9 Newari Festivals: Why are they celebrated?

9 Newari Festivals: Why are they celebrated?

A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people. And this is exactly the type of thought that drives Newari people to preserve their culture. Newari culture is both weird and wonderful- Filled with unique festivals and ceremonies. As a lot of you know, Newari has tons of Jatras. We all know at least a few of these. Maybe it is because of these numerous Jatras, ceremonies, and Newari Festivals that a lot of these go unnoticed. 

And unsurprisingly, these are the Newari Festivals and ceremonies that sometimes contain the deepest of lore or history. For instance, did you know that that is a Newari Festival that is equivalent to "The Valentines Day"? Here, we will be talking about these.  Here we will take a look at 9 of the Newari festivals. So without any further ado, let's get started.

1) Matina Paru

Let's start with the festival that we hinted at - Valentine's day of Newari People. Matina Paru is one of those festivals that is rather unknown to people. Even among the Newari people, Matina Paru is a relatively unknown festival. Why is this so? Well, one of the simplest answers is that Matina Paru is extremely overshadowed by Yomari Punhi - a festival celebrated one day before it. On top of it, Yomari Punhi is easy to be mistaken for Matina Paru. This is because both of these festivals share a similar name.

Matina is the Newari term for Love while Paru is the equivalent to Festival. So, this name literally translates to "Love Day" in Newari. It is said that back in the days, Yomari Punhi was celebrated a day before as an excuse for lovers to meet. Back in the olden days, people used to travel far for the said festival. Since it usually took a few days for the participants of Yomari Punhi to return, lovers are said to use the day after Yomari Punhi to meet and have some romantic times with each other. Due to this, as time went on, the day after Yomari Punhi was named "Matina Paru".

2) Yomari Punhi

As we mentioned earlier, Yomari Punhi is the Newari festival that overshadows "Matina Paru". And there is a very good reason behind this as well. You see, Yomar in Newari means "the bread of love" and "Punhi" means "full moon". The term "Yomari" is made from two words "Ya" and "mari". "Ya:"  is a term used to denote love or "like" in Newari language. 

For instance "chha jita ya:" means "I like/love you". At the same time, mari literally translates to bread. Hence, just from the naming of this Newari festival alone, we can see that this is a festival related to love. At this festival, people from all over Kathmandu valley from groups and visit nearby localities. They then "beg" for Yomari for singing and dancing. This is a lot like Deusi and Bhailo in Tihar.

Mat-tya is a festival that is specific to Lalitpur District. While the background of this festival is somewhat morbid, nowadays, this festival is celebrated with a light heart. For those who don't know what a Mat-tya is, it is a festival where people go on a rally and give pray to the stupas all around the Lalitpur District. 

This festival is celebrated in order to let the soul of a deceased person pass on safely to the afterlife. While we don't know if the deceased soul stays or passes on peacefully. it is believed that praying to all of the stupas in the district, increases the chance for the soul to pass on to heaven. Also, the fact that this festival is celebrated on the day of Gai Jatra ties it directly to the myth of the "Holy cow" guiding the lost souls to the afterlife. 

As for the meaning and significance of its name, this name is made from two words, "Mata" and "Tya". Mata means "Light" and "Tya" means to "Win" or to "Burn". When these two wards are combined, it forms "the burning light" which signifies the lost soul moving towards the bright light of heaven and the afterlife. 

4) Mha Puja

Newari Festivals

If you know any Newari person, then you know that Newari doesn't celebrate Gobardhan Puja. Instead of this, there is a separate Newari festival that is known as "Mha Puja". This festival is celebrated exactly as its name says. 

Let's break down its name first. Mha is the Newari term for "self" or "Body". Puja is a term that can be both Newari and Nepali. It means to "worship". So when we combine these two words, the term "Mha Puja" means to "worship your own body". While this may come off as somewhat of a narcissistic festival if one is to solely understand the name of this Newari Festival, it really isn't.

Newari people believe that there is a god residing in everybody. Along with this, they also believe that people unknowingly commit sin to themselves and to the lord within them. So in this aspect, Mha Puja is a way to pray and worship the lords residing within them. And along with this, this Newari festival is also a way to forgive themselves for all the times they unknowingly harmed themselves. 

Now to celebrate this festival, the Newari people first wipe their floor with red mud. Then they make a mandala for each person with one extra on the top for the lords. They then perform a ceremonious puja in all four directions i.e up, down, left, and right requesting the blessing from heaven, hell, and requesting protection against all of his/her enemies including oneself. 

5) Ghya Chaku Sanlu

The literal translation of "Ghya Chaku Sanlu" would be the festival of Ghee and Molasse. But this would put a false image in the mind of onlookers. While Ghee and Molasse is indeed an important part of this festival, it is not the core of it all. 

This Newari Festival is celebrated in Magh first, which is also the day when Maghe Sankranti is celebrated. Ghya Chaku Sanlu has a lot in common with Maghe Sankranti as both of these festivals are done in preparation for the winter. 

