Celebrating Mha Puja and Newar New Year in Sikkim
Reminiscences Old and New
As we all know by now that the Newars in Sikkim got new lease of life after the recognition of their language along with six others as a State Language at par with the existing Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha and Limbu languages in accordance with the Extra Ordinary Gazette Notification No. 5/LD/90 dated April 3, 1995 after the new/present Government came into power the previous year. On this occasion, we had brought out and distributed some five thousand copies of “Newa: Varna, Lipi ra Bhasha Parichaya” in 1996 followed by its revised enlarged edition 2001 that reached households not only in the hills and vales of Sikkim, Kalimpong and Darjeeling but beyond to Kathmandu Valley, the mainland Nepal. There too our language was much threatened under the influence of intruding culture at the verge of extinction like here. We can find language enthusiasists still sharing pages from the book without giving the source or credit on social media like Facebook. We are aware that though we do not speak the language forgotten over the ages struggling for our mere existence in the newfound land establishing well our identity, some of the typical Newar words like, Aja-Aji, Paju-Maleju, Tata, Chama-Chaba (chima-Chirba), etc. are profusely in our day-to-day use addressing relatives in the family and household. This takes me back to the Felicitation function held last January by the Akhil Bharatiya Newar Sangathan, Kalimpong Region in honour of Pancha Ratna Pradhan for being awarded as the National Teacher. It would be of interest to share here what another learned teacher Yogbir Shakya shared with us there in the function.
Yogbir narrated about an important aspect of our attitude we generally have towards our mother language. During Census or other surveys when we are asked to mention our mother language, we usually mention some other in place of our own mother language under the impression that we are unable to speak it. Sometime ago he had an informal talk with the director of the Linguistic Survey of India, who was of the view that simply not knowing or speaking your language does not debar you from owning your mother language. It does not matter if you know or not it since you have been using the Newar Bhasha terms in your daily-life like, Ba, Ma, Tataju, Paju-Maleju in the family or while Chrima-Chiriba, etc. As you are grown up using the traditional household goods like ankhora, anti, karuwa, sinhamu-jwalanhyaka, kota, etc. Similarly, you have been observing social and cultural rituals in your festivals like Janma Din, Mha Puja, Kija Puja, Jankwa, Indrajatra, etc. or in sorrow using Khye-Aila Sagan or Dhau-Laddoo Sagan to mark some achievement, marriage, journey or cleansing ritual following a death in the family or Dhau-Baji for conceivement of a baby, or use of chhoyela, kachila, woh, bara, chatamari, lakhamari, etc. in our feast or functions. These sufficiently and amply prove directly or indirectly that you are a Newar in the core. We have been religiously following our culture. rituals, customs and traditions. It does not matter much if you do not know the language as such and that was lost not in use anymore. Even if you know a little many do not speak under the impression of being teased speaking correctly or perfectly. It could be due to lack of proper environment also to keep us away using it. Those who know and speak in the family feel awkward acknowledge/speak outside - least they may be called 'Sahuji' and belong to some other country even! An interesting anecdote once narrated to me by a former president of the Sikkim Newar Guthi comes to my mind to share here – earlier somewhere in a West Sikkim bazar people seeing a Newar pass by used to say “Look, Sahuji is going!” but now they graduated to say, 'Guthi' is going. It simply gauges how far we have assimilated ourselves in the society.
Though Shankhadhar Sakhwa is declared as Rashtriya Vibhuti or National Icon and Nepal Sanvat as a National Calendar, mainland Nepal is struggling through and much activated recently to see the educational institutes adopt the mother language as a medium of instruction as a policy and Nepal Sambat used officially as well. Recent decision to implement and bring in in practice in some of the Metropolitan bodies have given their concerted efforts a boost. It was the Ranjana script that brought Nepal membership to the United Nations as a sovereign nation duly backed by the Newar language as the native language along with the heritage to boast of six world heritage sites in one place. Back home in Sikkim the situation is little beter and hopeful under the patronage of the Government with Newar language being taught in some the schools in places where the Newar population is considerable. Yet compared to other languages, ours needs much more to be done as we are not even at secondary level that stop us from going higher up. This is the thing to worry much our educationists and to rue about. On the other end of the globe in the USA, with the efforts of linguists like Daya Ratna Shakya, Newar language has been approved as a language in the court of law with effect from 11 September 2018. People not knowing the language can depose before the court in the Newar language as arrangements have been made to provide an interpreter there. This major achievement is a milestone in the state of Oregon that has encouraged many to emulate the same in other states in the USA as per news carried by the Nepal Bhasha Times from Kathmandu. It is a proud achievement, indeed!
