Lost in a masquerade
Indra Jatra, Dasain and Kartik Purnima mean it's time for the ritual masked dances of the Newari people. I'm currently engrossed in tracking them down (obscure, community-based, secretive besides the language problems) and documenting them. Last night I went to Lalitpur (Patan) to see the Ashtamatrika (Eight Goddesses) dance of the Newari Buddhist community. I only have time to upload one photo right now (before running to Immigration).
I have seen lots of masked dancing by now, and I think the Ashtamatrikas are the most exciting yet. They seem to be the most classically influenced, and the most ritualized. These dances were begun in the 1600s on the orders of the Lalitpur king (at that time it was one of the rival 3 kingdoms of the Kathamandu Valley), who was a great devotee of the eight guardian goddesses.
The transformation of the dancers, as soon as they don the mask, is really astonishing. They assume a hands-on-hips stance and begin trembling with shakti.
Hundreds of people from the community turn out and follow the Goddesses on their journey from Nakabahil (courtyard of the dance-god) to the courtyard of Taleju Bhavani Temple, where the gothic gables tower over the dancing devis.
I was the only foreigner there. It amazed me that so few outside people know about the vibrant, living culture of the valley, especially since it's been going on continually for the past four hundred years.
Last night there was a power cut, so we were marching through the cobblestoned streets in candlelight - it felt like the dances must have one hundred years ago.
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