Newar Rites of Passage

In the cities of Patan, Bhaktapur and Newar of Nepal, live the largest concentrations Newar, who are indigenous to the Kathmandu Valley. Practicing Buddhism and Hinduism, the Newar are a unique group of people who practice traditional rituals and rites that keep the tradition and culture of the Newar alive. In previous times, the Newar were divided by occupational caste that could be distinguished by surname, but that is no longer of importance. With such a rich culture, there are many rites performed throughout the year by the Newar. Many are related to the stages of life and thus known as the Rites of Passage.

The Newar Rites of Passage start pre-natal, when gifts of sweets, yogurt and rice are given to the pregnant mother. After the birth of the child, it is customary to send the mother food related gifts such as nutmeg and candy. Approximately ten days after the child has been born, the Machaboo Byanke tradition is performed to purify the family of the new baby, and more gifts of food are sent to the mother during the first month. The rite of Manch Janko, the feeding of rice, is performed when a boy is between six to eight months of age and a girl is between five to seven months old. A rice pudding is made and offered to the child after the Ganesh worshipping.

Two more rituals lie ahead of both boys and girls. The first ritual for the girls is done when they are between five to eleven years of age and is known as Ihi. During Ihi, girls are taught everything they need to know about taking care of a household and are symbolically married to lord Vishnu, so that they will never become widows. After the Ihi ritual, the Bahra rite confines the girls before they start to menstruate, keeping them away from sunlight and men, with only female relatives to keep them company for twelve days, after which the girls pay tribute to the sun.

For boys, the ritual of Busankha is done when they are either six or seven, and it is when a boy’s hair is shaven by an uncle and his aunt (sister of his father). Within this time, it is usually the time of Kayatapuja, and the boys reaching puberty are marked by the fitting of the loin cloth and visiting the various shrines to bring offerings and worship.

The last three rituals of the Rites of Passage are the Ihipa, Jyah Janko and Sithan. Ihipa is the marriage of two Newar. Marriages are still arranged by the families and the marriage date is set by an astrologer. Jyah Janko is used to mark and celebrate longevity and performed five times from when a Newar reaches the age of seventy-seven, seven months and seven days to the last rite which takes place at the age of a hundred and five years, eight months and eight days. Sithan is the last rite of the passage and is perform soon after death. The body is marked, while four lamps burn around the body and the funeral procession is lead by the beating of a drum and followed by wailing mourners, after which the body is cremated.