Coming back to the main theme, it was in the year 1999 under the auspices of the Sikkim Newar Guthi during the tenure of its second president Keshab Chandra Pradhan that the Mha Puja, hitherto solemnly observed as a family ritual was celebrated for the first time ever at a community level with much fanfare in his residence inviting the chief minister and his family and to usher in the Newar New Year as well. It was a rare opportunity to be invited to participate and honoured during such a celebration while in the USA in the year 2015 organized by the premier organization Nepa: Pasa Pucha: Amerikaye (NPPA). It was in the same year and a rare honour for us to be invited to participate in the YenYa or Indrajatra organized by the Newah Orgnization of America (NOA) and soon thereafter to be similarly felicitated by them during the Nhu Dan 1136 Celebrations. We had also had the privilege to celebrate Kija Puja the next day with my Kumhal Tol Birganj family settled in Maryland. If we are to see rich cultural extravaganza, one should visit Kathmandu during Swanti Nakha: or Tihar to see the Nhu Dan Bhintuna Celebrations with all pomp and grandeur. Otherwise, one could also have such a glimpse of rich cultural heritage during the Yomari Punhi celebrated as the Rashtriya Jyapu Diwas. This author had the opportunity to be there during these festivals though years apart in 2010 but the sheen and glory was still there unfaded much well-preserved all these years to be deeply embossed in my heart for a long time to cherish!
Nepa: Guthi established by the Newars reaching Maryland way back in 1983 is perhaps the oldest of such organizations in the USA. This makes me wonder if the same has not been inspired by the Sikkim Newar Guthi propounded with a clarion call to reach far and wide the previous year in 1982, May 27 to be exact, at Gangtok. This could also be a fragment out of my aging mind and could have been taken up with my cousin Achyut Shrestha, when we were together to celebrate Raksha Bandhan on the Gunhu Punhi Day invited by our sister Jwala there. He was one of the founder members there to meet on the 6th of October for their annual get-together and handed over the idol of Ganedya / Lord Ganesh to Krishna Prajapati as a mark of passing on the onus to hold similar meeting next year. Eldest of them all Ram Malakar, also known as the Father of Newar Culture and Rituals happens to be the founder-president of NPPA that celebrated its Silver Jubilee in 2016 Nhu Dan 1137. Malakar family celebrated his first JyaJanko or Bhim Ratharohan attaining 77 years, seven months, seven 'ghadi' and seven 'pala' with great enthusiasm as the ritual demands. Similar JyaJanko was also organized for a whole month of Bhadau with various functions in honour of the multi-talented Nhyaluwa/Pathfinder Padma Ratna Tuladhar for his lifelong contributions towards language, literature, journalism, indegenous section, human rights, etc. The celebrations culminated with the procession taken out from his Lazimpat residence to the Rashtriya Nachghar to felicitate him in a civic reception held there. Good that we were fortunate to have Padma Ratna so felicitated during his lifetime otherwise such an opportunity would have gone out of our hands as he succumbed to the massive brain-stroke on 4th November. Paying him rich tribute on behalf of our Karuna Devi Smarak Dharmarth Guthi, we wrote -
“As we bid adieu ... For the Newars in Sikkim, Nhyaluwa/Pathfinder Padma Ratna Tuladhar was the Harbinger of Cultural Renaissance bringing home visiting here under the auspices of the Nepalbhasa Manka Khala in 1997. He was later also, readily available and always with us whether it be for gracing the launch of “Newah Bhaye Learner” in 2011 at Madhyapur Thimi or “The Newars World~Wide – Connecting the Dots : Sikkim” in 2016 at the Asha Safu Kuthi, Kulan Bhulu, Kathmandu. ... We join rest of the world in paying rich tributes and pray that the Departed Soul may rest in eternal peace!” There is possibility of the Nhu Dan functions not being celebrated this year in honour of the departed leader Padma Ratna Tuladhar.
There is a common notion prevalent among us that performing such a ritual is unauspicious only to bring such a tragic end. Heavy built Ram Malakar was back for Mohani Nakha / Dashain after a short hospital stay. Even my Buba had a fall in the room just a couple of days ahead and suffered a bout of herpes but strong-hearted as he was, we could celebrate his second JyaJanko, i.e., Sahasra Chandra Darshanam/ Maharatharohan or Jankwa on sighting a thousand moons attaining the age of 83 years, four months, four 'ghadi' and four 'pala'. Years ago when in Jaipur, gathering the news that the Bharatiya Janata Party secretary Pramod Mahajan* was having difficulty in calculating a thousand moons for their supremo prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee*, we had suggested the Sikkim BJP president Hare Ram Pradhan to let them know the Newar way to get correctly the figure. Buba did not want it all but it being bounden duty of his children and not to miss the rare opportunity to be blessed by him accompanied by Muma, we urged him to allow us go ahead with it. We had an unprecedented and unparalleled celebrations that lasted for three days pouring over to June in 2000. The previous evening a civic reception was held in the local Sri Krishna Cinema Hall by Karuna Devi Smarak Dharmarth Guthi in association with Rhenock Newar Guthi and Sikkim Newar Guthi. Next day the procession took around to reach Rhenock Bazar and end at Sri 3 Dhaneshwar Shivalaya Mandir by performing puja and lighting of traditional 1.25 lakh battis. Last day was to thank all who made the celebrations a grand success including our relatives coming all the way from Nepal to be with us. He breathe his last three years later in 2003 after a brief illness at STNM Hospital here but him still guiding us!
