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Astamatrika Dance of Patan-Rev

Astamatrika Dance of Patan-Rev

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Published by Min Bahadur shakya
It describes the legends, ritual, mask dance and historical orgina of the festival.
It describes the legends, ritual, mask dance and historical orgina of the festival.

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Published by: Min Bahadur shakya on Sep 18, 2009
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Preserving the Tradition of Patan:The Astamatrika Dance
Min Bahadur ShakyaI. Introduction The ancient Nepalese city of Patan is also called Lalitpur, the city of Fine Arts.Its inhabitants are mainly Newars, who live in clusters around BuddhistViharas which jostle with numerous Hindu temples. Buddhist sites arepredominant in the City. Patan is also famous for its temple architecture,monuments and its magnificent representations of various deities. Most of the statues engraved in stone, wood and bronzes are created by unnamedNewar artists during the Lichhavi (c. 400-880 AD) and Malla (c. 1400-1825AD) periods. Almost all those who have written on Newar Society found itdifficult to differentiate between Buddhists and Hindus among the Newarpopulation. The Newar people are fond of observing various Hindu andBuddhist festivals together. In the observance of these festivals, theirspiritual motivation is distinctly visible. A blending of Hindu and Buddhistfeatures is apparent in their scenarios. We can cite examples such asAvalokiteshvara/Matsyendranath, Manjushree/Saraswati, and many otherswhich throw light on the Hindu-Buddhist syncretic or integrative behavioramong the Newar population. The cultural harmony created throughsyncretism is the lifeblood and cultural identity of Nepal, and a matter of national pride.
Unlike the Rama Janma Bhumi and Baba Mosquecontroversies in India, in Nepal the two main religious groups never cameinto conflict. Although most of the rulers in the Malla period were Hindus,they never remained indifferent to the upliftment of Buddhists.Among Patan’s various events or festivals, the dance of Astamatrika is aunique cultural event. The uniqueness lies not so much in the dance itself,but in its integrative character and its relationship with various aspects of Newar culture. Today, the question of how such cultural harmony is possibleis receiving more attention in the scholarly community. How is it achieved?Casual visitors may be surprised to see that the masked dance of theAstamatrika, or Eight mother goddesses, who are tutelary deities of Hindus,is performed by Buddhist Bajracharyas (tantric priests) and laymen. Thisoutwardly ‘Hindu’ veneer has led some Hindu elites to claim Buddhism ismerely an offshoot of Hinduism. Regrettably, this is a gross mistake.It must be noted that what the Newar people profess here is the Buddhism of the Vajrayana, which is the path of skillful Means and Wisdom. The use of mantras, sadhanas, yogas and various disciplines have parallels in Hindu Tantric methods, yet, although being apparently similar to Buddhism, in
terms of their basis, path and result, they are dissimilar in nature. Apart fromDeity Yoga, there are innumerable skillful means in Vajrayana Buddhismwhich are practices or used for the attainment of perfect enlightenment orBuddhahood. The incorporation of Hindu deities in Buddhist pantheons issaid to be one of the foremost skill-in-means of Buddhism. In VajrayanaBuddhism one aims to attain perfect enlightenment for the benefit of allsentient beings, and as a result of that motivation, for the practitioner toexclude any sentient being from one's domain of meditation is absurd. ABuddhist practitioner utilizes these Astamatrika deities in meditation for thepurpose of averting obstacles and for the attainment of eight kinds of mundane Siddhis or perfections. In Buddhist texts like the
 AbhidhanottaraTantra, Kalachakra Tantra
