Naturally, older civilizations tend to have a rich heritage of myths, legends, and folklore woven and integrated with everyday practices and festivities. Each rite, ritual, and festival connected with such practices and beliefs add meaning and glamour to the cultural life of the population.
Nepal is a country of deities and festivities. Not a single week passes without observing one festival or the other, nor there is any locality without a religious deity of one sort or the other. Festivals in Nepal mean basically three things: God, family (community), and fun. All the festivals more or less revolve around these three in Nepal. Most of the festivals are religious in nature, hence is laden with rituals and ceremonies, moves with spontaneous social spirit and culminates into a feast and fun with families and friends. Janai Purnima is one of such festivals of Nepal.
Janai Purnima is known by various names in various communities. Newars call it “Kwanti Punhi” or “Goon La Punhi” or “Gunhu Punhi”. Khas people call it “Janai Purnima” or “Rishi Tarpani”. People in southern Nepal celebrate it as “Rakshya Bandhan” or “Rakhi”. This is a festival commonly celebrated across various communities in Nepal from Tamangs in the hills, Brahmins and Chhettris and Newars in the valley, and Madheshis in the south. This festival falls on the full moon day of Shrawan, the fourth Hindu month (mid-August).
Janai Purnima and Rishi Tarpani
The Hindus (Brahmins and Chhetris) also referred to as Tagadharis (thread bearers) consider this day to be an important day of the Hindu calendar.
Janai or yagyopawit is a sacred thread received by a Hindu boy during the ceremony of Bratabandha (rites of passage). A Hindu man is expected to wear this sacred thread from hanging from the left shoulder, coming down to the right, crossing the chest. On the day of Janai Purnima, the Hindu man changes his sacred thread and wears a new one. This is considered to be the refreshing and revitalization of one’s knowledge and spiritual realization.
People from Brahmin and Chhetri communities flock to the nearest temples, ponds, and rivers to take purifying baths in the holy water and ritually change the Janai. Women, children, and non-Tagadharis also go to these temples to receive a doro (holy protective thread band) tied around one’s wrist from the priest.
Gosain Kunda Mela
One of the most popular pilgrimages on Janai Purnima is Gosain Kunda. Situated at an altitude of 4380 meters in Rasuwa, this is the holy lake where Lord Shiva is believed to have extinguished the blaze of Halaahal poison after the Samundra Manthan. Samundra Manthan is when the god and demons of Hindu mythology together churned the ocean to sought Amrita, the immortal nectar while Halaahal was a by-product that nobody wanted.
Gosain Kunda is also considered to be a sacred spiritual pilgrimage for the Bonpo shamans of the Tamang community. Dressed in pure white skirts, adorned by headgears of peacock feathers and wearing the garlands of bells, these shamans travel all the way to Gosain Kunda in trance beating their drums. These shamans annually go on this pilgrimage to recharge and rejuvenate their spiritual accomplishments and also pay homage to their tutelary deity Lord Mahadev.
Interestingly, for those who cannot make this journey to Gosain Kunda, the Shiva temple in northern Patan, called Kumbheshwor offer an alternative. The Kumbheshwor Kunda (pond) in the temple premises is believed to be connected spiritually & physically to Gosain Kunda, hence making this Kunda as sacred as the former.
Parallel pilgrimage festivals are held in all the important Shiva shrines in Nepal including Dudhkunda in Solukhumbu, Doleswar Mahadev in Bhaktapur, Ganga-Dhanus Sagar in Janakpur, Dansandhu in Jumla, Yartong in Muktinath & Bhageswor in Dadeldhura of western Nepal.
Kwanti Punhi or Goonla Punhi
Although, Newar Brahmins (Rajopadhyay) and many Shrestha families do change the sacred thread like the Tagadharis, the whole Newar community observes this festival as Kwanti Punhi. Kwanti is basically a soupy dish prepared with a mixture of numerous sprouted beans, cereals, and peas. Rich in protein and nutrients, this is the dish that literally means hot soup in Nepal Bhasa (Newari language).
On this day, Newar families invite their daughters and sisters for a family feast where Kwanti is invariably the main delicacy. This festival marks the end of the monsoon in Nepal and Kwanti is supposed to revitalize the human body after a long and laborious rice planting season.
Bayaan Ja Nakegu (बयाँ जा नकेगु)
Very interestingly, the farmer community (Jyapu) in Kathmandu used to perform a particular ceremony called Bayaan Ja Nakegu (बयाँ जा नकेगु), the rice feeding of frogs. This ritual is performed to thank the frogs for bringing plentiful rain during the plantation of rice. Frog is often associated with rain and monsoon in Kathmandu valley. However, this tradition is slowly dying. People often joke that the mosquito hereafter dies drowning in the soup of Kwanti not bothering us any longer.
Mara Vijaya Divas (मार विजय दिवस)
The Newar Buddhists in Kathmandu valley observe this day as Mara Vijaya Divas (मार विजय दिवस). They consider this day as the day when Lord Buddha had victory over the Mara. Mara symbolically means the illusions, attachments, and all the mental defilements that Buddha had to face on his path to enlightenment.
The Buddhists visit temples and viharas to pay homage to Buddha and there is a tradition of reciting the Lalita Vistara Sutra (an old Buddhist text) in the vihara of Patan on this day. There was an interesting old practice prevalent among the Buddhists of Kathmandu where they used to visit nine different monasteries wearing nine different dresses on this auspicious day.
One is also advised to eat nine different varieties of food and go to listen to a musical performance of Nau Baja (Nine kinds of musical instruments) in the Kumbheshwor temple courtyard in the evening. This practice seems to have gone out of vogue, however, one can surely see the importance given to number nine on this day and incidentally, the word “goon” means nine in Nepal Bhasa.
Rakshya Bandhan / Rakhi
Rakshya Bandhan, literally meaning the safety bond celebrates the relationship between brothers and sisters. Observed mostly in southern Nepal and all over India, this festival glorifies the unconditional faith a sister has in her brother.
Sisters perform a ceremony where they tie a band on the brother’s wrist while praying for the brothers’ good health and long life, meanwhile, the brothers promise to take care of the sisters. The ceremony is followed by an exchange of gifts and a family feast.
The legend of Rakshya Bandhan has its roots in the Hindu epic of Mahabharat. Once Lord Krishna cuts one of his fingers with a thread while flying a kite. Then his friend Draupadi tears a piece of her saree (drape clothing) and ties it on Krishna’s finger to stop the bleeding. Moved by this gesture, Krishna promised to protect her as a brother throughout his life.
On the other hand, another Puranic legend mentions the story of Yamuna and Yama. The story goes that once Yamuna tied a rakhi to her brother Yama; the lord of death. He granted his sister immortality. So enthused by his sister’s love for him, he promised that any brother who has tied a Rakhi from his sister and offered to protect his sister would also be granted long-life.
- The Nepal Festivals: Dhruva Krishna Deep
- Pandit Sri Toyanath Pandey
- Tamang Shamans celebrate Janai Purnima Festival in Nagarkot. by Ekant sw