of him and asked for his forgiveness and to take them under his wings and teach them the path to enlightenment.
This very incident is what Mattya celebrates as it literally means to turn on/ make the light. It is also called Deep Yatra (If you take it literally, it’s Light Travel but the meaning is Travel of Light which is same!), Festival of Lights and Candle Walk Festival. It symbolizes the moment when Maras denounce their way of living to follow in the footsteps of Buddha who is considered the light in the world.
This festival is mainly celebrated by Buddhist Newars of Patan as they are the avid followers of Gautam Buddha or as they call him Shakyamuni Buddha. The festival falls around August-September based on the date calculated by the priest according to lunar calendar. Mattya always comes after Gai Jatra Festival. It’s interesting that the three festivals – Janai Purnima, Gai Jatra and Mattya are celebrated one after the other respectively.
The decision to host Mattya festival by a particular area/part (Tole) of the city is done by the organizing committee which comes in turns for all the Toles and the one hosting the festival has to oversee every aspect of it under the supervision of the head committee.
Before Mattya roles around the corner for the year, the tole which is going to host it has to train the young musicians who have to play at the parade and during their training they have to showcase what they have learned thus far at certain part of their tole.
Like the name suggests this festival is a walk or more like a parade of devotees’ young and old who visit the entire Buddhist shrines designated in the city of Patan. For your information, there are about 1300 shrines in Patan alone!
The walk in and around the city visiting all the shrines takes about 7 to 8 hours for these enthusiastic devotees who are given refreshments along the way in the form of juices and snacks by the locals and the organizing committee in various locations, so they won’t get worn out. The participants gather early in the morning, most of the time it’s 2 or 3 AM from where Mattya will start.
Those who participate in Mattya give various items to the shrines as offering to Shakyamuni like grains, rice, vermillion powder (tika), flowers, guru patra (a simple cup offered as a gift), incense, sweets and butter lamps. One can see Mattya is greatly influenced by the story of Maras and Lord Buddha as most of the devotees if not all will be offering butter lamps to Lord Buddha as a sign of their wish to follow him to the path of enlightenment leaving earthly temptations behind like his disciples, followers and the Maras did on this auspicious day.
You can have fun watching some the participants all dressed up in different costumes looking like demons/Maras with colorful makeup on their faces, some looking funny while others scary. These guys try to scare small children by surprise attack jumps and shouts and making faces which make the kids hid behind the safety of their mothers and guardians and some end up crying!
Those kids who are old enough to understand that these guys are just messing with them and are harmless just play fight with them and joke around which can be pretty amusing for those of us who are watching.
Mattya is filled with not just them but others too like the girls who are all dressed up in traditional Newari garments and ornaments which look so classic and beautiful. Most will be carrying one or two big candles and will be wearing ghungroos (anklet bells) on their legs which makes rhythmic sounds. When they are walking the bells adds music to the parade and builds up anticipation of the onlookers who know they are coming and makes them even more eager to see them.
There are bunch of musicians too who play flutes and other traditional instruments like Dhime Baja(drums) and are usually in the front guiding rest of the people in the parade. The upbeat music sets the mood of the festive atmosphere and makes you want to follow them all around the city and watch mesmerized by the dancers who follow every beat with their bodies.
In the past, there wasn’t any map of the route for the parade given to participants who used to follow the musicians leading the parade but now with all map reading apps available, I hope this technology will be used for Mattya too like they did last year for the Dipankha Yatra in the valley.
Those who participate in the parade and those who watch them from the sidelines all have smiles on their faces and you see everyone having a good laugh and enjoying the parade as it passes through their part of the town.
Mattya a amusing and enjoyable festival is very little known, so, if you happen to know or come here just before it is taking place, all I can say is spare an hour or two to catch all the fun and DO NOT miss out on this little gem of a festival!