Tag Archives: Alah

Bahra

As I mentioned in my previous post Ihi’, every Newar girl have to perform the ritual called ‘Ihi’ and after ‘Ihi’, they have to perform the ritual called ‘Bhara’.

Bahra’ is also known as ‘’Bahra tyagu” in Newari and Surya Darshan or Gufa rakhne in Nepali. In this ceremony, the girl is married to the sun.

In some culture, this ceremony is done when the girl has her first menstruation and in other cultures, it occurs after they get an auspicious date from a priest .

It is believed that the girl is protected by the sun from bad people and the evils after this ceremony.

For this ceremony, a girl will stay in a room of her house for 12 days without seeing sunlight and not meeting any male person. ( I still don’t know the reason for this so please share if you know).

In the room at one corner, a cloth is put as Bahra Khayak (ghost) and worshipped by the girl as she is believed to be in possessed by evil. Before she eats anything, one portion needs to be separated for Khayak. If the ritual is not followed, it is believed, the Khayak will scare the girl at night. 

My Bahra ceremony

The hardest part of the ritual is not to eat salt during the first 6 days. I was only 13 years old when I had my Bahra and I remember crying for salt everyday as food doesn’t taste good without salt. As this culture is different among different families, I am writing about how members of my own family go through this tradition.

After the sixth day, close female relatives like maternal uncles (mama), dad’s sisters (fufu) and other relative will come and meet the girl with food like popcorn and Rotis and fruits. Also from the sixth day, there will be powder called ‘Koaa’ which is used by all the women to make them look beautiful. You have to follow a special direction to use this and it is meant to clean the skin. It is used especially by the Bahra girl to look good when she come out of hiding on the 12th day.

Step to use Koaa.

  • Wash your hands, legs and face with water first.
  • Mix the ‘Koaa’ with water and make a paste. Then put the paste all over your face, legs and hands
  • Leave it for a few minutes to dry.
  • Now rub oil on your hands and remove the paste from your face, legs and hands.

    Alha during Bahra

In these 12 days the girl will be entertained by her female friends and relatives. While I was in my room we had ludo, snake and ladder and dolls to play with. As my family was ok for me to hear male voice we had radio so we used to play it loud and dance.

Some days went really quick as I had many visitors around and then there were days which were so long, I couldn’t wait to go out.

On 12th day there will be a big celebration of the ending of this ceremony.

Surya darshan during Bahra

In the morning, the girl purifies herself  by taking a bath. Then she is dressed in bridal sari and make up. She will then be covered my shawl and take to the open space where Puja is performed. There will be Ganesh Puja first and then Surya Puja followed by Surya Darshan. It will be the first time the girl will see the sun in 12 days. Also Sindoor is put on the girl’s forehead as a symbol of marriage to the sun and a yellow string is put around her head.

Like in Ihi, there will be a special person who cuts toe nails for the girl and then paints the feet with red colour called ‘Alah’. Also, ‘Thaa bu’, a plate which has eggs, yogurt, wine, fruits, Roti, meat, fish and much more for the girlsto eat is served like in the real wedding.

Then she will be given Sagun and gifts by family and relatives. Also after this Puja, the girl will go with her relatives to a nearby temple and do more Puja.

In the evening of that day there will be a big bhoj (party) and lots of relatives and friends are invited.

After this ceremony the girl becomes an adolescent.

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Ihi

According to Newari tradition, girls are married three times in their lives.

First one is called ‘Ihi’ then ‘Bara Tayegu’ and then the real human marriage.

I am writing about the first marriage in Newar girl’s life which is called ‘Ihi’. “Ihi’ is also known as Bel Bibaha in Nepali. It is performed before a girl turns 13 years old. It is a compulsory ceremony every girl has to go through in most Newar community.

I too had the ceremony held for me but I can’t remember a lot about that day. I was quite small, I think 7 or so years old when the ‘Ihi’ was held for me.

In ‘Ihi’ ceremony, the girl is married to Lord Vishnu with the bel fruit (wood apple) as a witness. This ceremony is performed to save the girl from evil and malicious spirits but the most important reason is to protect the girl from unpleasant humiliation of widowhood.  As I mention in my post Widows in Nepal, it is really hard for the women in Nepal when they become widows. They had to take part in ‘Sati’ process in the old days, so in order to save their daughters from ‘becoming Sati’, Newars started a tradition in which they married their daughters to Lord Vishnu first. So even if her human husband dies in the course of her life, she doesn’t need to take part in ‘Sati’ ritual since her first husband, Lord Vishnu is still alive.

Some also believed this tradition allowed women to be more independent of their husbands. They can divorce or become widows without losing reputation.

Ihi is performed in mass over two days. It is normally organised by priests in their own house or backyard or someone can choose to host it in their house.

The first day is called Dusala Kriya. On this day, young girls have to bathe with pure water and are dressed like a bride in ankle length skirt, blouse and shawl. These days, you will see them as mini versions of traditional Nepali brides. Then all the girls will gather in the priest’s house. They sit on the floor in a long line with their mothers. Then the Puja begins where these girls go through sequences of ritual actions of purification. They have to worship images of Suvarna Kumara, the golden Bachelor which is an aspect of Lord Vishnu. It normally takes 5-6 hours for this ceremony to be over.

The second day is the most important day of the ritual  ‘Kanyadan’ (giving away of the daughter by the father) is performed on this day. For this day as well, the young girls are dressed as brides and taken for the Puja. On this day, they wear some special ornaments as well.

There will be a special person who cut toe nails for all the girls  and then paint the feet with red colour called ‘Alah’. Also at the end of the day, ‘Thaa bu’ , a plate which had eggs, yogurt, wine, fruits, Roti, meat, fish and much more for the girls to eat is served like in the real wedding.

There will be more Puja performed and the day will end by the father doing a ‘Kanyadan’ and giving away his daughter to Lord Vishnu in marriage with the Bel fruit as a witness.

‘Ihi’ is one of the many tradition the Newar community in Nepal follow and is unique to them.