The Newari culture is a beautiful and complex part of Nepal. Newars generally, hail from Kathmandu and are rich in traditional values, customs, and literature. The Newari culture is perhaps one of the richest ones in stories, proceedings, and family ties – the most exquisite practices there prevail.
I hope you’ve read my previous post, if not please find the link at the end of the post as today I’ll write about the interesting cultural practices of Newar community: Bel Vivaha and Gufa where a girl child gets married to a fruit and the Sun. Yes, Newar girls are married thrice in their lives, once to Lord Vishnu, once to the Sun and lastly to their life partner.
Bel vivaha, or the marriage of the little girl with the fruit of the Bel tree (of the species Aegle marmelos) is a strange tradition, which can take place at any time after the girl turns two. If there are other little girls of that age in the family or neighborhood, a group marriage ceremony may be held, where each little girl is dressed up and traditional rites and rituals are performed for marrying her off to a fruit! The fruit is bridegroom that symbolizes the eternal bachelor Lord Kumar, the son of Lord Shiva, and the marriage ensures that the girl becomes and remains fertile.
The belief is that since men can be unfaithful, the girl’s first marriage should be one in which unfaithfulness cannot occur. (No Bel fruit is going to run off with someone else :P)
The eccentricities do not end here though because next is the Gufa or barha (which means twelve in Nepali) ceremony mentioned earlier, which is actually the girl’s second marriage, this time with none other than the sun! The barha is observed for girls between the ages of 11 and 13, just at the point of entering puberty. The sun is considered an avatar of Brahma, the creator of the universe, and after keeping the girl in a darkened room for 12 days as a symbolic form of purification, the first male person the little girl faces when she emerges from the room is the sun.
The ceremony that marks the first day of the barha ceremony, begins with a puja to help find an auspicious time for the barha to formally begin. During barah, female relatives, as well as friends, visit the young girl inside the barha room (euphemistically called the gufa, or cave). And although in older days, perhaps because there was no television, the idea was that the young girl would not see any member of the opposite sex for the entire duration of the ritual.
Today, however, the confusion caused by whether or not watching a member of the opposite sex on television should be considered as breaking the rule, is for the family to decide. And as obsessed as most young girls at that age are with the ‘idiot box’ it is no surprise then that most families allow having a television to keep the girl company.
On the second to the last day of the ritual, there is a special occasion where cotton dolls, or khyak in Nepal Bhasa, sort of a Nepali version of a voodoo doll, are made and are placed with pebbles. It is believed that these khyaks come to life inside the room on the last night and play with the pebbles! Since the 12th day of the ceremony requires the girl to fast until she views the sun god, the last meal of the ceremony is fed to the girl in the wee hours of the final night.
On the final day of barah, and similar to the bel-vivaha, the girl is dressed up in red and gold colors with jewelry. This may be the appeal for little girls who enjoy this tradition enormously while being married off traditionally and in all seriousness to the sun. The idea behind such absurd sounding marriages is actually quietly romantic. By marrying a little girl to a bel fruit and then to the sun, Newar traditions ensures that even in the unfortunate death of the girl’s husband in life later on, because of her prior marriages, the girl will not be deemed a widow, a title that was looked upon with great disdain and intolerance by older societies.
Both these traditions are still performed in the Newari community with slight changes in the original customs and rites.
This post is written for #MyFriendAlexa Season II, and the rank shall be updated once the month is over.