, methods of worship, meditation and practice areset out at length. II. Origin and History of Astamatrika dance The dance of Astamatrika was introduced by King Sri Nivash Malla (1627-1687 AD) who was said to be an emanation of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.Once he saw in his dream a congregation of mother goddesses dancing in hisroyal court Mulachowk. To know the significance of his dream, he consultedthe Brahmin priest Madhusudan, of Gabahal Tole, and Sri Kulapad Acharya of Nyakhachowk (near Patan Gate). The King inaugurated the dance of Astamatrika by donating land for a fund (Guthi) used to financially supportthe performance of the dance every year. The king, being himself a scholarand tantric, composed charyagitas or songs of various deities. And theBajracharya Kulapada arranged all the ceremonial procedures for the songand the dance according to his Buddhist Tantric tradition. The musical instruments used for the dance are called Ponga and Pancabaja(fivefold instruments). According to Kulapada, these instruments were usedby divine Kinnaras and Gandharvas in the heaven of Indra. These wereperceived by Lord Manjudeva, an emanation of Bodhisattva Manjushree. Hethen narrated these events to his famous disciple Santikar Acharya whofounded the Stupa of Swayambhu. Later Santikar Acharya instructed hisdisciple Bandhudatta Acharya who brought Lord KarunamayaAvalokiteshvara from Kamarupa (Assam) to Kathmandu during the reign of the King Narendradeva. As Kulapada Acharya was in the lineage of Bandhudatta Acharya, he had heard all about them.In the concluding ceremony of the Astamatrika dance, Acharya Kulapadaappended a drama called
Belakha Huyekegu
. In the drama, Guru KulapadaAcharya tried to show the importance of the Sadhana of Astamatrika for theattainment of eight mundane Siddhis, which facilitates the accumulation of merit for the attainment of Buddhahood. The Sadhana of Astamatrika ismanifested in great detail through the Bhairabha chakra mandala and also inBuddhist Tantric Texts. For a tantric Buddhist, the Kathmandu valley is said tobe a mandala of Heruka Cakra Samvara surrounded by Eight Matrika
goddesses and eight cemeteries. Hence the name chosen by Mary Slusserfor her book on the Cultural History of the Kathmandu Valley, namely, "
." III. Ritual Procedure To start with, the participating dancers must go to a temple of Vajrasattvaand take Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. They bow to theirGuru's feet and make some offerings. Then, to the accompaniment of elaborate music, the guru instructs them in the art of dancing before thetemple of Nrityeshvara, the Lord of Dancing. Then, on New Moon Day, theparticipants must observe the Uposadha fasting ceremony for a full day andthen, treating them as eight mother goddesses and other deities numberingthirteen in total, the guru performs his Sadhana and rituals in the temple.Each participant must visualize themselves as one of the deities of Astamatrika and engage themselves in meditation. According to KulapadaAcharya, the participants who play the role of Astamatrika must purify theirbody, speech and mind and must refrain from talking impure foods, and therituals should contain cereals and vegetarian items. So there should be nokilling of animals for sacrificial purposes. 
Musical instruments and Charyagita The use of Charyagita is another exceptional feature of this dance. Unlikeother secular songs, the Charyagitas have a spiritual significance which isesoteric in nature and cannot be fully comprehended by the uninitiated. Thecharya dance and charyagita have to be performed and sung simultaneously.As stated earlier, the musical instruments used in this dance are called"Ponga" and are supposed to be heavenly instruments, and the sound theyproduce thus has a spiritual significance. Visitors are often astounded anddelighted to see such a spiritual heritage in living form. But unfortunatelysuch heritages in these days are really endangered. 
Mask Creation The Astamatrika dance is also a ceremony that is ritually marked by a set of masks, which on this occasion are worn and danced with. These masks havea continual life-force or energy. They are focal points of the Astamatrikadance ceremonies performed during the Dashain festival.
 The 13 deities represented during these Astamatrika dances are as follows:
Simhini -White
Bhairava -Blue
Ganesh -White
Kumara -Red
Brahmayani -Yellow
Rudrayani -White
Kaumari -Red

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Birat Raj Bajracharya added this note
For our sadness the dance has been stop but it is not too late to start.I request all of them for possible Help
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