Nepal is well known for her rich stock of culture and tradition, which have been practised since time immemorial. With the passage of time, each community has come up with its own distinct cultural and traditional practices—they are unique and discernible. Nepal's rich cultural diversity is manifested in various forms. Compared to other communities in the country, perhaps the Newari community stands out as being the richest in terms of having several traditions, jatras, and festivals.
Taya Macha is a unique tradition that is celebrated by the Newar communities of Nepal. However, the way Taya Mach is observed in Pokhara is different from the rest of the country.
Speaking with this scribe, Bikram Udas, a senior board member of Newa Khala Kaski (NKK), said, " The Newar community celebrates Taya Macha throughout the country, but Pokhareli Taya Macha is different." Pokhareli Newars have added a dancing episode to make Taya Macha distinct.
Taya Macha is observed on the occasion of Gai Jatra. By performing this ritualistic dance, a tribute is paid to the dead female members of the family. In Kathmandu, it is called saparu, and there is no dance included—it is only in Pokhara. At this moment, only 34 Taya Macha groups have been approved to participate in the Taya Macha Dance Competition. Every year, the Taya Macha Dance Competition is organised in Pokhara, and the winning team gets impressive prizes, including a cash award.
Looking back in time, Ghana's Bikram Rana is widely credited with establishing Taya Macha in Tersa Patti, Bhairab Tole, Bagh Bazaar, and Mahendrapool.Since then, Taya Macha is regularly observed in Pokhara. With the addition of the Taya Macha dance, the whole tradition of Taya Macha has become more lively and full of excitement.
As legend has it, King Jaya Prakash Malla lost his son, who dragged him to the pool of melancholy. However, his wife was in complete shell shock. The queen had stopped talking with anyone, taken almost no food, and drank very little water. The king was at a loss as to what to do. He had applied every possible trick to bring his wife back to normalcy. But all efforts turned in vain.
Then a man disguised as a woman did make some funny gestures and danced quite erratically before the queen. Such an act of his finally brought a flicker of a smile to the face of the queen. From that day onward, the king made it a tradition to include a band of dancers with a clown to accompany the festival of Gai Jatra.
Taya Macha is observed from the next day of Raksya Bandhan until the day before Krishna Janmastami. Taya Mach dance has earned a permanent place in Pokhara's Newar community.This is the reason why Taya's dance has become the cynosure of all eyes today.
The Taya Mach dance is quite popular with audiences of all ages. The dance is so captivating that everyone in the crowd wants to catch a glimpse of it. Most people run around to find an elevated location so that they can catch a glimpse of the dance. The Taya Mach dance has already become quite popular among the Newar community of Pokhara.
Actually, "Taya Macha" is a long and tall structure made of doko (a typical conical basket) that is decorated with the clothes of the deceased female member. Hence, Taya Macha is the manifestation of the deceased, who died in the last year of the Gai Jatra festival.
If a male member of a family dies, the Doko is still dressed in his clothes, but it is not as tall as the female members.These decorated dokos are actually called Taya Macha, and they are carried in procession around the town. During the procession, Taya Mach structures are held upward by a person and move forward with graceful steps.
Taya Macha dance teams converge at Chipledhunga and start dancing with graceful steps; as such, the whole atmosphere turns incredibly electrifying. Spectators stand around the Taya Macha dance teams and watch their performance. They dance in groups, and each group wants to perform better than other teams.
Taya Macha dancing teams are eyeing the coveted prize that is given away to the winning team each year. Taya Macha dancers go through rigorous dance practise to win the competition. Since dancers are the focal point of the entire show, the prime importance of the Taya Macha dance is gradually shifting from paying tribute to the deceased to more serious dancing rituals. Generally, the dancing group of Taya Macha consists of five dancers who wear colourful dresses.
Along with the dancing groups, there is a clown who wears amusing costumes and makes the audience laugh the entire time.
The Taya Macha dance has undergone some changes, making it more lively and popular with audiences.About 35 years ago, some new characters like fairies, Lord Krishna, Radha, and a few others were introduced in the Taya Macha dance. Today, old and new characters entertain the audience together.
On the day of the Taya Macha dance competition, various dancing troupes from each locality come out with their Taya Macha processions. The Taya Macha dancers look extremely attractive and charming in their colourful outfits. A dwarf-sized man, dressed as a clown in the dance team, makes the audience laugh.
Nowadays, the Taya Macha dance is not only popular in the Newar community, but even the non-Newar communities have shown their keen interest in participating in the Taya Macha dance competition.
In the past, the Taya Macha dance was originally performed by male dancers disguising themselves as women, but nowadays many women dancers have come out to join the Taya Mach dance. People's growing interest in Taya Macha dance has already made it a common festival of the Pokhareli people.
(Thapa is a Pokhara-based freelance writer and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)