Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nepal Philosophy

Newar philosophy is totally different from other philosophies in the world. Their destination is to transfer oneself into the god or to be the god. 

In spite of appearance Buddhist Newars are a definite minority. This illustrates the process of Hinduization of Buddhist Newars because of the higher prestige enjoyed by high caste Hindus. As far as religious practices and the worship of the Hindu and Buddhist deities are concerned, neither religious group can be strictly placed in one category. Both parties visit and worship the same deities in Hindu and Buddhist temples. In fact, many of the temples and shrines in Kathmandu city is purely a Buddhist shrine, but on the same grounds is a shrine to Saraswoti, a Hindu goddess of learning; and in fact there is even a Hindu goddess situated within the entrance of the big Buddhist Chaitya itself. Hindus and Buddhists visit both sides to pay their respects. 

Almost all of the large religious festivals are observed and participated in by both groups with equal enthusiasm. Only domestic ceremonies and rites can be said to be peculiar to one or the other religious group. 

In actuality, Colin Rosser 'noted many cases throughout the Kathmandu Valley of individual Newar families employing a Brahman for some of its domestic rituals and a Gubhaju for others within the same household (sometimes indeed both priests would be present at the same time)'. The Gubhaju, who are also called Bajracharya and addressed as Gurju, are the family priests of Buddhist Newars. Deo Brahmans, who are addressed as juju, are the Hindu priests. Bare, known as Shakyas or Sakyabhiskshu, Misra and Jha Brahmans act as temple priests and recite religious texts among their respective groups. 

The religious practices of lower castes are much less involved since they have little in the way of domestic ritual ceremony and therefore do not have to hire priests. 

The Buddhist monasteries of the early days, indicated by the great number of bahas in Kathmandu and Patan, are believed to have degenerated under Hindu influence and the introduction of the caste system. The caste system, writes Rgmi, got regularized and hardened in due course and monasteries dying out produced the priest class of the Buddhist community, its monks easily turned into priests under the influence of Vajrayana ritualism. What Vajrayana started, Shaiva (a form of Hinduism) influence later one consolidated and hardened... On the same subject David Snellgrove writes: 

It is certainly an interesting problem how monks, who were once self-professed and presumably came from all classes of Newar society, and spiritual masters, who once owed their position to their personal knowledge and reputation, should have become an hereditary cast closed to the rest of society. This is something which had occurred in no other Buddhist country. 

Of all the Nepali people, Newars observe the greatest number of fetivals and feasts. They spend a great amount of money and food on such occasions, the food consisting of buffalo meat, beaten rice, vegetables, pickles, curd and large quantities of beer and spirit. They take great pride and pleasure in spending great amounts for good food for the large feasts, more so than for domestic or family needs. Even the Jyapus, who are mainly peasants of small to average means, spend heavily for feasts and festivities. 

The largest public festival in Kathmandu is Indra Jatra, which lasts for eight days in mid-Bhadra, usually coinciding with the end of September of the first week in October. At this time the people worship Indra, the God of rain, and a number of religious dances are performed by artists wearing most colorful dresses and headdresses representing various deities. They parade carts carrying Kumari, the "living goddess", and Ganesh and Bhairav, represented by a Bare girl and two Bare boys respectively, through the streets of Kathmandu city. Although the greater part of this festival is quite old, the rath jatra, or 'cart festival', is said to have begun in the year 1756 A.D., during the reign of King Jaya Prakash Malla. At that time a girl of Bare caste was said to have been possessed by the goddess Kumari, who claimed that she was the protector of the Nepal Valley. Ever since, a girl representing Kumari has been worshipped. A beautiful house with golden windows was built for her, and every year she was taken round the city at the time of Indra Jatra by her attendants Ganesh and Bhairav. Even today a virgin girl of Bare caste is chosen for the position and can keep her role until she sheds blood from a cut or by menstruation, and two boys of seven or eight years are chosen to be her escorts. These three children are put into their temple-like cart for the parade and the towns-people worship them with offerings of flowers and vermilion powder. 

Another equally important festival is Gai Jatra. All families in which one or more members died during the preceding year send decorated cows around the city. Those who cannot afford the actual cow may employ a small boy to wear colorful clothes and a basket covered with painted papers on his head to represent the cow. This is done to help the dead members of the family to enter the gates of heaven. Gai jatra occurs a month ahead of Indra Jatra. Morning sees the 'cows' through the city streets, and later in the afternoon some people come out in various costumes to act as clowns, criticizing or mimicking the social, political or individual peculiarities of the society or of certain officials and amuse the thousands of spectators gathered for the occasion along the streets. Lately the journalists of Kathmandu have begun to use the occasion in producing special gai jatra issues of some newspapers to the same effect. 

Rath jatra of Machhendranath in Patan and Kathmandu are occasions for thousands of people to enjoy the sight of forty-eight foot high carts being dragged through the narrow streets of the town. The observance in Patan city lasts for more than a month, beginning in May, while the cart is being dragged slowly on its way. At several points the procession stops for several days. When all is done at month's end, the brocade vest of the god Machhendranath is displayed from the balcony of the high cart to the thousands of people collected to see it at Jawalakhel where the festival terminates. 

Newars observe a number of other religious festivals, including Dashain and Tihar, celebrated by the majority of Nepali people throughout the country. Family occasions play an equally important role on a small scale and involve feasting and rituals often just a few days apart. 

Most of the Newar traders and merchants found settled in outlying districts, away form Kathmandu Valley, observe these same large and small religious occasions, though usually on a smaller and less elaborate scale. To be sure, they follow the pattern of ritual in all aspects of the religious life, from the pollution of birth to the cremation, mourning, and pollution of death. 

