Sunday, October 22, 2006

Diwali walli* goes Nepali

Festivus maximus
Kathmandu and Lalitpur, Nepal

*Wallah: someone who is particularly expert at or specializes in a certain activity or profession. Walli: feminine of Wallah.

Everything happens at once, all the time, here. We're now in the middle of yet another cluster of festival days. This one is Diwali, aka Tihar, the Hindu festival of lights and Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and abundance. Some things are closed, some are open for business, many look deceptively open yet are operating on skeleton crew.

Naturally, all government offices are closed. In fact, I think they were literally closed more days than they were open this month.

Bunches of dressed-up, beaming people roam the streets, butter-lamps are lit at in doorways at dusk, children make the rounds singing and drumming deusi-bailo (a sort of Newari trick-or-treating from door to door) in the evenings. Every home and shop has a rangoli (sort of mandala-design invitation to the goddess, painted with cow dung, coloured powder, lamps and flower petals) at the front door - a painted pathway to guide Lakshmi as she enters to bless the residence. Everywhere you can hear the sounds of ringing puja bells, and Newari panchbhaje bands go from door to door playing their distinctive, reedy ceremonial music. A few months ago I wrote about the snake holiday (Naag Panchami). I can really hear the snake spirit in the sounds of the long, narrow Newari horns.

New Newaris
Today I am rushing to get some prints made for Pramochan, one of the (the many) Newari masked dancers I photographed this past Dasain season. On Dasain day, I received tikka and jamara (red powder on the forehead and sprigs of barley behind the ear) from Pramochan's father. Tikka and jamara are a sort of blessing given from elders to juniors on Dasain day. So, Pramochan's familiy (all five of whom live in a traditional Nepali wooden house, which looks like a hayloft with a five-foot ceiling) have invited me to Mha Puja. (Yet another puja!)

I love the tradition of jamara, which is (as far as I know) unique to Nepal. On the first day of Dasain, the lady of the house plants seeds of barley, rice or corn, in a bed of sand, in a special niche inside the home. The seeds are then covered and allowed to sprout secretly in warmth and darkness. It's during these nine days that the goddess Durga is symbolically fighting evil. On the tenth day, Vijaya Dashami, the jamara is uncovered and revealed to have grown into long, bright green grassy stalks. The stalks are then ritually harvested and bestowed upon juniors by the family elders.

Everyone walks around town with an enormous red dot (made of red kumkum powder, rice and yogurt) on their foreheads and chartreuse sprigs sprouting from their hair like feathers (see photo below). Nepalis absolutely love tikka and jamara ("sooooo beauty-full") and seemed very proud to be seen with me, once I was properly marked.

Today's festivity, Mha Puja, is done only by the Newari community on the occasion of Newari New Year (it's now 1126). This ceremony honours and blesses the individual's body for the coming year. Fortunately I have a Newari and Nepali interpreter and hope to find out more about it. I am bringing the prints as a present for the family. (Others might get away with bringing a box of sweets, but as a foreigner with a digital camera, I am honour-bound to provide free prints to the family. I think it's a tradeoff for the stigma they might otherwise receive of associating with a foreigner.)

Rituals in transfigured time
Here in Nepal, we are running three simultaneous calendars. The business calendar is (sort of) the "English" or Gregorian calendar. Then there's the Vikram Sambat or Nepali Hindu calendar, in which it's 2063 and the new year is in April. It is quite common for buildings to boast of having been "established in 2059" (my Australian friend Dave took a photo of this - he thought it was a typo), or for people to say "the conference will begin after 10 Bhadra."

When yet another time cycle, the Newari calendar, starts tomorrow, and it will be 1127. The Newari new year is figured from our AD 867, when legend has it that a Newari Jyapu (farmer caste) discovered a riverbed of gold, and thus paid off everyone's debts. A good way to make a fresh start.

Now if I could just make some money and pay off a few of my debts...guess I will be offering Lakshmi extra marigolds and butter lamps for that one.

New widgets on the block!
Feeds, widgets, clusters, tags, bookmarklets, clouds, sprinkles, aggregators, badges. I'm just now learning about the galaxy of nifty blog features and how they procreate.

I've added a couple of new widgets (nifty code dropped into my template to do cool things) to the blog site. The SirenLocator Map (requires Flash, I think) should show online viewers as they appear, and even reveal a map of their nation (for those unclear on geography).

Scroll down and you will find the Current Moon Phase, essential for life in Nepal and other parts of Asia.

My SirenDelicious feed shows my favourite items and headlines saved to And Global Voices headlines feed show selected headers from the Nepali and Indian blogosphere.

Coming soon: my very own tag cloud, and a Newsvine widget. Oh, and I've finally caught up and gotten myself a YouTube account, but some stupid folk singer already snatched the name SirenTV will be appearing as "SirensongsIndia." Maybe someday I'll figure out how to upload my many videos directly to this site.


tiregroove said...

hey, once you post them on YouTube, you can just copy and paste a link right into your blog and the video window will appear like a photo.

Lotus Reads said...

I enjoyed reading this post,thank you! Canada seems so colourless in comparison. I miss the subcontinent so much during the festive season. Great pictures!

Ashish said...

Great. I did not know what Diwali looks like in Nepal (and I don't think that I ever bothered to find out either), so it was good to be able to view this from where I am sitting.

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

Chandra in Nashville writes:

At this time of year, with masks seen at masquerade parties and worn by trick-or-treaters, it is wonderful to see a mask whose wearer still appreciates to superloaded meaning and imagery. Indeed a highlight...

Blessings, Sweetie!

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

Chris in Nashville writes:

Anyone would be honored to receive your prints, I think.

Maybe I should play the lottery today and see if I find my riverbed of gold! Have a Happy Newari New Year!

Troy in Nashville writes:
Hmmnn...that many days off? I may have to open a Sony Publishing branch office in Nepal.

Anil P said...

The symbolism of color, when all else is forgotten it is only what you remember seeing is what stays with you.

And the bindi is one of them.