Another Sequel to Sri Matsya Narayana: Nepali Homage in Malmas

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Another Sequel to Sri Matsya Narayana: Nepali Homage in Malmas

 

Partha Desikan

 

I had the pleasure of interaction with our friends on the Sri Matsya Narayana avatara through two blogs posted earlier this year. It is now possible to add another sequel to those blogs, because I have just learnt about an enduring Nepali tradition of the worship of Sri Matsya Narayana.

 

Siddhi. B. Ranjitkar writes in the 19th issue of the online publication Khatmandu Metro, dated May 9, 2010 about Nepali Hindus considering it very important to offer worship to Sri Matsya Narayana  in the Malmas month. The Nepali calendar follows the Nepali sambat, which, similar to North Indian Shalivahana samvatsara, is a lunar-movement-directed year. At the end of every three sambats the Nepali Hindus observe an additional month called Malmas, during which they avoid several joyous or auspicious home celebrations, but consider it essential to visit the Macchegaon temple on the western side of the Khatmandu valley and pray to Sri Matsya Narayana there. The author describes the preparations of one Nepali Hindu couple, Ramu and Anita for such a pilgrimage this Spring. The artless narrative is in the form of a conversation between Ramu and Anita. I am giving it below without any alteration whatsoever, in Siddhi Ranjitkar’s words.

 

Anita has proposed her spouse to visit Macchegaon for revering Matsya Narayan in the first week of the month starting off the religious festival on April 15, 2010. However, Ramu wanted to do so only in the mid of the festival. He wanted to invite some other relatives and take them together in a car to Macchegaon. However, they could not do so after the Maoists have launched a movement for ‘peace and constitution’ shutting down every business starting on May 2. So, none of the devotees has been able to visit the area except for those living nearby villages. The festival ends on May 14. So, time is running short for all devotees wishing to visit Matsya Narayan.
‘I have told you we need to go to Matsya Narayan as soon as possible but you did not care about it. Now, we cannot go anywhere because of the shutdown enforced by the Maoists. I don’t know how long it will last. The religious festival ends at Macchegaon on May 14, and then you have to wait for another three years to have ‘malmas’ again. I don’t know what will happen during those three years. I have never been there,’ said Anita in an irritating tone to her husband Ramu.

 

