Mata Tirtha falls on the last day of the dark fortnight of April and is also the first festival of Nepali New Year. This year it is on the 16th of April (3rd of Baisakh-2075).
I attended a week-long puja (ritual)called “Srimad Bhagwat Devi Saptaha” at Chundevi, my birth town, it was already the second last day for puja and fortunately, I made on time for the antim adhyaya (concluding chapter) of the Devi Bhagwat. The Guru (Priest) read the antim adhyaya in sanskrit first and then translated the whole story in Nepali, Matara devo bhava (Mother is God).
According to him or the purana (Hindu religious texts) the roll is Matara devo Bhava, Guru devo bhava and Pitara Devo Bhava; (Mother is a god, Teacher is god and Father is god), and that is how the celebration of Mother, Guru and Father chronologically falls on Nepali Calendar. Purana says, children can be bad children, they can hurt their mother, but a mother is never a bad mother because she can never hurt her children back, hence, The New Year here starts with the celebration of Mother or motherhood in everyone’s life. And every Nepalese must ‘look upon one’s mother’s face’ as a formal duty, when affection and respect are displayed. Children give gifts to their mother, make mother’s favourite food, bring her favourite fruits etc.
My mother’s day celebration starts as early as two weeks before the actual date. We siblings take her shopping, she picks up clothes of her choice. She has sweet teeth and a huge love for whiskey, so liquor and sweetmeats are must gifts, besides regular delicacies.
This time I made her pasta, my brother bought her 1 kg of India Sweets and my sister cooked her an oven-roasted chicken. The “Ama ko mukh herne” ritual started late in the evening to schedule the timing with our youngest sibling living in UK. He hooted through Viber, as our mother sat in front of the huge delicacies table set in front of her, wearing the new set of kurtha surwal of her choice. We fed her each delicacy one by one, taking turns.
Nothing new happened this year, it’s the same routine every year, only the timings vary.
For those whose mother dead considers it their sacred duty to make a pilgrimage to Mata Tirtha, mata meaning ‘mother’, tirtha a sacred site usually of pilgrimage and holy bathing. Mata Tirtha, six miles south-west of central Kathmandu, just off the Thankot road, actually has two ponds or pools, the larger for bathing, and small just up the hill, famous as the place where one ‘look upon one’s mother’s face’.
Note Nepalese whose mother are still living do not wash hair on this day, or it may bring bad luck on one’s mother.
Legend says that when the ancient cowherd kings ruled this region one of the cowherds became deeply depressed by the death of his mother. On Mother’sDayhe went into the forest to pray at the edge of this water-storage pond. As he offered gifts, his mother’s beloved face miraculously appeared in the water and her hand accepted the food. Now it is called Mata Tirtha, where many hope to see the mother’s face in the water. It is said, however, that long ago a certain girl, when she beheld her mother’s image jumped into the pond to join her and disappeared in its depths. Since that event it is a matter of doubt that one will see the mother’s countenance, but worship performed and gifts left in her memory will bring peace to her departed soul.
Some families come from distant places, often walking many days to spend the night lighting wicks, singing and praying for the mother’s soul, performing shraddha, intricate prayer and offering ceremonies for the dead. Many arrive in the dark of early morning the bathe ‘while stars are still seen in the heaven’. By daybreak the worshippers form an endless stream of humanity bathing in the larger pond, stopping to murmur prayers before climbing stones steps to Mother’skundaor sacred pond, which is fed by springs channelled down from the hilltop. On the way they stop to pray to Mahadev, Lord Shiva portrayed as a usual phallic stone lingam, leaving bits of food ginger coins.
Now they crowd around the mother’s pond, tossing in rice, sweetmeats, fruits, coins and red powder, bowing to prayer over the water for a moment and to leave small clay dishes of lighted oil wicks in her memory. All circumambulate the sacred tank, a display of adoration which Nepalese perform at all their idols and holy places, they leave gifts of near-by-idols of Araya and Buddha, and present coins and gifts to waiting priests who ask the mother’s name. Many believe their gifts will reach the dead mother, confident that her soul ‘knows’ her offspring have come to honour her memory.
They say that one day a child of the merchant class was so desolate over the loss of his mother that he cried out loud to Lord Vishnu, beseeching him for the sight of his mother’s face, without which he felt he could no longer live. Vishnu appeared before the distraught child disguised as a Brahman Priest, and on Mother’s Day led him by the hand to Mata Tirtha for holy bathing. When the mother’s face shone forth in the sacred waters the boy pleaded, ‘Oh Brahman, by your kindness I have seen my mother. Allow me to take her home.’ Vishnu assured him that he was asking the impossible, but promised that in his next incarnation he would again have the same mother. He assured the boy that by his pious performance of holy bathing and by offering gifts in his mother’s name, her soul was now at peace. Then the boy experienced a great sense of tranquillity as he felt the warmth of his mother’s blessing, a boon so long-lasting that he eventually became an emperor.