BY SHITAL PRADHAN
The most peculiar ritual followed among newar girl is ihi (also ehee). Also known as bael byah, it is a symbolic marriage with a bael (Aegle mermalous) fruit. This ritual is done among the girl between the ages of four to eleven before reaching the period of puberty, where they are married to lord Shiva that the fruit is kept in his place. Newar community has invaded outside Nepal where the traditions are somewhat lost but still it is found in every newar house that the Bael byah have been made. This customary marriage is thought to be the most holy rituals in this noble clan. With this marriage to the immortal lord the newar girl will not follow widowhood when their husband passes away. It is believed that even remarriage can be done.
At the day of ihi the place is cleaned and swabbed with cow dung and red soil to make it pure. The ihi girl is bathed and does fasting for whole daylong. The daughter of Brahmin is chosen to represent the fruit, she is called locantee. The ceremony starts in the morning with the bali (killing) of goat or a duck to lord Ganesha. Followers of Boudh newar never do the killing and the poor one can do it with fried egg. Eight different flags representing eight Devi are worshiped and immersed to the river. A pindah for a bael fruit is made where bamboo root and grass is placed. (A pindah is made of khir mixed with black teel and roundly molded) This is done to please the ancestors of both his father and mother family.
The girl is brought to the puja site where yellow thread is measured from head to feet for 108 times and thereafter a mala is made and given to the girl. Water from the thakali, a water vase is taken by the pundit and sprinkled over the ihi girl to make her pure. 84 different varieties of vegetables are placed before the girl that she needs to taste the five and remaining she will touch it and will be immersed in a holy place. This ends the end of the first day.
The next morning cutting of nails is done followed by the polishing of the nails. A piece of raw meat, little custard oil and some money are given to the nauni, the person who cuts the nail. Nini of the girl collects the nails in a copper plate, she too will be given money. Then the ihi girl is dressed in red sari or chaubandha choli as a bride.
Sicha fhangu is a custom where the Brahmin girl, the locantee act as a lord Shiva and with the stem of the bael fruit put the sindoor on the forehead of the ihi girl. The girl is offered milk, dahi, fruits and others. Kanyadaan, a hand of ihi girl is given to the hand of locantee to dedicate the girl to the lord. In return the ihi girl touches the feet of locantee and washes her feet. New clothes are offered to the ihi girl and three-fist ful rice. In some ceremony both the ihi girl and the locantee are carried by the brothers and made to move along the fire for three times. The pundit puts tika on the forehead of the ihi girl and thereafter other too joins to bless the bride girl. There is also tradition that the other family member and the relatives wash the feet of the ihi girl and drink the water of the feet. Food is offered to all the guests and the ihi ceremony end after this.
The bael fruit after the ceremony is kept safely or immersed to the river. It is considered bad luck if the fruit get damage. Since the girl have already wedded to the lord Shiva, after her marriage to another husband in her later years she shall remain unchanged even she becomes a widow. She shall always remain the wife of Lord Shiva at first instant.
An interesting tale has been found regarding the origin of the bael byah that says, it was during the time of Ranas, the dignity of the newari girls were under deep trouble. The Rana and his men used to follow the girls and look with lusty eyes. It was this reason for the newar to save their future generations they made a plan and married their children with the bael fruit. Since this fruit is considered holy and found single that they made the choice. The Ranas used to respect the married women so their inhuman attitude towards the newari girls also changed. Since marrying with a fruit saved the newari community for its existence the practice is still prevalent.
After the ihi or the bael byah, next come the Bahra, a traditional rituals confinement of a girl before the onset of menstruation. This ritual is done when a girl enters her youth. A girl after having undergone ihi is kept separated from all makes and from sunlight for 12 days. She has to stay in a dark room. On the 12th day the girl is purified and the function ends with a Bhoj (traditional newari meal where all family members are present).
These rituals are of two types, Bahra tyagu and Bahra chauneygu. The first ritual is performed before the start of menses. This is done between the age of five and 13. More then one girl can follow the ritual but in case of Bahra Chauneygu, only one girl has to undergo.
In both occasion a cave of cloths, Bahra Khayak is made and worshiped. It is believed that the girl is under the evil possession. A separate meal for the khayak is taken out from the meal of the caved girl. Salt is not used in any of the meal and the girl is entertained with folk songs and dance performed by her friends. For all the 12 days thakali naki, worships the Khyak and will do all the girl work. She is the medium between the girl and her family.
Till the 11 days the family members are considered impure but the married sisters cannot be counted. On the 6th day, particular kerosene oil is provided by the paju (Mama) that is put on the face by the women in the family and finally putting it on the hair of the girl just ending the consumption of salts.
It is only after the 11 days the girl is considered as pure and holy. It is known as Nishi Yayagu. Then the girl pays homage to the sun god. She will be bathed and will be blind folded. She is then taken to the open space to have a Surya Darshan. During these rituals, thakali naki performs the major role. She first worships the Ganesha and sun god. Fistful wheat seed and rice is given to the girl that she throws backward. This is done for three times. Sindoor is put on the forehead of the girl and new dress is presented. The girl now can wear a sari, she is considered as women. In respect to the seniority everyone bless the girl with a tika, made of pitho and oil. The girl is then given Sagun (newari prasad), first to the ancestral deity, then to other family members.
Each family member now considers that the girl is not mere child but has now become an adolescent. Her introduction to menstruation is expected and after the bhoj the rituals end.
Photos by Mani Sakya