temple time with Kerry: jankoo and bel-vivaha

Today a Newar man turned 77 years, 7 months, 7 weeks and 7 days old.  I was able to attend his birthday party.

In Newar tradition, when a man or woman turns 77 there is a ceremony that is held in their honor where they are deified (or made to be a living god).  If their spouse is still alive (regardless of their age) they go through the ceremony with them.  This ceremony is called jankoo.

Earlier in the week, Kerry had informed me that she had been invited to attend this auspicious event and asked if I would like to join.  Of course, my answer was yes!

After meeting up with Kerry in Patan (which is the city south of Kathmandu separated by the Bagmati River) we arrived at this particular Newar community’s “neighborhood” around 9 am.  I say “neighborhood” because it’s really more like a large community of family members (immediate family, cousins, distant cousins, etc) that live in houses that surround one central and pretty large courtyard.  Also in this “neighborhood” is the Bahal (monastery).

Before checking out what was going on with the jankoo festivities, we went to check out this community’s Bahal.  While there, we noticed a little girl who was dressed all in red and gold and had a lot of Newari gold jewellery on.  She was dressed in a traditional wedding outfit (red is the color women wear for weddings here) as today she was to be married to a fruit.

Yes, you read that right, a fruit.  Another Newar tradition is that as a young child women are married to a fruit (as Shiva) as their first husband.  This makes it so that they are ensured to never be a widow and to always have their first husband be faithful.  This tradition is called bel-vivaha.  Later in life, when they are about 13 they are married to the sun as their second husband.  This means by the time they actually get married, they are marrying their third husband.

Since today was such an auspicious day with the old age ceremony, this girl’s family along with 6 others planned to have their daughters participate in bel-vivaha.

From 9 am onward, members of the families performed several pujas (offerings to the gods) and both the old man and his wife got decked out in ceremonial outfits and head dresses in order to prepare for the jankoo ceremony.  Before the jankoo ceremony and procession was performed, the bel-vivaha ceremony took place.  We were able to sit in the room during all of this, and I got some really great photos (see below).

While all this was happening several breaks were taken for food.  We ate at 10:30 and then again at 12:30 and 1:30.  Each time, after inspecting our plates and how much food we took, we were asked if we wanted more (by several people).  Upon finishing, we were asked if we wanted more.  Shortly after finishing, we were asked if we were sure that we didn’t want more.  I learned today, that Newars eat a lot of food and as an American I have a pretty small appetite!

The actual jankoo procession didn’t even start until 3:30 in the afternoon!  There was a lot of hurrying up and waiting today, but it was definitely worth it!

I feel pretty lucky that in one day I got to participate in and see both of these ceremonies.  To learn more about these and other Newar life ceremonies, check out this article.

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photos (c) Bethany Meuleners

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