Sunday, July 31, 2016

Gathamuga: One of the Most Unique Festivals of the Newah People

Rabin Man Shakya
Advisor, Nepa Chhen, Portland, Oregon

Gathamuga is celebrated this year on August 1. But usually this festival is observed in the Kathmandu valley in July/August according to the lunar calendar of Nepal Sambat.

Today is the day of Gathamuga and it is all coming back to me now how the effigy of the demon made of reeds was set up at our Nagha Twa neighborhood, how we the local boys followed "Aaju Jaya" ( a guy whose body used to be painted in grotesque colors and who used to go begging for money that day in the neighborhood with burning torch of husk ) chanting "Aaju Jaya Haa, Om Shanti Jaya Nepal".

Here in Portland, Oregon, our family is celebrating Gathamuga by simply eating Samaya Baji (beaten rice with chhoyela, garlic, ginger, beans and Aalu Achar etc). Hopefully, a lot of Newah people scattered around the world celebrate Gathamuga in their own way. Actually, our Newah kids  here in Portland just like in other states of the US and in other countries do not and can not collect money from passers-by to make an effigy of the demon, like we did in our childhood days, nor can they go to buy iron rings and other fancy rings like  we did in the morning of the Gathamuga when we were kids. Boy, that was a great fun.

Hundreds of thousands of Newah people have migrated to other countries in search of jobs and better opportunities owing to dismal economic scenario in Nepal. In fact, as a result of globalization, it will  be hard to find a country where a Newah has not reached. Thousands of enterprising, educated and professional Newahs have also sought opportunities abroad. Even twenty years before, it was unimaginable for the Newahs to go abroad for permanent residency or employment opportunities. The new wave underscores the evolving nature of global migration. However, no matter, where they go, the Newahs try to keep their culture and traditions alive. Therefore, today more than ever,  celebration of Newah festivals is not just confined to Nepal alone.

Nevertheless, young Newah generation living abroad may not be quite familiar with the festivals like Gathamuga, its legend and mysticisms and how it is celebrated in the Kathmandu valley. It is the responsibility of World Newah Organization (WNO), its national chapters in different countries and other Newah-related organizations in many countries to disseminate more printed and audio-visual information about Gathamuga and other unique festivals of the Newah people.

Even though Gathamuga is not one of the greatest festivals, it still is one of the most unique festivals of the Newah people, and it is observed by the Newahs to chase away demons and evil spirits from their homes in symbolic manner.

Taking a trip down memory lane, I remember the activities and traditional rituals carried out on the night of Gathamuga. My late father Pushpa Shakya, as the male head of the household used to hammer iron nails into the main entry-exit door of our house to get rid of the evil spirits. Dousing all rooms of the house with the smoke from black and white mustard seed burnt over in a small Makaa (coal fire on a small clay pot) was another important ritual on the night of Gathamuga.

Likewise, on the same night, an offering of Baji, (beaten rice), husk, green garlic and raw buffalo lungs is put at the street intersection to appease the departed souls. This traditional and ritual procedure was known  as 'Bou Wayegu' in Nepal Bhasa.

According to a legend, Ghantakarna was a violent predator - demon who used to abduct children and women. The predator made himself grotesque by painting his body into red, blue and black colors. He used to dangle a pair of bells in his ears, so he was called Ghantakarna. Ghantakarna was a ruthless bully who extorted money and gifts from the rural folks.

Once, out of the blue, a number of frogs showed up in rescue of the rural folks. The frogs started to annoy Ghantakarna by continuous croaking. Ghantakarna wanted to get rid of the frogs, but the frogs led him to nearby swamp. As frogs jumped into the swamp, so did Ghantakarna. The frogs swarmed all over his head and made him fatally drown into the bog and that was the end of Ghantakarna. Gathamuga festival thus has been celebrated since last several centuries to mark the victory of good over the evils.

Most of the nations in the world have festivals and cultural holidays related to evil spirits, ghosts, demons and monsters. Here in the US, Halloween is celebrated on Oct 31 of every year. American kids dress up in funny or scary costumes and go "treat or tricking" knocking on doors in their neighborhood. The neighbors are expected to respond by giving away children small gifts of candy or money. Adults may also be attired in funny and dramatic costumes  for Halloween parties.

There are more festivals in Nepal than in any other countries. That the cultural and traditional festivals relating to different ethnic communities of Nepal are too plenty is a testimony to the fact that Nepal is culturally a rich and diverse country. In fact, Nepal is the land of festivals and cultural carnivals. Festivals are the important factors that enliven the Nepalese culture. They have added to the cultural richness of the country.

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