Legend has it that long ago, when life first began on earth, a terrible demon terrorized the humans. The demon prevented sages from performing their rituals and stole the Holy Vedas, taking refuge in a conch shell in the depths of the ocean. Brahma, the creator of the universe, approached Vishnu, for help. Vishnu obliged and immediately assumed the form of a fish and plunged into the deep waters of the ocean. By ripping open the demon’s stomach Vishnu retrieved the Vedas. The avatar of Vishnu in the form of a fish is commonly known as the Matsya avatar. Matsya is generally represented as a four-armed figure with the upper torso of a man and the lower of a fish. And the very same place where Vishnu transformed himself into his Matsya avatar, became a holy place over time. “It is believed that Matsegaun is the first place where Vishnu revealed himself as the first of his ten avatars to the world,” says Surendra KC, a local resident and the president of the trust that is currently working towards giving the site a much needed face lift.
The festival also has an interesting story, or rather an astrological account to be precise. The Vedic literatures mention each of the twelve months being ‘assigned’ to the gods as their special month. Unlike the Gregorian calendar which is based on the sun’s movement across the heavens, the eastern calendars are lunar and are charted basically by taking into account the moon’s phases though the sky. Sometimes adjusting between the two heavenly bodies, the sun and moon, is cumbersome. Adjusting between the solar months and lunar months, an extra month is ‘created’ once every three years. The resulting extra month (adhikmaas) was considered unholy, and most major rituals were forbidden through the
entire month. But Vishnu took the month for himself and since then it has been known as ‘Pursottam’ month (named after Vishnu. He has thousands of names).
During the ‘Pursottam’ month, a major festival is held at Matsegaun in honor of Vishnu. Devotees throng to the temple in the belief that a ‘darshan’ of the deity during that period is beneficial to them. It is believed that at this time, Vishnu becomes a wish-fulfilling god and grants the heart-felt desires of his true devotees. That might explain the scores of devotees lining up at the temple. During the entire month the little town is transformed into a devotional centre, with people from all walks of life arriving to take part in the festival. The narrow streets are filled with revelers and the pathways become a brightly colored mesh with shopkeepers selling their many wares.
Over the years, the popularity of this festival seems to have grown and compared to previous years, more people are arriving to pay homage to Pursottam. “This year we’ve had a record number of visitors, much more than what we’ve seen before,” says Surendra KC. As the number of devotes goes up and the word about the wish-fulfilling god spreads, there’s much to be done to keep the good word spreading. “We are striving to develop Matsegaun as a comprehensive religious place, much like the Pashupati area, and are on a war footing to make this dream come true,” says KC.