Off the shores 14
Celebrating Nhu Dan-ya Bhintuna with the NOA
Motivating each other
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
Such is the joy of the Nhu Dan i.e. New Year to welcome the Nepal Sambat 1136 amongst the Newars here in the US that equal thrill and gaiety could be seen in yet another such celebration I was invited to participate within a span of a fortnight. It was under the auspices of the Newah Organization of America (NOA) that the function chaired by its president Ram Shrestha had the Nepalese ambassador Dr. Arjun Kumar Karki as the chief guest and vice mayor Indian Head Kiran (Ron) Sitaula as the special guest and me sharing the dais as the special guest speaker. Nhu Dan coincides with the Mha Puja during Swanti Nakha: or Tihar, when the Newars worships oneself to welcome the New Year purified physically, mentally and spiritually. The day also saw floral tributes paid in fond memory of Shankhadhar Sakhwa, believed to be from the indigenous community of Kathmandu. He started this national calendar in 879 AD during the reign of King Raghav Dev after clearing the debts of the common people when he could get sand from Bishnumati River turned into gold as per a fable. Nepal Sambat is the only calendar named after a country in the whole world and was widely used for hundreds of years until the Bikram Sambat was brought in its place. It has been officially declared as a national calendar and a public holiday as well with a postage stamp issued. Since some years to create awareness amongst the people in general, Nhu Dan Bhintuna is celebrated with pomp and grandeur and inviting the head of the government to impress upon the urgent need to bring into practice this unique calendar in the country. Every year a procession with a motor cycle rally is taken out hundred participating across the Kathmandu valley and the practice has spread outside as well. Impressed by the zeal with which the Newars in Sikkim have been trying like other sister-communities to preserve, promote and practice their cultural heritage that they were interested to come even to Sikkim but could not turn out so. With the revered Mt. Kanchanjungha connecting Sikkim and Nepal, both have many things to share in common. We find that the Newars have long-lost their mother-language offered to the altar of success the forefathers achieved establishing their identity and in order to make their new home what it is today. Fortunately everything not lost, their culture and tradition remained somehow preserved but threatened due to onslaught of the modernism. Nepal Sambat celebrated in different parts of the world wherever the Newars have reached displaying their rich cultural heritage, which is something found amiss here in Sikkim. This is in spite of rapid strides made in preserving, practising and promoting customs and rituals while observing festivals, marriages, Ihee or Kyeta Puja or Vratbandh even more enthusiastically ever since Sikkim Newar Guthi came into existence in 1994. A clarion call was first made by us in May 1982 stressing the need to have such a state-wide organization for the Newars as well like the most of the communities had. Rhenock Newar Guthi is believed to be there since the olden days of Taksari Chandrabir and the practice of taking out a procession in memory of the family member departed during the past year on Gai Jatra day every year still in practice. It is perhaps here only outside the Kathmandu valley that such a rich cultural heritage is kept preserved and revived year after year. It was at the verge of going extinct but with Gai Jatra of founder Buba taken out under the auspices of the Karuna Guthi in the year 2003 that the tradition was revived and continued.
We reached the venue after two and a half hours’ drive with Vimal by 5 in the evening and by this time hall of the Potomac Community Center quite warmed up to be greeted by Achyut Bhai and Rajesh Shrestha, former president NOA. The function started with Sukunda Rally, first of its kind to be seen here, exemplary worth imitating and replicating elsewhere as well, if not already practised. Ladies elegantly dressed in traditional attire carrying the auspicious lamp lit in the procession with the beating of the dhimey baja and cymbals to usher in the New Year. It reminded me of a memento with Sukunda mounted on a plaque with the name Shakhdhar Sirpa Samiti given when I was felicitated in Madhyapur Thimi. It was a function to award for the outstanding contributions to the Newar community by the nepalmandal.com team and Manoj Newa Khadgi for the Bhintuna rally. It also saw the launch of Daya Ratna Shakya’s Newah Bhaye Learner published by Karuna Guthi and website Newars in Sikkim.org by the president Padma Ratna Tuladhar on New Year’s Day 2011.