Other families in Sikkim might also have been observing Mha Puja since long but for me it dates back to my childhood days all families assembled at my maternal uncles' place Shanti Kutir at Rhenock. Days of preparations to celebrate Mha Puja that went on till past midnight when we used to return home me carrying uphill my little sisters on my back. Later, it was our little son Raman helped by his aunts thus and to say in gratitude, “How good I am, Babu does not say that he wants to walk by himself!” Not only electricity was yet to come to Rhenock those days, even the mode of transport was a rare privilege. When asked Muma, nearing her nineties, since when this practice of observing Mha Puja was there in the family, she tells with a glow in her eyes that it has been ever since she could remember it. During our Banaras days also, I have faint memory of the Mha Puja being observed and to connect it with is Gobardhan Puja falling this day. We still celebrate it. People think that Mha Puja may be elaborate a ritual that needs some pundit or mantra-tantra.It is nothing but as per ritual followed through generations. It is worship of the self, our body to thank and be grateful to it. Kija Puja is very similarly performed the next day.
To know more and in order to help save Newar language and culture, our relative industrialist Indra Bhakta Shrestha* of Kathmandu had given us two decades back copies of Satya Mohan Joshi's 'Newarharuko Mahan Chaad - Mha Puja' written in Nepali and Newar language as well. We had the book reach many families here in Sikkim and also in Kalimpong and Darjeeling. In 2010 when the book could not be had of, the Guthi Australia requested us for a copy of the same. Only copy of the Newar Bhasha version with us was sent to them with compliments from Karuna Guthi. We were then in the USA and had celebrated Mha Puja with my in-law Tengal families there in New Jersey and Kija Puja with Kumhal Tol Birgunj Family. Later video mas made with clippings from there including one from Tengal Family in Kathmandu and one from here in Gangtok. Interested readers may visit YouTube and search with my full name and Mha Puja 2010.
Transliteration is attempted here of what the celebrated cultural expert Joshi writes in his book, “Culture in simple language means - good and refined process that makes the society 'civilized'. Religious practice, worship-functions, festivals, dance, Jatras signifiy our culture. And this culture alone is the basic identity of every community and indegenous society. If anyone forgets his culture, he not only forgets his community but his own country even. ... It is written to help thse who have forgotten their original culture like Mha Puja and the way to perform it. Philosophy and procedure to follow in performing depends upon the tradition and rituals one's family follows that may differ as well but the basic purpose of performing Mha Puja remains the same. There might not be a second opinion on this.”
Twenty-three years ago in the Nepal Sanvat 1116 the Second Newah Community Convention held under the auspices of the Newa Dey Dabu, BirtaMod Declaration was passed thus - “Newar community residing in Nepal and elsewhere will celebrate the New Year's Day (on Kartik Shukla Paksha Pratipada, i..e., day after Laxmi Puja ) and welcome the Nepal Sanvat exchanging Nhu Daya Bhintuna greetings as a mark of unity and solidarity observing indegenously developed ancestral festival of Mha Puja in a grand manner traditionally as per their prevailing custom and rituals.” Newa Dey Dabu have declared Bhintuna Nara / Slogan for this year's Nepal Sambat 1139 – “Bhasha Sanskriti Hamro Jyan – Nepal Sambat Rashtriya Shaan” and request all their branches, Khala: and Pucha: to organize and celebrate in a grand and civilized manner at their respective places, informs the vice-president Krishna Udhas on Facebook.
Extending all our readers warm Swanti Nakha:/Tihar Greetings, may the Nhu Dan Nepal Sanvat 1139 augur well, full of happiness, peace, prosperity, success along with healthy long life!
Disclaimer: This is author’s personal account of memories updated to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route to share the joy of the journey called life. Some names (asterisk* for those no more), quotes, places and events mentioned are just to connect with and no malice whatsoever intended. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 'The Newars Worldwide – Connecting the Dot : Sikkim' and 'Sikkim: The Newfound Home of the Newars in the Black Hill – Newars : Here and There' by the author are available at www.rachnabooks.com.