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Pandey, Ram Niwas 2059 VS. The Mathas of Dasanami Sanyasis of Lalitpur, Kathmandu Valley.

Pandey, Ram Niwas 2059 VS. The Mathas of Dasanami Sanyasis of Lalitpur, Kathmandu Valley. Kathmandu: Royal Nepal Academy, pp. 134 (including inscriptional portion and photo plates). Price NRs 368.

The study on the cultural activity of the people of Nepal is ever since an interesting subject for foreign as well as native writers. The religious activities which rely on the social behaviours and the sphere of entire community may indicate the cultural life of the people in subsequent times.

The Kathmandu valley is rich in traditional cultural practices. Many religious sects have emerged and prevailed since earlier phases of historical periods, which can only be identified through distinct religious practices. From the Lichhavi period many sects and sub-sects had a plenty of opportunity to flourish as the component of Shaiva and Vaisnava in Hinduism as well as Mahayana and Vajrayana in Buddhism. As a matter of fact, many sects emerged for performing easy and symbolic worship with minimal practices of religious and cultural performances. Many such religious acts can be seen necessary for different communities in a supportive element even to this day.

There appeared a handful of books and articles by native and foreign writers, which throw light on the religious beliefs and practices of the people--both on Hinduism and Buddhism. However, Buddhist culture and performances have been the subject of interest in order to understand the socio-religious environment of the Kathmandu valley. Besides, the sub-sects of Hinduism also flourished in the Valley from earlier times, which reveal as an interesting component of the cultural life of people. It is notable that tantrism played a vital role in infusing the concept of symbolic and secret worship of the deity, which eventually brought together many such religious doctrines in a common sphere. Hindu deities, for example, have been worshipped through assigned mantra and symbols in many such rituals.

This book highlights one of the religious practices prevailed in Hinduism since early medieval period. When the cult of the Gorkhanath was popularized in the Kathmandu valley, many tantric ways of performances have taken place not only in the individual practices but also in the common rituals and ceremonies. In this context, it is also illustrable here that this Dasanami panthi symbolically maintained the close proximity to the Vajrayana sect of Buddhism for some of its ritual practices. For example, Machhendranath is paid homage by both religious streams. During the chariot festival the ratha is also worshipped by the yogis in their own traditional way before proceeding ahead for the procession in the city. In this context, Nepalese people have been paying an equal reverence to the Hindu and Buddhist deities and monuments. The kings of the Valley also extended their belief by providing lands and gifts from the state in order to sustain the traditional culture from the earlier times.

The author passed away few years back leaving behind his works. This book perhaps is the last work of his life that conveys the views of his long teaching and research experiences in the field of history and culture of Nepal. It is the outcome of the project of Royal Nepal Academy undertaken by the author.

The book mainly deals with the cultural and religious performances of the Mathas and their present status nestling in the core city of Lalitpur.

It contains 6 chapters: the first chapter deals with the 'Introduction' of the Dasanami Sanyasis of Lalitpur. Here the author simply traces the link with Dattatraya temple of Bhaktapur which is believed to have been established during 13th to 14th century A.D. The Mathas had been expanded in various parts of the Valley particularly in Lalitpur during 16th to 17th century A.D. This is also ascertainable that from the time of King Yoganarendra Malla, the Mathas were patronized by donating many lands as guthi for their proper maintenance and conservation. Similarly, the second chapter is about Taulako Matha in which he tries to trace the detail rituals performed in the Matha. The Mahanta of this monastery, as it is believed, came from Sringeri Matha of South India. Architecturally, this Matha, however, has lost its original shape as many renovation works had undergone. The temple of Dattatraya is built with two storeys in front of the structure of the Matha. Likewise, for the descriptions of other Mathas the book yields separate chapters on each of them. For example, Tuvaha Math is described in third chapter while fourth chapter is about Vahalukha Math. Similarly, chapter five narrates Chalkhu Matha, and last chapter six is devoted to Chhayavaha Math. The author here attempts to give detailed pictures of the various festivals performed in the monasteries. As for historical fact, the inscriptions are also collected here under the 'List of Stone Inscriptions'. However, recorded inscriptions show these are not solely of stone stele but also metallic bells around the temples. The last portion of the book includes photo plates.

From the inscriptional point of view, Tuilako Matha has the inscription of NS 816, which appears to be the earliest one, while Chalakhu, Tumbaha, Bahalukha and Chhayabaha have inscriptions dated NS 864, NS 898, NS 863 and NS 868 respectively. Similarly, there are different names of the presiding deities in each Matha. For example, Mukteswora Mahadeva in Chalakhu Matha, Vishesworanath in Tumbaha Matha, Trilingeswora in Bhalukha Matha, Dattatraya in Tuilako Matha and Visheswora Mahadeva in Chhayavaha Matha. In three Mathas namely Chalakho, Tumbaha and Tuilakhu the Mahantas bear the 'Puri' title while Mahanta of Bahalukha holds 'Giri' and Chhayabaha the 'Bharati' under the group of Dasanami Sannyasi. Likewise, the names of the founder of Mathas are also ascertainable. From the inscriptional records it is narrated that Sundara Puri is the founder of the Chalakhu Matha; Pitambar Puri founded Tumbaha Matha; Amar Giri Bahalukha Matha; Vinod Puri Tuilakhu Matha and Jai Kishor Bharati Chhayabaha Matha.

From the inscriptional point of view the history of the Matha culture of Lalitpur started not earlier than 1696 A.D. However, according to some of the members of the Matha they came from the Singeri Matha of South India in the medieval period.

It is also illustrable that the book still bears the paucity of detailed information which seems very sketchy rather than scholarly. The author does not try to trace the origin of Sanyasi but mentions their arrival in Lalitpur town through Dhunibesi, Dhading district, where they had made their abode before entering the Valley (p.2). It is also interesting that Dattatraya Matha of Bhaktapur is said to have been the earliest one from where many Mathas of the Valley emerged as its branches. The book has not attempted to cover the information on the origin of Matha culture and their comparison to each of them. The book is simply a collection of the information of five Mathas of the Lalitpur city.

Besides, the most noteworthy thing is that the author couldn't pay attention to the citation of the inscriptions and photographs in the chapters which are given at the end of the book. There is no serial numbers given to the inscriptional part; nor any portion of translation is given at the end of each inscription. Therefore, readers may be confused. The monasteries are not correctly read in the text, such as Tuilako (p. 11) for Tuilakhu, Walkhu (p.71) for Bahalukha and Chalkhu (p.41) for Chalakhu.

Notwithstanding, the book gives us the idea of the distinct and important religious pictures of the ancient city, Lalitpur, where Buddhism has been predominating since the beginning of the medieval period. The book thus contains the information of the socio-religious activities of the town. It is useful for researchers, students and those who are interested in Nepalese culture.
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Author:Sharma, Dilli Raj
Publication:Contributions to Nepalese Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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