Celebrating Yomari Punhi
Cultural Revival seen at the Best
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
Year 2010 just back from the US having tasted the Yomari (Yo = like and Mari = bread) there and its taste still lingering in our mind, we decide to be in Kathmandu to enjoy Yomari Punhi (this year it falls on 6th December). So, I am in the heartland of the heart of Nepal, Tengya Twa: (Tengal Tol) on this Great National Day in Nepal in honour of the Yomari Punhi!
Yomari Punhi is celebrated by the Newars here and by the Jyapus as the Jyapu Diwas (their uprising day?). The venue this year is Yatkha Twa: near Nardevi Mandir nearby and starts in a procession at 9.30am today to end at Basantpur Durbar Square nearby after taking a round of the heritage city. Yomari is, a special Newar delicacy made out of rice flour with til, gud, coconut and saunf mixed into a paste filled into oval spindle shaped bread made in left hand rolling gradually the dough and steamed very much like momo to cook if not in look. When I brought out the Inaugural Issue of the Newa: the official mouthpiece of the Sikkim Newar Guthi, it was around this festive time circa 1997 and a recipe for Yomari with a sketch was included in it. Some prefer khowa and some meat in it as well. Its step-by-step recipe along with video can be seen on the Facebook and YouTube these days.
The fate of this Yomari is itself threatened and it could be placed in the Red List of our Endangered Items of the Newar Identity – our food, like the language, culture, custom, tradition rites and religion. The picture of Yomari on our website is that of made in the USA when sister-in-law Rajani and her husband Dipak visiting their children visited Rachna, while we were there. Ranjana and many find it too cumbersome and difficult to make. We are, therefore, going without Yomari being prepared today as Yamuna, brother-in-law Samir’s better half, too of the similar view. They manage with one brought from outside last year for Rs. 30/- a piece for a slightly bigger version. Otherwise, cost itself is prohibitive, we feel so. Ranjana’s elder sister Sushila wanted make us fortunate enough through her kind gesture to entertain us with Yomari, but death in the family of her husband Ramchandra’s cousin just the other day soon after they were out of their 13day mourning into another, deprived us the benefit of her deft hands in making it.
I thought it best to spend the day after having a glimpse of the Jyapu Diwas celebrations, to be with my uncle Deo Shanker Lall Shrestha in his nineties on this Great Day while I am here. His eldest son Vijaya Shanker Shrestha, elder by a year or so and the only person to know from our Nepali Kothi of Chaukhambha, Benaras days, I could contact on Facebook recently. When asked of my food preferences, hopefully I enquired that Yomari was that I would be getting of sure. It was rather in negative – it is not being prepared in the family. Reason simple enough and quite convincing. Most of the people are now in the age with either diabetes or gastric trouble to bear with and survive. Yomari is, as such, a distant thing to wish for my gastronomical delight!
I was truly convinced once again that the Yomari was really something that should be the subject to study and research about its nutrient value and demystify the myth of its being some health hazard or otherwise. Some expert or biotechnologist should come forward and that something should be done to its preservation and propagation. Just see how its first cousin introduced by the Lhasa Newars from Tibet first, momo has taken the world on and conquered it over the hearts of millions in every possible variant and in different names of dumpling and what not. It is now a very favourite dish, a very popular street food as well here in Nepal and in neighbouring parts of India and abroad. I had the opportunity to enjoy it even in Kerala from the food-chain Wow Momo in the Lulu Mall when in Kochi last October. That year I had supported the kind-hearted soul who came up with his YouTube presentation on how to prepare Yomari on the Facebook and I was the first person to Like it as a timely thing to show when the Yomari Punhi was just knocking at the door!
The day is also known as Dhanya Purnima, when harvest season is celebrated by the Newar peasantry by worshipping Bhakhari (the grain bins) with new crop and Yomari offered in gratitude to the Nature and God of Prosperity. As per tradition the Prasad is then distributed to the children going door to door shouting more than singing just like in Deosi:
Yomari Chaku - Waya Dune Haku,
Bimha Lyase - Mabimha KaliBudhi
Yomari sweet – Its inside is black,
Those who give are Young-Beauties – who don’t are Blacky-Oldies!
As was informed earlier on reaching home I find Ranjana happy with a bowlful of yummy Yomaris brought by Anjali (her eldest sister Sahanshila's daughter married to a Newar activist and leader Rajendra Shrestha, who visited us in Sikkim as a UML Minister) much to my delight and was a great relief that our days for Yomari are not yet over and gone to....!
Last week when in Kathmandu I had the rare opportunity to attend a great and grand book-launch that saw the presence of luminaries like Sabhasad Laxman Rajbanshi, Dr. Phanindra Ratna Bajracharya, Mathura Sayami, Prof. Narmadeshwar Pradhan, Prof Rajkarnikar, Malla K Sunder, Sarad Kasa, Razen Manandhar among many others in the crowded Nepa Banquet. It was much awaited release of Amrita Preetam’s novel Adalat circa 1996 translated by Jai Smarak Samman 2013 winner Raja Shakya around the same time. Programme was conducted by the first Nepal Bhasha woman-novelist Shashikala Manandhar. There we learnt that a five-member delegation of Sikkim Newar Guthi with both the Newar MLAs was coming to see the Yomari Punhi celebrations there. It is really a worthwhile step to witness such a cultural revival at the best done by the Jyapu Mahaguthi every year recently. Manadhars have been contributing a lot for the conservation and preservation of the rich Newar culture and their contribution can be seen in all the fields. They are around two lakh-plus population and have doen a commendable job of compiling an elaborate directory of all the members of their clan family-wise and its main brain Debdas Manandhar had offered all his help if the Newars in Sikkim so desired. Sikkim Newar Guthi have been compiling one right since its inception and I do not know of its fate and if we need such a help or not even!
Disclaimer: This is just a personal account from my memories to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route to share the joy of the journey called life. No malice whatsoever intended. Help correct/supplement contact me by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 9434022677 / 94340 202677 or at Rachna, opposite Manan Bhavan, Development Area, Gangtok 737 101 Sikkim India.