Ramu said, ‘I simply wanted to go with our sisters and other relatives together on our car to Macchegaon, and make offerings to Lord Matsya Narayan together with our loved ones. I did not anticipate the shutdown would last for so many days. It might end any day, have patience.’
Anita said, ‘We never know what will happen with the politics but we have suffered from it and we will surely miss going to Matsya Narayan this year if the shutdown does not end soon.’
Ramu said, ‘You are not alone suffering from this shutdown. Thirty million Nepalis are suffering from it. According to the news reports, attendants to the Matsya Narayan are losing thousands of rupees they would have received daily from the offerings made by the devotees, as the shutdown has reduced the number of visitors drastically; vendors selling items of offerings including butter lamps, teashop owners and other sellers of other items anticipating large business during the religious festival have rented houses, pitched tents and have stored their items there anticipating to sell those items during the festival period but the shutdown has almost halted their businesses. Hundreds of thousands of devotees visit Matsya Narayan on Saturdays and on the eleventh day called ‘ekadasi’ of every fortnight and tens of thousands of devotees every day but now the number of devotees visiting Matsya Narayan has reduced to less than five thousand a day, as only the devotees from the nearby villages could visit Matsya Narayan on foot. The attendants to Matsya Narayan have lost hundreds of thousands of rupees they otherwise would have received from the offerings of devotees to the lord. So, you are not alone that has suffered from the shutdown.’
Anita said, ‘I have hoped to see the religious event and the area this year but it might not be possible.’
Ramu said, ‘You would have seen a number of vendors selling items of offerings lined up on the way to the temple to Matsya Narayan, number of stores selling soft drinks, tidbits, and other items, and teashops serving tea and hot doughnut like fried objects called ‘sale’ in the shape of an inflated ring to the devotees. In fact, people make a lot of money during this festival. This is the picture of the area you want to see.’
Anita said, ‘I love to see the temple and the pond in which people take a holy dip.’
Ramu said, ‘The temple is very simple one, the same Nepalese styled temple stands at the center of the pond but it has been old enough. Nobody knows who has built it. One of the stone inscriptions found nearby the temple has stated that more than four hundred years ago, the temple was renovated but nothing about the first builder of the temple. Scholars believe that the temple must be more than one thousand years old, as it must have been built by one of the Licchavi rulers during their reign starting in 400 AD and ending in 800 AD. Concerning the pond, you have seen such a pond elsewhere at the temple to Narayan. Devotees take a dip in the water of such ponds. Men wearing only loincloths and women wearing only petticoats take a dip in the water. Women wearing thin petticoats and taking dip in the water and coming out of it give quite exciting scenes to the men but most of the men avoid watching such scenes fearing they will miss the blessings of the god if they pay an attention to such scenes.’
Anita said, ‘Is the temple nicely maintained?’
Ramu said, ‘No. The temple has lost the land kept for earning revenue for its upkeep. So, it has no revenue for repairing and maintaining. Local devotees and attendants have kept the temple to Matsya Narayan intact so far. Local devotees continue to sing the hymns every morning but the area has been awfully kept for the deity of such status.’ Anita said, ‘Why the ‘malmas’ happens only once every three year?’
Ramu said, ‘We follow the Nepal Sambat for celebrating religious and social events while we follow the Vikram and Gregorian Calendars for all practical and official purposes. Nepal Sambat is a lunar calendar made following the movement of the moon. So, every three-year, we have an extra month. We call this month ‘malmas’ means an extra month. Some people call this month as ‘purusotam’ by the name of Lord Purusotam: another name of Lord Vishnu’. This year 2010 (2067), ‘malmas’ has started on April 15, and ends on May 14.’
Anita said, ‘Why we revere only Matsya Narayan in this ‘malmas’ month.’
Ramu said, ‘If you read our Hindu scriptures, one of them says that the ‘malmas’ month belongs to Lord Matsya Narayan, as Lord Vishnu has descended the Hindu world from the cosmic world and has taken the form of a golden fish to save a Veda from a demon that has grabbed a Veda from Brahma while Brahma is in hibernation in this month. In order to save the Veda from the demon, Lord Vishnu took the form of a fish and swam deep into the ocean for rescuing the Veda from the demon. This has happened in the ‘malmas’ month. So, Nepalis revere Matsya Narayan in this month. You know Veda is the original Hindu scripture that Brahma himself has authored. So, if we lose it means losing the entire Hindu faith to the demon. Lord Vishnu as the savior of the Hindu world has taken the form of a fish and saved the Veda from the demon for Hindus, and has been known as Matsya Narayan since then. Matsya means a fish, and Narayan means the deity originated from water. So, Matsya Narayan means the fish deity originated from water. Matsya Narayan is one of the nine incarnations of Lord Vishnu that has taken to save the Hindu world from different demons and the challengers to the Hindu deities.’
Anita said, ‘How does Matsya Narayan look like?’
Ramu said, ‘Matsya Narayan is actually a four-limbed Vishnu. The upper portion of the deity is a full scale four-limbed Vishnu; the upper right hand holds a spinning disc, lower right hand a bronze baton, upper left hand a conch shell, and lower left hand a lotus. The lower part of Matsya Narayan from the waist to the down is a fish.’
Anita said, ‘Do we have any other temple to Matsya Narayan other than the temple at Macchegaon?’
Ramu said, ‘In Kathmandu, we have a village called ‘Macchegaon’ and there is a temple to Matsya Narayan, you know it. ‘Macche’ means fish and ‘gaon’ means a village. The name of this village is derived from the name of Matsya Narayan. For the whole month of ‘malmas’, a religious festival is held at this temple; most of the people living in the Kathmandu Valley visit the temple to revere the deity at least once in this month.
In Bhaktapur, they have made a replica of the temple to Matsya Narayan and placed at the center of a pond to the north of the temple to Tantric deity called Mahakali. Bhaktapurians and people living nearby the area visit Matsya Narayan in the ‘malmas’ month. So, a religious festival is held there, too.
Similarly, elsewhere in Nepal, we have many such shrines to Matsya Narayan for making devotees easy to reach the deity and revere him once in the ‘malmas’ month every three-year. In the areas not having a shrine to Matsya Narayan, people simply visit any shrine to Narayan once in the ‘malmas’ month.’
Anita said, ‘You say that Nepalis don’t eat fish in the ‘malmas’ month but we see so many fish vendors, yet.’
Ramu said, ‘The Nevah community surely does not eat fish for the entire ‘malmas’ month. I don’t know what other Nepalis do in this month concerning the fish eating. The Nevahs believe that Lord Vishnu dwells in every fish during this ‘malmas’ month; so, we don’t kill fish and eat it during this period. So, ‘malmas’ is the month of a fish holiday for devout Hindu Nevah Nepalis. You see still vendors selling fish elsewhere in Nepal because Nepal has a large number of different communities that believe in different faiths. So, people believing in the faiths other than in Lord Matsya Narayan eat fish.’
Anita said, ‘You sent me to my parents during the first ‘malmas’ month after our wedding, why?’
Ramu said, ‘We believe that if a woman conceives a baby in this month then such a child will not be a good one. So, Nepalese women avoid being pregnant in this month. ‘Malmas’ is a month of the marital holiday for a newly wedded couple. It is not auspicious for them to live with their husbands for that month. So, newly wedded women go to their parental home for spending the first ‘malmas’ month after their wedding. Thus, husbands and wives live separately for the entire month called ‘malmas’.’
Anita said, ‘Why don’t we hold any auspicious religious and social events other than visiting Matsya Narayan and making offerings to the lord in the ‘malmas’ month?’
Ramu said, ‘Nepalis don’t hold any auspicious events such as wedding, and adulthood ceremonies for their children in the ‘malmas’ month, as this month is entirely dedicated to Matsya Narayan. We believe that any offerings we make to any deity goes to Matsya Narayan in this month; so, it does not make any sense to make offerings to any deity other than Matsya Narayan or simply Narayan in the ‘malmas’ month.’
Ramu said, ‘Nepalis need to call on 33,333 Hindu deities and make offerings to them while performing wedding or adulthood ceremonies. These deities become the witnesses of performing wedding and other lifecycle rituals. During the month of ‘malmas’ they won’t descend the earth from the cosmic world to accept the offerings made to them. So, Nepalis don’t perform any religious and social ceremony. Hence, astrologers don’t make any provision for any auspicious day for performing any such ceremony in the month of ‘malmas’ in the Nepal Sambat.’ So, Nepalis don’t have any auspicious ceremony to be held in this ‘malmas’ month in their lunar calendar called Nepal Sambat. Consequently, Nepalis don’t have any large dinner parties usually held celebrating auspicious wedding and other life-cycle ceremonies in this month. We revere only the fish deity during the ‘malmas’ month every three-year. We don’t eat fish dishes during this month believing Narayan is dwelling in fish during this month.

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