Mohani Nakha: A Newari celebration, starts on Ashtami, the eighth day of Dashain, Nepal’s biggest and a fortnight-long festival that usually falls on the month of Ashwin (Sept/October) the 6th month of Bikram Sambat Calendar, starting on Ashwin Shukla Paksha Pratipada, the first day of the bright lunar fortnight and ending with Purnima, the full moon day.
Newars like any other fellow Nepalese plant Jamara for Mohani Nakha: on the first day of Dashain that starts with Ghatasthapana, but they call Jamara a Nal Swa: No special rituals are performed after Nal Swa: seed is sown except for regular morning worshipping their gods and Nal Swa: for the next seven days. Nor do they bring in a Fulpati of nine different types of flowers- leaves home in the veneration of Saptami puja, on the seventh day. However, on Panchami, the fifth day of Dashain the Pachimahra Jatra popularly known as Pachali Bhairav Jatra is celebrated in Kathmandu.
This fascinating Mohani Nakha: on Ashtami is a grand celebration for the Newars, they eat Samay Baji (a typical Newari food set) on banana leaves to commemorate the tradition. Actually, no Newari feast or celebration is complete without eating Samay Baji. It is a fine food platter consisting of Beaten Rice, Chatamari, Bara, Choila, Hard boiled eggs, Soybeans, Spicy Potato Salad/ Pickle, Julienned Ginger, Beans Pickle, Greens and many more plus Aila, the liquor.
On the night of Ashtami, all the family members belonging to one clan gather at one house, sit in a line for a grand feast of Samay Baji. This beautiful tradition of sitting and eating together is called “Kulachhibhvaya”, which later was modified to call “Kuchhibhvaya”.
Bwa, a set of Samay Baji laid out on banana leaves, is first offered to the family deity, secondly to the Pikhalakhu, a floor shrine at the main entrance then to all attendees. Bwa, is also plated for those family members who fail to attend the Kulachhibhvaya on this day. There was a tradition of bringing Bwa to the houses of married-off sisters which is not practised anymore. It is believed that Bwa for this occasion must include twelve different kinds of delicacies like dried fish, pumpkin, greens, meat, beans, thwa: (local rice liquor) etc served on a banana leaf.
Nepali Hindus refrain from celebrating or participating in any festivals in case of a death in the family for a full year preceding the death to mourn the deceased. Newars follow the same tradition but it’s not the case for Kulachhibhvaya, every family member under any circumstances must attend this yearly feast. And the feast of ginger (instead of meat) and chickpea pancake (instead of lentil pancake) is eaten after the funeral if there is a death in the family on this day.
The ninth day (Navami) following Kulachhibhvaya day is called Syakchatyakcha. It’s a day to slaughter animals as offerings to Goddess Durga and eat the meat as prasad (sacred food). Especially in Newar families, there is a tradition of distributing slaughtered animals’ organs; nose, ears, eyes, teeth, etc. to the males of the family in the order of eldest to youngest.
The word Syakchatyakcha is believed to have been derived from the word Sayekukcha, which means “the more you learn, the more you benefit” but the term Syakchatyakcha is now used as “The day to slaughter”.
Hindus all over Nepal also worship their vehicles and tools too on Navami to venerate Lord Bishwakarma, the God of architecture. These days Nepalese, mainly from Southern Nepal, following Indian tradition, propitiate their vehicles, tools and machinery on the first day of the month Ashwin to celebrate a birthday of Lord Bishwakarma,
On the night of Navami, Mohani Sinha (the main Tika of Mohani, kohl alike) is prepared. Mohani Sinha or Mohani Tika is a layer of black smoke of butter lamp that’s collected on a pala, the small mud saucer, that is cupped over the burning lamp all night. Hence the name of the festival, Mohani.
Earlier Tantric method was used to make this Mohani Sinha, and thus created Mohani Sinha if dabbed on the forehead as tika to family members they were believed to attain supreme knowledge.
Dashami, the tenth day of Dashain is called Chaal in Newari language, is the day to receive Tika (a paste made of rice grains, yoghurt and vermilion) and Naal Swa: from the elders like everybody else. They also tie Kwakha, a red and white cloth-thread to the tika receiver’s neck as a blessing. This ritual of giving and receiving tika continues until the concluding day of Dashain i.e Purnima. The grand feast goes one and on goes meeting the relatives.
The eleventh day is called Chaal Kwakayegu, the tools and books worshipped on Ashtami and Navami are taken out of their altar and presented to the family members.