The Significance Of Matira, A Melon That Started A War
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Diwali is a time of celebration, family and tradition, and across India, many regional customs and rituals differentiate the day for each community. Rooted in religious scripture and shaped by circumstances, each state, city and town has its customs handed down through the generations, making Diwali unique. In the Marwar region of India, some Diwali celebrations are marked by a distinctive element - the Matira fruit. Resembling the well-known watermelon but with a unique tanginess, Matira plays a fascinating role in the cultural tapestry of Marwar. 

Belonging to the same botanical family as watermelon, the Matira fruit distinguishes itself with subtle differences. It grows wild, preferring the sandy soils of Bikaner, and its vines, though related, have distinct characteristics, being smaller and more intricate. Matira comes into season from October to December, aligning perfectly with the Diwali festivities. The fruit, native to Bikaner, is not only consumed locally but is also exported, adding to the economic vibrancy of the region during the festive season.

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Historical Significance Of Matira

The significance of Matira is accentuated by the 'Matire ki Raad' in 164 AD between the villages of Silva in Bikaner state and Jakhani in Nagaur state, both situated on the border of their respective territories.  The source of contention was a Matira plant growing on the border of Bikaner, whose fruit extended into Nagaur's domain. The disagreement escalated into a full-blown conflict as Bikaner asserted that if the plant was within their borders, the fruit rightfully belonged to them. Conversely, Nagaur contended that since the fruit had reached their territory, it was theirs.

Upon learning of the war, the kings sought intervention from the Mughal court. However, before the matter reached a resolution, hostilities had already commenced. The conflict concluded with Nagaur's defeat, but the toll was high, with thousands of soldiers from both sides losing their lives in this peculiar war over a watermelon. This curious incident underscores the cultural and economic importance of the fruit in the region

Importance During Diwali

Matira is deeply rooted in the culture of Marwar, and its association with the region is centuries old. The tradition of worshipping Matira is particularly native to the Rajasar region. The Shodashopachar method, involving sixteen ritualistic steps, is predominantly followed in the worship of this unique fruit during Diwali.

It’s believed that Matira can stand in as a substitute for the traditional coconut during rituals in places where finding coconuts is hard. Since Matira can be preserved for months it allows families to incorporate the fruit into their Diwali celebrations even after the harvest season has ended, maintaining a link to tradition.

In some places pumpkins also serve a similar purpose and the thought behind this is that these rounded fruits and vegetables represent the human head – where the ego is – and so offering up your ‘head’ and ego to the deity will further your path to enlightenment and spiritual awakening.

Culinary Uses

As with many foods offered during the puja, Matira can also be cooked and eaten. Of course, since it’s a fruit, it’s possible to eat it raw but it is also employed in savoury dishes like Matera ro saag. This culinary diversity adds depth to how Matira is integrated into the festive feasts of Marwar.

In the heart of Marwar, where tradition and culture are deeply entwined, Matira stands out as a unique and culturally significant fruit. From its role in ancient wars to its place on the Diwali dining table, Matira exemplifies the rich tapestry of customs that make Marwar's celebrations truly special. As families gather to celebrate the festival of lights, the presence of Matira adds a touch of local flavour, making Diwali in Marwar a celebration unlike any other.