Maratika is also known as Haleshe in Tibetan language and is one of the common heritage and pilgrimage centre for the followers of Buddhism and Hinduism. Maratika is located in Khotang district. There are Maratika Cave and Maratika Monastery in this area and it is known as Haleshe in the local language. For the followers of Buddhism, Maratika is one of the six supreme pilgrimage sites in the world. For many years the sacred caves of Maratika have been a very important pilgrimage destination to Buddhist people seeking to engage in the long life practices. It is a special place associated with Guru Padmasambhava and long life. Hindus regard it as the Pashupatinath of Eastern Nepal or Halesi Mahadevsthan.
This place is related to Lord Shiva in Hindu religion and Guru Rinpoche or Padmasambhava in Buddhism and the followers regard this area as long life place. The legend of the Buddhist chronicles mention that at the request of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara the Amitabha Buddha taught eighteen Tantras of long life. The Dakini Sangwa Yeshe recorded and hid the teachings as Terma at Maratika. Guru Padmasambhava, while in the Kingdom of Zahor met his consort Princess Mandarava who possessed all the marks of a dakini. The Guru gave teaching and initiations to Mandarava. Dakinis appeared in the sky and took Guru Padmasambhava to Maratika. Mandarava unable to tolerate palace life without the Guru ran away. Hopelessly lost she prayed t Guru Padmasambhava who manifested and took Mandarava to Maratika.
The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and the Dakini Sangwa Yeshe gave long life teaching to the Guru Rinpoche and Mandarava. After practising for ninety days the Buddha Amitayus appeared in the sky and gave initiation to the Guru and Mandarava. They had attained the Vidyadhara of longevity. The caves of Maratika are mentioned in Tibetan literature from the 12th century onwards. The kathang Zanglingma a biography of Padmasambhava, discovered by Nyangrel Nyima Ozer describes the original event, which made the Maratika caves a sacred place for Buddhist as Guru Rinpoche was able to subdue the Mara in this cave through the meditation and realization while achieving enlightenment.
According to Hinduism, it is believed that Lord Shiva trying to avoid getting killed ran away to these caves in Halesi, where Lord Vishnu tricked the demon to try it on himself. The entrance through a hole in the ceiling of the cave, his footsteps in the air shaft are visible so are the intestines of the Demon on ceiling of the cave. After Bashmasur demise the cave was consecrated into a temple. Hindu’s believe that their wish will be fulfilled after worshipping the God and Goddess of Halesi, Maratika. Bhasmasur was devotee of the god Shiva who performed great penance to obtain a boon from the deity. Shiva became pleased and asked him to ask for a boon. Bashmasur asked for immortality, but Shiva said that he did not have the power to grant him immortality. Bashmasur then asked that he be granted the power that anyone whose head he touched with his hand should burn up and immediately turn into ashes (bhasma). Shiva granted this request, but Bashmasur thereupon attempted to touch the head of Shiva into ashes. Shiva fled and was chased by Bhasmasur. Wherever Shiva went, Bhasmasur chased him. Somehow, Shiva managed to reach Vishnu to seek a solution to this predicament. Vishnu on hearing Shiva’s problem, agreed to help him out.
Vishnu, in the form of Mohini, appeared in front of Bhasmasur. Mohini was so exceedingly beautiful that Bashmasur immediately fell in love with Mohini. Bhasmasur asked her (Mohini) to marry him. She told him that she was very fond of dancing and would marry him only if he could match her moves identically. Bhasmasur agreed to the match and hence they started dancing. The feat went for days at an end. As Bhasmasur matched the disguised Vishnu’s move for move, he began to let his guard down. While still dancing, Mohani struck a pose where her hand was placed on top of her own head. As Bhasmasur imitated her, he was tricked into touching his own head and hence Bhasmasur immediately burnt up and turned into ashes due to the power he had recently gained.
The Buddhist followers visit this place for the ‘accumulation of merit’. The place has two limestone caves known as ‘Dharma Cave‘. There is one Hindu shrine where the stalagmite in the cave is regarded as the linga of Lord Shiva. There are no statues inside the cave. The Hindu followers visit the place in the celebrations of Bala Chaturdashi, Ram Navami, Teej and Shivaratri in the respect of the legends related to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu in reference to this pilgrimage center, whereas the Buddhists visit this place during the time of Losar.
Similarly, the Kirati population also prepares a ritual calender keeping Halesi in focus and celebrate the rituals in the leadership of a kirati priest and expert as the Kiratis are the oldest, indigenous people with a rich cultural heritage in and around Halesi.