temple time with Kerry: Manakamana

Last week a small group of us(Kerry, Hannah, Connie, Ben and myself) went on a research retreat for a few days.  The goal was to get out of the valley, away from the smog and traffic, and have an informal discussion group about the status of our research.  Along with the discussion of our research, we were able to see the sites around the area and take in some relaxation by the pool (yes, there was a pool!).

About half the way to Pokhara is a resort called Riverside Springs Resort (the late king and Mr. Miyagi have stayed there!).  They have a nice big pool (though it was chillier than we would have hoped, so the only one brave enough to get in was Ben) and a nice restaurant area with a fire place.  It was a perfect place to relax and sit and have our research discussions.  Plus, the rooms were kind of like little cabins, so it was like we had our own little house for a few days.

On our first day we went on a little field trip to a temple nearby called Manakamana.  Manakamana is the name of a Hindu goddess that fulfills the wishes of the people.  This temple is on the top of a big hill and the only way to reach it used to be by hiking or horseback.  Most Nepalis try to make it here at least once in their lifetime (and often times right after marriage).  Now, thanks to the Swiss, there is a nice, new modern cable car that takes you to the top which makes the visit much easier.  They even have special cargo carts that bring the goats up that people have brought for offerings (they also bring them back down afterwards…).  I’m not sure if we were more excited to go to the temple or to ride the cable car up to the temple.

Once at the top, after exiting the cable car there is a path of vendors leading up to the temple.  I imagine that most of these popped up after the cable car was put in.  Almost every vendor  specialized in one of two things: items for offerings and toys for children.  There were tons of children there, so it makes sense about the toys.  I guess since kids 3 ft and under can take the cable car for free, a lot of people bring their children.  It’s like kids eat free night at Fuddruckers, you can’t pass it up.

Of course, we had our resident asian religion and temple expert, and all around great tour guide, Kerry, with us.  So it was not only fun to look at, we learned a little too (though, just like with most tours, what I told you is about the limit of what I remember).  There were a lot of people making offerings to the temple (which to enter, you must be a Hindu) and great views all around (including some spectacular views of mountains).  Overall, it was a great experience and a lot of fun and I came out with a lot of great photos (and I mean a lot).  Enjoy!

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photos (c) Bethany Meuleners

dashainko subbha kamana (happy dashain…about 3 weeks late)

As I mentioned in my last post, life has been a bit crazy over the past few weeks and I’ve been neglecting this blog (though check out the last post style watch for an update with the link to my first article).

One of the reasons for this was the festival of Dashain.  Dashain is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) festivals here in Nepal.  This festival is the time of year when people leave the cities and go back to their villages for family gatherings.  The city of Kathmandu becomes (relatively) empty and it’s the time of year where you can see just how many people are transplanted here from the rest of the country.  Traffic decreases tenfold and most stores are closed…it’s like an extended Christmas.

During Dashain, people throughout the country people worship the goddess Durga with many pujas, offerings and animal sacrifices.  One of my favorite parts was seeing some of the many temporary Durga shrines that communities put up in their neighborhoods.  These become a place for people to make offerings and come and do their pujas (definitely check out the pictures below to see what they look like!).

I could go into more of what Dashain is, but in reality, I am not that educated on the full history of the holiday and this website will do a much better job.

Families and friends get together to fly kites, gamble, give tikka and be merry.  I was able hang out with my friend Direk and his family and fly kites from his roof and play cards for the Friday afternoon of Dashain.  Then, on the Sunday I spent time with Kerry and her house family in Patan for Tikka Day.  On this day people go around to family members and receive Tikka from their elders.  I received Tikka at her house, the temple for a woman who has the goddess living within her, and again at her neighbor’s house.

All in all it was a great weekend where I got to spend time with good friends and experience a big part of Nepali culture!

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photos (c) Bethany Meuleners

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

temple time with Kerry: Swayambu

I’m thinking that this will become an ongoing post as I’ve been lucky enough to become friends with the Kathmandu religious site buff of the group.  My friend Kerry is here working on her dissertation which focuses on art within the context of Newar Buddhism (and she knows a whole lot about Kathmandu and other religious sites and information as well).

So far I’ve been lucky enough to go to two festivals with her—Teej and Indra Jatra (which I have already posted about).  We’ve also gotten the privilege of attending a Puja at a Buddhist monastery in Patan (where we got to see the Patan Kumari up close and personal—we even saw her ALMOST crack a smile).

Most recently, however, we got the privilege of a private tour of Swayambu (and I mean privilege, 2 weeks ago Kerry was auctioned off for this very tour for a wopping 15,000 rupees!).  We even got up at 4:30 in the morning to make the hike to Swayambu early in the morning.  This temple is also commonly called the monkey temple (you will soon see why in my photos).

One of the many things I learned about this stupa/temple on our tour was that if you climb the steps leading up to it without stopping then you will surely reach enlightenment.  I, of course, decided to undertake this feat.  As is life, I got stopped 20 steps from the top asking for tourist payment.  I walked in place while explaining that I was living here and managed to get out of paying.  Now the question is, will I still become enlightened since I walked in place?

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photos (c) Bethany Meuleners