Gunla Dharma (गुँला धर्म)
Gunla or Gumlā is the tenth month of the Newar Calendar, the Nepal Sambat calendar, and the holiest month of all for the Newa Buddhist of Kathmandu Valley. This month usually corresponds to the August on Gregorian calendar.
Gunla is the sacred month to Lord Buddha.
According to the Nepal Sambat Calendar, Gunla Dharma, the path of righteousness starts on Gunlaathwo Paaru (गुँलाथ्व पारु), the first day of Gunla, and ends on Yanlaathwo Paaru (ञलाथ्व पारु), the first day of the eleventh month, Yanlaa.
During these auspicious thirty days, the Newa Buddhists (Buddhist Newars) observe fast, penance, recite their scriptures, and parade to religious spots playing devotional music. The devotional music is called Dha: Baja. The abovementioned religious activities performed during this month are collectively called Gunla Dharma and the occasion is called Gunla Parba.
Devotees from 32 different communities of the valley parade mainly in groups to the pilgrimage sites like Swayambhunath Stupa, Seto Macchendrantha Temple, and various Bahals, the Newar temple courtyards. Everyday. And it climaxes with a huge feast and merrymaking on the 30th day.
Events & Rituals of Gunla Dharma
Dyah Thāyegu (द्यः थायेगु)
Newar women, on each day of Gunla mold tiny clay votive images, which are ‘given life’ by inserting a grain of unpolished rice into it. On Dyah Thāyegu (द्यः थायेगु), the last day of Holy Month the families and related caste groups make processions to the sacred river to dump these tiny idols into the water. Where, women dressed in their finest carry burning incense, all chant hymns, and are escorted by the Dha: Baja musicians.
They dump votive images in a heap at the riverbank, the procession then circumambulates the heap three times as a vital part of ceremonies. With the completion of the rituals, the idols are immersed in the sacred waters.
Panjaran or Panchadaan (पन्जराँ / पञ्चदान)
Panjaran or Panchadaan (पन्जराँ / पञ्चदान) is the offering of five staple grain—unhusked and polished rice, lentil seeds, wheat, and salt to the begging monks. This day of charity and benevolence falls on the eighth day of the bright fortnight of the month in Patan and the 13th day of the dark fortnight in Bhaktapur, Kathmandu, Thimi, Banepa and Kirtipur.
In Patan, Women with large baskets of five offerings offer monks who pass by begging alms with a handful of Panchadaan. In return, these monks touch those donors’ heads with sacred books to bestow blessings upon them.
Bahi Dya Bwayegu (बहि द्यः ब्वेगु)
Bahi Dya Bwayegu (बहि द्यः ब्वेगु), the display of the gods in the viharas. It commences three days before the full moon and may continue for several days. During Bahi Dya Bwayegu, especially in Kathmandu and Patan, Paubhā (religious cloth paintings) and Dipankara Buddha are exhibited to the public, often behind wooden lattice screens in the courtyard porches. These religious relics reveal the artistry of ancient craftsmanship.
Chaa Chwo Wanegu (चा च्वँवनेगु)
Chaa Chwo Wanegu literally means to stay overnight in the Newar language.
On this day, the Newa Buddhists of Patan carry lighted lamps and candles to honour their dead. They make a day-long pilgrimage through the prescribed ancient routes of Patan to Swayambhunath Stupa, making offerings to each holy place all along. They sing the praises in the names of their dead while clashing cymbals and thumping drums. They stay overnight at the Swayambhunath hill. It is believed that one can see replica of Swayambhunath stupa in the sky in a cloud form and this cloud formation is called ” Ratnamanda: Darshan” (रत्नमन्दः दर्शन )
On the day following, those celebrating, gather at the Swayambhunath hill, literally covering every level of the hillside and indulge in an all-day picnic as the final celebration of the Buddhist faithful.
This day also commemorates Buddha’s victory over the evil Mara who tried an unsuccessful attempt to tempt Lord Buddha from his meditations.
Dha: Baja (धा: बाजा)
The main musical instrument played during Gunla are
- Dhaa (धाँ)
- Naubaja (नौबाजा)
- Muhaali (मुहाली)
- Nyeku (न्यकू), a buffalo horn trumpet
But these days every Newar communities play various traditional musical instrument.
In short, Gunla Dharma is an important and interesting Newar tradition since time immemorial and is still celebrated by every generation as a boisterous festival.
- Frannkey Franz
- The Festivals of Nepal, Mary M. Anderson
- First published on Jul 29, 2022