Guests were welcomed inside by the Panchkanya offering a bouquet of flowers each and all were given Tika and Kokha and got blessed. Samay Bajee was served thereafter as refreshment to all the guests and invitees. Guests of honour were led to the dais offering a khada by the first President Beda Pradhan supported by ladies Chhaya Pradhan and Mahima Shakya while Sunita Shrestha and Samjhana Shrestha helped with NOA badges printed with each guest’s name. Rich tributes were paid to the portrait of Shankhdhar Sakhwa offering khadas and bouquets. Lighting of traditional lamp Twadewa by the chief guest helped by Hari Baba Kayestha and Vidya Pradhan marked the beginning of the function. The chief guest excused himself to leave after delivering his speech in advance appreciating the key role played by the NOA for the preservation and promotion of the rich Newar culture and tradition. Before this, Ram Lall Shrestha had made his Presidential address. Dr. Maheswor Baidya made presentation on Nepal Sambat and Shankhdhar Sakhwa. Season Shrestha shared his experience working for the NOA and Kiran Sitaula spoke briefly. When in America how could I forget the great American leader Abraham Lincoln to pay him a tribute quoting his line in my speech, “This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform” - a message to all. Bringing goodwill from the Newars in Sikkim, I invited them telling, “Like Nepal Sikkim is also a beautiful Himalayan state. When visiting Nepal next try to take out some time to visit this place connected together by revered Mt. Kanchanjungha to find out that there is not much of a difference between the two of us. We are awaiting and you are welcome as always.”
Audience was more interested in the later part of the function, a cultural extravaganza that did not forget to bring the budding young artistes to share the stage and perform for songs and dances under the NOA Language and Culture Centre. We had seen little girls dressed in traditional attire lined up to welcome the guests as Panchkanya that assured us that our culture and rituals handed over well enough in their safe hands. Moreover, the welcome song the NOA family presented together made me write, Like the Family that prays together stays together, the Organization that sings together takes it together to greater heights peak to peak. We understand the role the female members play in such a functions successful, rather it is them taking up all the cudgel to make our festivals purposeful and festivities vibrant while most of our kind making best of it enjoying the most, perhaps. My heart knew joy no bound when I was invited along with my wife Ranjana together to receive the letter of appreciation that read, “NOA takes great pleasure to present this certificate in recognition for your tireless contribution to the Newah community in Sikkim, India.” It would not have been possible for me alone to reach thus far all forty years of being together since we got married in 1975. To win her heart, of course, was the dance performed by Mila Shrestha and Mala Pradhan taking her back to childhood days when she as a kid too had performed to this particular song. Yagya Man Shakya did his classical number and his daughter Lochan Tara did Bajrayogini. The artiste on guitar was the popular singer Raju Shrestha. He was mentioning my name having come all the way from Sikkim to be with them and to welcome me to the show as we were proceeding towards the stage to be felicitated. As it was 10pm and we were to return home, I thanked him having enjoyed his performance previously in the NPPA function. Sisters Ezabella-Nora danced well. Sujay Shrestha was talented and promising performer. The people most interested were to see popular actor Dilip Rayamajhi with Sunita Amatya, a local talent performing to a Rajmati song. She shared her views with pictures from the NPPA function we enjoyed, “Acting is easier in terms of the role we can pick up of our choice. But in real life … I wish I can pick up my role. We have to accept the role that God has given to us and being Happy is our dharma…. For me Dancing is communicating with our true self/Atma/soul/God/universe even though my profession is civil/structural engineering.” She is really talented and for the profession it is rare to find one like her.
It would be incomplete if I forget to mention the name of beautiful ladies as emcees, Sichu Mali for the cultural part and Babita Pradhan Shrestha, 1st vice president NOA for inaugural part hosted with Pushkar Prajapati. It was nice of Babita mentioning their special guest speaker, me as 69 year young and having passed my MSc in 1969 when she was not even born without forgetting to add that what I had said to them earlier that my books were my awards.
We were invited to join for the buffet bhoye for which a break was announced. Everything to relish was there but something found missing to make it complete. No, it is not aila we are quite familiar with to go well on such festive occasions back home, but here it is not necessarily so as people have well-tuned to it celebrating such grand functions without. In fact, drinking is not allowed in public places and driving under influence being a grave crime here, they have well adapted to it. Chiura is the major item for such a feast but some find it time consuming to chew and not going well like the rice. They have not grown up with the Newar food culture perhaps though they enjoy the rest.
Sincere in admitting that some flaws inadvertently crept in that took extra time in between during the cultural programme to note and take care of in future events but overall quite overwhelmed by unprecedented turnout in support. Another thing they must have found it better to keep such functions for Saturday so that people have a whole Sunday without the worry of going to work or school next day. Sushil too was quite happy the things turned out unprecedented in terms of attendance as well as artistes’ participation giving credit to their publicity drive as also seen on the Facebook. I had to rush back midway but he just mentioned of the movie Tapalaya with subtitles in Nepali when we could meet next again. As we were leaving happen to meet Ram Malakar who was kind enough to invite me for some religious programme they hold every Sunday morning and let me see when it could be possible. It would help me to share another story about the Newars here. Besides, about the Indian Nepali friends Rachna invited home to meet us the previous evening when Dentist Dr. Manjari and Hridaya Moktan here in the US since 1990s to share us about the Tamang Gaon they came across nearby the King of Prussia, said to be the second biggest Mall in the US and ever expanding.
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 while in the US. Some names, places and events mentioned are just to connect with and no malice whatsoever intended. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org