Today is the 4th day of Nepal’s Tihar festival with a specific ritual performed only by the Newar people. The Newar are the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley, a culturally rich ethnic group residing in the three major cities of Lalitpur, Bhaktapur and Kathmandu itself. My wife, Dr C, is a Newar and was born in Ason Tole in the heart of old Kathmandu, a proverbial “rabbit warren” of streets, lanes, symbolic Buddhist stupa both large and small, and wooden built houses absolutely crammed together.
Today is Mha Puja day which literally means “self-worship” but not in a narcissistic way. Today is the day to recognise the god within you, or maybe better described as recognising the spirit or soul within yourself, your precious existence, and being kind to yourself. The Newar people are mostly Buddhist and this tradition is a central part of Buddhism, “you cannot show loving kindness to others unless you are kind to yourself”.
Anyway, enough of the blather, what happens today? I have experienced it a few times in my brother in law’s home so I will describe it from my own perspective. Firstly the Puja is a religious ceremony conducted, in this case, by the lady of the house, meaning my sister in law Bimala. Every Newar home will have someone like Bimala who is highly knowledgeable of and steeped in Buddhist ceremonials.
There are 8 elements in this Puja which together are meant to balance spiritual and ecological energy. Some of these elements are fruits, a lit oil lamp, the tika made from rice, yoghurt and red vermilion powder, nuts, and flowers. The most important element however is the mandala, an 8 petal lotus drawing made with coloured sand or chalk with one drawn on the floor for each member involved in the Puja.
After the Mandala is drawn on the floor, everyone sits in front of their Mandala and the whole ceremony is carried out by the lady of the house and she begins by putting a red dye tika on everyone’s forehead and lights up their oil lamp next to the Mandala. Then she offers the holy thread to each person and some yoghurt from a clay pot that she carries. Each person takes some yogurt from the pot and places a dab of it in their respective Mandala. Everyone now takes and eats small portions of boiled eggs, fried fish, fried ginger, bean cake and local wine made from rice called ‘Aaila’.
Today is also New Years Day to the Newar people known as Nepal Sambat, though it isn’t the official New Years Day nationally. That occurs in April!