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The Cult of Matysendra-Mina and Gorakhnath in Nepal
[This article was written by Mahahradanatha, a German Adinatha, after a visit to Nepal a few years ago where he sought out the influences of the Natha tradition in the country. The image on the left of the page is a contemporary picture of Dattatreya as a baby. Other images on this page include the sandals (padukam), a small image of Kalika and Nath trident with damaru (background sound with Internet Explorer) and a picture of the Matsyendra chariot in Kathmandu, Nepal. – Editor]
Om Gorakshanatha, grant Siddhi, Hum Ho!
Everywhere in Nepal are many sites connected with the Mahasiddhas, especially holy places and temples of Mina-Matsyendra and Gorakshanatha. There are many Nath ashrams and monasteries (math) everywhere in the country: Many are very famous places, like the Gorakh-Cave in Gurkha, or the large monastery in Danda where big drums are continually beaten the whole day to announce the Yoga-magic of the Naths. There are whole villages, where every inhabitant is a Nath yogi, all householders with families.
One very important place of pilgrimage for all Hindus is the temple of Pashupatinath. The legend relates that the Linga worshipped there is a self-originated Linga, one which emerged from the earth by itself. (svayambhu linga).
Beside a lot of other, smaller temples, there is an important mandir, where the footprints of Gorakshanatha are kept. According to the Naths, this was the place where Goraksha meditated to restrain the Nagas, so taming the weather. The padukams of Shri Goraksha are inlaid in silver, but big heaps of flowers always hide them from your sight. Behind them on the wall is a marble idol of Matsyendranath, finely wrought. Many folk still climb this hill to the temple to receive the blessing of the footprints of Goraksha.
In a small Natha Ashram near the Temple is a Temple dedicated to Shiva and Goraksha. The legend has it that he lived here. Now Babaji, a learned Nath Guru, lives there with five disciples. One of them tends a continual dhooni which nobody is allowed to approach. Once a day Babaji leaves his room to light an “open”: Dhooni, on a platform in front of the ashram. In the evening the Nathas gather round this Babaji and his dhooni.
One day we saw a local Nepali coming to Babaji to get cured of some malady. Babaji used the traditional peacock fan of the Yogis which may be of Manichean origin, or even a remnant of the Egyptian tradition, which always symbolises the cleansing of sins, or defilements.
After receiving prasad, flowers and holy water at the Shrine of Goraksha we were invited to join the company that sat around the dhooni. In turn each of us had to fan it to keep it alive. Every now and then a few Nepalis came to receive ashes from the dhooni. They usually smear the ashes on their foreheads or use them as medicine. In Nepal, it is very unusual that Westerners are allowed inside the Temples or receive prasad or a tilaka (forehead mark). From the viewpoint of the orthodox Hindu, all Westerners are very low beings, not even Shudras. They are casteless.
The Gorakhnathis did not share this feeling and received us with great hospitality, maybe because of the rule that their Order makes no difference between the castes. We were forced to stay with them and were treated as guests and they got out their stock of ganja and charas and we were not allowed to leave before we had taken part in this peculiar kind of Shiva-puja.
I learned from one Sadhu that their legend is that the Navanaths built all the temples in the centre of Kathmandu, where he stayed during the day. He also told me about the Nathas and Aghoris; who used to go either naked, or dressed in black and carry skull cups as begging bowls. Nowadays they cannot keep up this old custom-because people fear them and at the same time lose respect for the sadhus as a whole, so all are faced with big problems. There are still many of these more extreme sects in existence but they are disguised. Some of them doing kriyas, or shmashan (cremation ground) magic wear black turbans as a reminder of the old tradition.
A few days earlier, one of the biggest festivals of Shiva started. Mahashivaratri is held on one special new moon in the year and a group of Nathas from India appeared at the Goraksha temple. They camped front of the temple,so that I had the opportunity to take a closer look at their clothes. Mainly they wore white or saffron coloured robes or just a small cloth around the waist. One can easily recognise them because of their robes, made in one piece, and their big earrings. Not all Gorakhnathis wear earrings, there is a sub-sect, the Aughors, that just take half of the full initiation and leave out the ear-piercing ceremonies. Nonetheless the same respect is paid to them as to the others.
The religion of the population of Kathmandu Valley is partly Hinduistic and partly Buddhistic. Two castes are Buddhistic — the Sakyas and the Vajracaryas. But the Buddhism is a mixture of Buddhism with Hinduism and Hinduism is mixed with Buddhism. That means they share many legends about the Mahasiddhas, one with a Buddhistic bias and the other with a Vedic bias.
Two important “gods” of this mixed cult are Matsyendranath and Minanath. Matsyendranath is looked upon as an incarnation of Lokeshwara (or Lokanatha) better known in the west, due to the influence of Tibetan Buddhism, as Avalokiteshwara, who in fact is just one form of Lokeshwara.
There are two important Temples of Matsyendranath in the Kathmandu Valley -one is the white Matsyendranath in Kathmandu and the other the red Matsyendranath in Patan, near Kathmandu. Four temples are dedicated two by two to the white and red Matsyendra are of greater importance. The cult of white Matsyendranath is of greater importance than of the red and the pujas are much more vital and understood than those practised in Patan. Opposite the temple of Red Matsyendra is a small temple of Minanath, known to the Nathas as a disciple of Matsyendra.
The smaller yearly festival of Ratha jatra,-where the god is carried with a chariot through the city streets, is dedicated to Red Matsyendra. This festival connects with a legend of Gorakshanath keeping the Nagas under control by sitting on them so that no rain fell for a long time in the valley. The inhabitants then asked Matsyendra to come to Nepal. Goraksha rose up from his meditation to greet his Guru, so that the Nagas fled and rain fell again. So Red Matsyendra is propitiated at the jatra to bring rain.
The great and famous jatra of White Matsyendra is unconnected with this legend. White Matsyendra is supposed to protect against disease. The reason for the jatra is also to give old or sick people, who cannot go to the temples, an opportunity to worship Matsyendra-Lokeshwara. The wheels of this big chariot represent the four Bhairavas who make it move. The guardians of the directions (dikpala) and several other Vayrajana deities are also displayed. Minanath and Red Matsyendra are drawn together, one following the other, in their respective chariots.
On Shivaratri, Matsyendra and Minanath receive the tantric bone ornaments. On this day Matsyendra changes into Shiva. Natha Yogis perform pujas during the festivals of the Buddhist Matsyendra – Avolokiteswara as well as the Buddhist pujaris.
At the beginning of the jatras the Naths perform a chakra puja dedicated to Goraksha. The simple say that this is a protection rite and that Yogis would perform magic to disturb the festival if they are not allowed to do this puja. There are also daily, monthly and occasional rites performed in the temples of these different Naths.
Because of the Natha influence, there are also many temples of Dattatreya in Kathamandu and Nepal. The cult of the Nepali, be it Buddhistic or Hinduistic is principally tantric in nature, amply witnessed by a casual glance at the temples at every street corner which show yantras, fierce Shiva forms, and many differing aspects of Devi, abounding with tantric symbolism. The meditative tradition is however confined to very few people. In Nepal, tantra is mostly a cult of worship of the differing deities. During the 10th century ce, Nepal was known to be a main cult centre where practices of Vama Marga or the sexual practices of Vajrayana were performed.
Artwork is © Jan Bailey, 1975-2022. Translations are © Mike Magee 1975-2022.Questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org