I usually get up at 7:30 or later than that, but today just to attend a Bratabandhan, more as an Anthropologist rather than a guest, forcefully got up at 6. I know that is almost late for some of my early worm friends. Sait was at 7:30, and to avoid traffic at Koteshwor and reaching Bhaktapur on time, we had to depart by at 6:30.
Nepali time as it says, no one was ready when we reached Mahakali Temple in Bhaktapur, few kilometres from main Durbar Square in Bhaktapur. The priest had just arrived, and his assistant was busy drawing mandaps, rekhis, and asana, all ritual terms, and unfortunately, I don’t even know how to explain those terms in English.
I was freezing. The temperature was lower in Bhaktapur than Kathmandu. Thomas was fluttering his frozen hands, for he rode his bike all the way there. Thank god I was picked up on rotten green Toyota.
Finally, at eight, the ritual started. Thank god. All three boys were bathed and then lined up for shaving heads. And the barber would not stop bargaining for higher dakchina (money) between his tasks. Ritual continued… reciting mantras (verses), showering flower and lava, putting tika (forehead mark), dhup batti (incense). The time came for boys to get rid of their clothes and put on pitambar langots (yellow satin underwears). I think it was symbolic of the stage when they either choose to spend Grihasta life (household) or banastha life (life in a jungle and studying in traditional schools). I already mentioned that Bhaktapur was chilling and also almost-bare-boys were shivering. I couldn’t help noticing their quivering dingdong veiled by translucent pitambar (Yellow garments usually used for offering to Lord Vishnu).
Oh yes! I noticed one difference between Newari bratabandhan and rest of other Hindus was, boy’s (initiate’s) phupu, the paternal aunts, collect hair on brass plates when shaving initiate’s head, whereas in our clan it is a job for sisters.
The ritual went on and one, Thomas was busy photographing and I was already bored and alienated for all the mantras reverberating around was in a Newari language that I didn’t understand at all. Although I have grown up with few Newari friends and with their unsuccessful tries of teaching me the language, all I could understand until this day is chu jula which means WHAT’S UP?? (I think) So, I thought of intervening priest, mother, boys, father and rest of the relatives with my so-called Anthropological questions. Trust me! They were quite patient and boggled me with zealous explanations in their broken Nepali mixed Newari tones. Newari was indeed a MIND BOGGLING for me because of my total lack of knowledge, but I still managed to gather what I needed to.
One led to another, we had to go to the nearby river to flow the boys’ hair, that was collected on a plate earlier. And also, readers please excuse my atrocious English. Dry season cast all over Nepal, although we should have been blessed with winter rain by now, there was no river, just the leftover and path of it. So, the Phupus managed to bury hair in river soil or more appropriately river sand.
Then we had a procession through the alleys of Bhaktapur’s tol or village. I enjoyed the site of tilted mud houses supported by one another, always wondered what happens if (heaven forbid) earthquake stroke. Walking through brick-paved alleys which is uncommon in Kathmandu. Wooden Aankhi Jhyal (lattice Window). House-well built-in B.S. 2022. The friendship between vendors selling Dhaka-patasi and modern garments side by side. Bhaktapur women washing clothes on the outside porch. Sophisticated and traditional wooden mask. And Yes! The trespassers looking at me and murmuring to one another because I was asked to carry a coca-cola bottle that had home-made wine instead, while other participants of the procession were carrying fruits, flowers, sweets and other regular stuff on trays. And there shouts a roadside Romeo “Hey! Is that petrol or wine that you are carrying?” What did I do at such remarks? Ignoring and walking away.
Then there was another set of worshipping ritual at Bhadrakali temple, which was comparatively smaller to the temple with the same name that we have in Kathmandu and it looked like any other byroad deity housed. The perplexing and only style of Bhaktapur, was, firstly applying blood tika from sacrificial’s neck portion to oneself and others. Secondly, priest poking lower belly of the sacrificed goat to pull its small intestine, blow air to make a ballooned-intestinal-garland that was offered to Bhadrakali’s idol.
Whoops!! That is something not practised in Kathmandu.
We returned to the place where bratabandhan took place i.e Mahakali temple, lit one lakh oil wicks in the name of Mahakali Goddess. And then all the women of the family started exchanging sagun, a holy complilation of fried boiled-egg, fish, and bara/Lentil Patti. Finally, I got sagun too and it was a kind of blessing for me to see the foods that I could actually eat because I was famished since morning. Phew! I was awake since 6 in the morning and had nothing eaten, except for 2 cups of tea and one jeri-swari all 8 hours long.
As I took a bite of fish, Shova screamed at me with joy “your first child will be a baby boy”. Startled, I thought, how on earth did she know that? I am not even married. She said, “Your first bite was fish head, so that’s the sign that your firstborn will be a boy.” INTERESTING, said I.
Luckily, we dodged all the traffic jams on the way back to the office. Worked for 2 hours and was happy that it was weekend for next two days and I didn’t have to worry about being at the office sharp on time the following day.
Oh yes, I took centre-stage and narrated Bratabandhan stories to my mom, sister, and two brothers with utmost enthusiasm.
It was indeed, my first date with Hindu Ritual in Newari Style.