In this festival, the "mama" - mother's brother, is required to feel the Ghee and Molasses and bless the children. If the said "mama" is not there, the same procedure is carried out by the eldest male of the house. While this is the ceremonial part of this Newari festival, there is a practical aspect as well. On this day, Newari prepared a mixed bean soup known as Kwati. This soup is said to prepare the body for winter by providing it with vital nutrients and increasing the cold resistance of the body. 

6) Bunga Dyo Jatra

Newari Festivals

Bunga Dyo Jatra, more commonly known as "Rato Machhindra Nath Jara" is one of the most well-known Newari Festivals. In this festival, a large chariot carrying the Raktalokitesvara Karunamaya is processed across the streets of Patan. As per common knowledge, this festival is carried out to celebrate the arrival of Bunga Dyo in the Valley and the end of extreme drought.

This is one of the longest-lasting Newari Festivals as well. It starts with the construction of the chariot for the lord. Although the chariot is usually 60 feet tall and is constructed in Pulchowk. After the chariot is finished, the image of Bunga Dya is installed in it. Then the pujaris seek for the auspicious day and the procession is held. The procession follows the route of:

Pulchowk

Gabahal

Mangalbazar

Hakha

Sundhara

Chakrabahil

Lagankhel 

Jawlakhel

While the route seems short, you need to remember each time the chariot is stopped, the pujaris have to seek the auspicious date before it can be pulled again. Due to this, the festival can easily last for up to a month. 

7) Bhoto Jatra

Newari Festivals

Connected with Bunda Dyo Jatra is Bhoto Jatra. As we mentioned, this Jatra is held near the end of the month-long charriot procession. After the Bunga Dyo reaches Jawlakhel, astrologers look for the auspicious day to hold this Newari festival. Once the date is set, all the government officers and the head of the state gather on the spot. Then under the gaze of many onlookers, the head of state climbs Machhindra Nath. 

After he holds a jewel-studded black vest and shows it to the four sides of the chariot. While this may seem like a weird Newari festival, there are a few myths that back up this weirdness.  As per one of such myths, in the mythical era, the wife of Karkotaka Naga fell ill. Unsure of what to do, he sought help from the mortal humans since it was widespread knowledge among the deities that humans had medicinal knowledge. In this process of seeking help from humans, he came across a Jyapu (farmer). He was understandably scared. Unsure of what to do, in his confusion, he gave some of this body dirt "Khiti". And this weirdly healed the Nagas wife. 

Pleased with this deed, the Naga gave the Jyapu a magical Vest. But not long after that, his vest went missing. Time passed on and soon it was time for Bunga Dya festival. And at that time, he saw someone wearing his missing vest. Soon there was a fight between the two. Officials stepped in and since none of them could provide the proof, the Bhoto Jatra stated. 

8) Yenya Punhi

All of us know what this Newari festival is. For those who don't know what this festival is, the common name for this is "Indra Jatra". Although calling Yenya Punhi Indra Jatra would be somewhat of an injustice. This is because Indra Jatra is just a part of this Newari festival;

As per the lunar calendar, Yenya Punhi starts from Bhadra Dwadashi and ends in Ashwin Chaturdashi. While this is one single Newari festival, this festival consists of two events. When both of these events are combined, this festival lasts for 8 days. Although both of these events in this festival are somewhat related, both of these are events can be considered as their own festival. They are Indra Jatra and Kumar Jatra. 

Indra Jatra is celebrated by doing a ritual puja before devoting a dance of deities and demons to please Lord Indra. These deities and demons are what is commonly known as Lakhe. 

As for the second half, a chariot carrying the Living Goddess Kumar is pulled across the streets of Kathmandu along a predetermined road. There are also representations of Lord Ganesh and Lord Bhirava alongside Goddess Kumari as well. 

9) Biska Jatra

Newari Festivals

Commonly known as Bisket Jatra, this is one of the most popular festivals of Bhaktapur. This Newari festival lasts for eight-night and nine days. And the local people are crazy about this Jatra. That being said, there are two main attractions of this Jatra - Lyo Sin Dyo and the famous Tug of War.

Lyo sin Dyo is a long pole that is erected on the last day of Chaitra. This pole is then lied down on the next day. This process is known as Satruhanta Jatra and it signifies the fall of the enemy. It is believed that the enemy of all this who sees this process will fall down as well - just like the pole. Hence the name SatruHanta Jatra since Satru means enemy and Hanta means demise. 

As for the tug of war, people pull the chariot of Bhairava and Bhadra kali. This is done so as to determine the first location to be blessed by these lords. One side will try to pull the chariot towards the Tekhaco twa and another side will try to pull the chariot towards the Dattatreya Square. Due to the chaotic nature of this event, there are have been many injuries over the past years. It is also due to this very same reason that this Newari Festival is known as one of the most dangerous festivals in the world. 

The Conclusion,

Newari Festivals

These are 9 of the Newari festivals. But as we mentioned before, Newari culture is filled with Festivals. But these 9 festivals can be considered as just a drop from the ocean of Newari festivals. There is a running joke among Newari communities that says something along the lines of "If there was a holiday for every Newari festival, then there would be no working days at all". Based on the sheer number of Newari festivals, this joke is not far-fetched at all.

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