Very few cities in the world compares with Patan (Lalitpur) in the richness of its cultural heritage—a claim that really makes sense, especially when you are talking about something with the unmatched wonder of Neku Jatra-Mataya. For Patan’s Newari community in a city where festivals function as rites of passage throughout the year, the series of festivals during Gunla (the ninth lunar month) has become a way of life. The highest point of this greatest of all Buddhists months is Mataya (and its twin procession, Neku Jatra, both celebrated as one) which follows the day after Gai Jatra. This day-long journey around the historical city starts at the dawn, on the third day of the dark fortnight of Shrawan (August).
From Neku Jatra-Mataya, neku (in Newari) means a ‘buffalo horn’, jatra is ‘festival’, mata means ‘lights’ and ya (from yatra) refers to a sacred ‘journey’. Neku Jatra is also known as Sringavheri Jatra, which also is associated with the buffalo horn. The name itself says it all, for the most significant feature of this festival is the blowing of buffalo horn in each lane and baha (courtyard) and at every corner along the way. Men and women walk in a line of thousands between these musician groups and do puja at the votive shrines (chaityas) carrying lighted candles and torches.
The preparation for Neku Jatra-Mataya begins on the first day of Gunla, after the celebration of yet another popular Newari festival called Gathamugha. After mid-night on this day a group of some hundred people with nava bajan (traditional Newari musical ensemble) gather and follow the exact path that they are to follow on the day of Mataya.
Matya is unique to Patan and is one of the most important festival of the city about 1400 year old tradition, Celebrated a day after Gai Jatra is also known for taking out processions in many Buddhist temples and stupas in Patan. On the day, the special routes of the city open up and lead to all sacred places.
The newar community of Patan believes that the festival is taken out to honor the victory of Buddha over vice. The major attraction of the festival are traditional musicians, people with lighted candles and people dressed in traditional attires. During the festival, people who have lost their family members or relatives, participate and walk to all the four Ashok pillars located in different part of Patan. They print the photos of their loved ones or oil lamps, camphor, money and offer it to different gods and goddesses on the way to these four pillars. They start their journey early in the morning and keep walking the whole day. This time, it started from Kobahal, near Patan Durbar Square. People wearing joker dresses and others also participated. They walk, joke and dance the whole day.
Story on origin of Mataya
There are two famous schools of belief of how this festival originated, one is a local belief and the other is famous among the cultural scholars in town. According to the local belief, “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 from (damsls) and so on . They all made very possible attempt to seduce him but all in vain. In a longrun 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.
Here is a version of story on origin of Mataya told by experts
“Once upon an ancient time, even before The Buddha, there lived a king and a queen. They were perfect, meant for each other. The only difference between them was in their notion about animals and how they should treat them. The king was a violent man and liked hunting and abusing animals, but the queen was otherwise—compassionate, peaceful and believed in worshiping animals. Their life went on, happily in fact, until they grew old and died. The queen, being a religious person, was re-born as a Brahmin’s priest’s daughter, Sulakshyana; and the king was reborn as Shringaketu, a buffalo in the same Brahmin’s farm. The priest’s daughter, being a holy person, realized that the buffalo was her husband in their past lives. She looked after him and nourished him. Under her care the buffalo got healthy and sizeable. Sulakshyana even refused to marry, as she knew that the love of her life was Shringaketu.
On one unfortunate day Shrin-gaketu fell off a cliff and died. Sulakshayana, all mournful, preserved the remains of her husband’s body in a shrine and worshipped it. From one of his horns she maked the gajur (pinnacle of the shrine) and she used the other horn to water the shrine. One day she made a hole at the sharp end of the horn and tried blowing it. The sound of the horn was so deep and mournful. She kept blowing it with all her heart to reach her dead husband, meaning “Where are you? My Love!” Finally, after a lot of one-sided futile effort, the king answered from the other horn “Here I am! Here I am!”
This is the reason why people blow horns. It is believed that the sound of the horn reaches to the dead. Till to this day two horns are played, so that during Mataya their words are believed to be parallel to those of Sulakshayana and Shringaketu.