On all of these occasions the men and women are dressed smartly. Women of the Buddhist community are fond of gold ornaments in their ears, over the head, and around the neck. Modern young girls, however, do not wear the gold ornaments of the older generations. The woman's sari and blouse is either covered by a padded, quilted, material or by thin colored muslin in the form of a gown. The Indian style sari and blouse is becoming more and more popular among Newar women. School girls wear white trousers and a dress, with a fine scarf around the neck, reminiscent of the Punjabi Indian costume. Young men and boys wear European-style trousers and shirts, while the other generations still prefer the Nepali traditional dress. 

The dress of Jyapu men and women is an exception to general Newar costumes. They wear their own home-made garments from homespun cotton materials. The women have black saris with red bordering, their blouses are of finely woven cotton material, and huge waist bands of plain cotton complete the costume. The style of wearing the sari varies from the standard of other Newar communities. Furthermore, Jyapu women have tattoos on their calves and ankles, which are exposed while wearing the sari, and they ornament themselves with gold earrings and silver necklaces. 

Jyapu men wear the Nepali suit without the western suit jacket which is seen so often on other Nepali men. Instead, they wear a waist-band of plain white cotton material and a waistcoat of their own style, which is slightly different form the western one. 

The Jyapu woman is kept busy throughout the year because of her obligation to weave all the cotton material for family clothing requirements, in addition to her responsibilities in the family fields. 

Over the centuries the Newars have developed a purely urban mode of living. Even those who are strictly farmers or skilled artisans in support of the remaining population are town dwellers. 

Newar settlements in the cities of Kathmandu and Patan consist of enclosed quadrangles with lines of brick houses on all four sides supporting exquisitely carved wooden doors and windows. The quadrangles of the Buddhist baha communities invariably have a Buddhist shrine in the center and often a temple built into the line of houses along one side. Later on, the Hindu residential areas were also designed in the same manner. These quadrangle arrangements are simply known as chok, or 'courtyard.' The Hindu chok is comparatively and often does not include a temple. A baha or chok is usually inhabited by one patrilineal descent group of all castes and at all levels of society. But in present push for expansion of the towns, main roads, and shopping centers, the Newar residential areas are not following the tradition of a common partilineal locality. 

Newars were not as widespread as many other people until some time back. Adventure was apparently not attractive to them. However, during the last two hundred years Newars seem to have left their original home and settled down in distant districts to the west and east. But the style of living, the cultural traditions, and the occupations of trade and business have all been preserved intact even in those communities which are removed by weeks' journeys from their place of origin. It is quite common while traveling in rural Nepal to come across the small pockets of Newar culture in areas totally foreign to their traditional Kathmandu Valley environment. 

The unique feature of Newar social-economical organization is the presence of a great number of guthis, a kind of 'common trust' consisting mainly of cultivated lands as assets. The lands in the beginning were endowments of one or several families, but in the course of time they have become the property of the entire guthi membership. Most members are of a common descent group, but there are a few larger guthi which include several descent groups. 

Among Jyapu Newars most of the guthi lands are cultivated by the members themselves, but in the rest of the Newar communities the lands are leased out to tenants, who are obliged to pay their rent to a specially appointed guthi member. The man in charge of these rents is expected to conduct worship of the deity to whom the lands are dedicated and also to arrange one or more feasts for the entire membership group. These obligations are given to each member in rotation yearly or in some cases every second, third or fifth year. Most guthi land's net incomes are in excess of their requirements and are therefore profitable for the incumbent, but there are a few which can bring the person in charge of rents a considerable loss. 

Guthis are of three types: religious, public service, and social. Almost every Newar family is a member of a digu puja guthi, a religious guthi for worshipping the deity of an extended family. These guthis involve the membership of a common descent group, which gather to partake of the worship and feasts. There are a number of temples which also have guthi organizations responsible for their worship observances, and in these cases include membership from more than one caste or common descent group. 

Other guthis are organized specifically for cremating the dead, conducting funerals, and maintaining temples, rest houses, bridges, roads, and the like. Their membership is drawn from several extended family units of common residence, and not necessarily of common descent. Thus a service guthi might include members of several caste levels and different religious groups, as in the case of those charged with the maintenance of temples, rest houses or bridges, etc. 

For pure entertainment, fellowship, and activities of common interest, the social guthi is organized. It includes members of one common locality, although not necessarily of common descent or relationship by marriage. The membership of the religious and service guthis is compulsory and inherited, while the social guthi is a voluntary organization. 

Each guthi is a well-organized unit with strict rules and conditions of membership and activities. The senior most member is called thakali, the 'eldest'; he acts as chairman and maintains the discipline of the rest of the members, who are called guthiars. The guthi decides disputes arising between members and takes action against the offender or against those who act in defiance of the rules and regulations of the organization. A majority vote can levy fines or eve expel a member, depending upon the gravity of the crime. Common offences include bad manners, irregularity in attendance, failure to fulfill one's assigned role in the guthi, breach of ritual observance, breach of caste rules and inappropriate sexual behavior. 

All Newars except Jogis, the tailor caste, cremate their dead by the riverside; the Jogis bury their dead. Whenever a death occurs in any Newar family, all the members of that person's cremation guthi and all his relatives are immediately informed. Those few persons who do not have such guthis are joined only by their relatives. The dead person is not removed from the house until all are present; then a green bamboo bier is prepared and the corpse is transported on it to the burning ghat. The dead body is covered by a yellow or red satin shroud which is removed at the time of burning and kept for further cremations in the house of a guthi member. 

There is a strong tradition among most Newars, except chha-thare Shresthas, that the funeral procession should consist of as many individuals wailing and crying as possible. 

Mourning and pollution is observed by the next of kin for twelve days and for an entire year by the son. The rules and abstentions are similar to those of Brahmans and Chhetris. 

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