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The Concept Of Mha Puja Cultural Studies Essay

Mha Puja literally means making offerings to self. Mha means a human body and Puja means making offerings in the Newar language.  Newar – one of the natives in Nepal has a tradition of making offerings to self on the first day of the New Year according to the Nepal Sambat.

Nepal has its own calendar called Nepal Sambat. All Nepalis follow it for celebrating religious and social tradition. They celebrate the New Year Day of 1128 year according to the Nepal Sambat on November 10, 2007 in the Gregorian calendar.  The Nepal Sambat calendar follows the lunar system.

The Newar community celebrates a New Year Day making offerings to themselves to strengthen their mind, speech and body so that they would be able to work with vigor for the whole year. The essence of making self-offerings is that every human has a guardian spirit in him/her. In other words, every human possess with the divine spirit and s/he needs to revere it at least once a year. The Newar community does it on the first day of the New Year. Such an offering stimulates the hidden spirit in a human, and then energizes him/her to be active for a year. Therefore, philosophy of performing worship to self is to empower him/her for fighting against evil spirits, diseases and for making fortunes in the year.

Rituals in celebrating Mha Puja are primarily for purifying the mind, speech and body. Human mind is the driving engine in the body. A person acts only after his/her mind conceives something to do. Speech comes only as the expression of what the mind has set to do. Finally, body takes physical actions. Therefore, it is utmost important to keep those three things pure for a good and humanely living.

It is hard to confidently say when the tradition of making self-offerings was set. Obviously, this tradition was at least more than one thousand year old, as the Nepal Sambat has been more than one thousand years old. However, the tradition might have set a few thousand years earlier than the Nepal Sambat as a man called Shan-kha-dhar San-khwa started Nepal Sambat freeing all people from debt paying their debts to the money lenders one thousand one hundred and twenty eight year ago. There must be another calendar before the Nepal Sambat.

Now let us talk about how the Newar community celebrates the New Year and Mha Puja. The New Year falls on the first day of the light fortnight in the month called Kartik (October-November) in the Vikram calendar. Newars perform the self-offerings at night.  They make preparations for this occasion the whole day.

Mandalas: the rituals of Mha Puja starts from the drawing of Mandala. Some people call it a geometrical figure. In fact, it is the geometrical figure of a human body sitting on an eight-petal lotus flower blossoming on water. So, first, they draw a circle from holy water, then an eight-petal lotus flower in it and then one inner circle after another from different cereal grains in the eight-petal lotus flower. This is called a Mandala.

First, they select a place where all family members can sit together in a row either facing east or west.  They never sit facing south or north; it is not auspicious.  Then, they purify the area of about one meter wide and the length according to the number of family members, smearing it with the mixture of cow dung and red clay. If they find it inconvenient to sit on a floor, they draw Mandalas on a table, too. If they do not have cow dung and red clay to smear a floor or a table for purification, they might use anything that cleans a floor or a table for drawing Mandalas.

They draw one Mandala for each family member (expect for the new born child not christened yet) including the absentees, and one at the top for the life-giving God called Janmaraj and another at the bottom for the life-taking God called Yamaraj.  All other Mandalas are in between those two deity Mandalas. These deity Mandalas are not different from the human Mandalas. Newars revere the life-giving God called Janmaraj first and the life-taking God called Yamaraj last; in between, they make self-offerings.

Janmaraj represents the past; humans represent the present and Yamaraj represents the future. So, humans are always in between Janmaraj and Yamaraj.  They are always moving to the future ultimately to the end only to start again. It is a vicious circle of life they are moving around.

They draw about a half-meter diameter circle of holy water for each Mandala on the purified floor partly closing the opening of a holy water pot by an index finger. If they do not have a holy river for collecting water, they use the tap water for drawing water circles; then they draw an eight-petal lotus flower from rice powder in the holy water circle.

To draw an eight-petal lotus flower, they first draw a circle of about ten-centimeter diameter from rice floor using thumb and index fingers with special drawing skills.  Then, they go on adding one petal after another to the outer area of the circle. For making easy to draw a lotus flower from rice flour, they use a perforated paper sheet; on which they set rice flour; they get the louts flower of the design made on a paper sheet when lift it. They call it a rice flour Mandala inside the water Mandala.

Then they draw a circle of puffed rice within the circle of the eight-petal lotus Mandala drawn of rice flour. This is done placing the puffed rice in row close to the inner line of the circle of an eight-petal lotus. Then, they draw two more inner circles within the circle of the puffed rice. The first inner circle is the Mandala of policed unbroken rice. This circle is of about five-centimeter diameter. Then they draw a mustard-seed oil Mandala. This is the inner most Mandala. This is drawn soaking a cotton twine in mustard-seed oil and shaping it in a circle of a centimeter or more diameter and print an oil circle inside the polished rice Mandala. Using the right hand ring finger, they apply amber powder mixed with mustard-seed oil within the mustard-seed oil Mandala. This is called ‘sinha’ Mandala. They need to start the rituals of offerings immediately after it. So, they wait to apply this last ‘sinha’ Mandala until the beginning of self-offerings. Currently, some people make a number of circles of various small beans inside the rice circle according to their choice to embellish the Mandala.

What is Mandala? The water circle symbolizes a pond. The eight-petal lotus drawn with the rice powder in the water circle symbolizes a lotus flowering on it.  Other Mandalas made of puffed rice, polished rice, mustard oil and amber powder mixed with mustard-seed oil represents the human body sitting on the lotus flowering on water. They also represent the four life supporting elements such as earth, air, water, and fire.

Decorating Mandala: They place two cotton twines each of six inches and soaked in mustard-seed oil crossing each other at a right angle on the right side of the worshipper next to the Mandala. They also set a piece of fruit or bread under the ends of each cotton twine and under the point where the two twines cross. This gives the most auspicious Hindu sign of Swastika.

They set varieties of fresh and dried fruits, one garland of Makhamali flower, hard walnuts, marigold flowers and a folded twine called ‘Jajanka’ at each Mandala.  Then, next to the fruits and flowers, they set one figurine made of dough, cooked in steam, and depicting the God of Wealth called Kuber holding a gift hamper; pin incense sticks to the shoulders of such figurines; set one figurine each depicting Lord Ganesh at the Mandala to the life-giving God and life-taking God.

Sitting arrangement:  When everything is set ready for making offerings to self, all family members sit at their respective Mandala. The patriarch sits at the top of the row, then his brothers, sons and daughters sit according to the seniority, and then sisters-in-law and daughters-in-law sit at their respective Mandalas. The spouse of the patriarch sits at the bottom Mandala next to the Mandala to the life-taking God.

It is not auspicious to leave off the Mandala before completing the self-offerings.  They, therefore, make it sure that every thing is in place before everyone sits at the Mandala. They select a volunteer from among the family members preferably a woman to attend the rituals. They make sure that all males sitting at Mandalas put on their headgears called Topis and females wrapped in shawl take out their right hands from their shawl.  They all sit in the posture of Padmason (lotus posture).

The ritual of self-offerings: An attendant holds a ritual metallic plate or a container containing five items of offerings such as flowers, sinha (red and yellow powder), puffed rice, polished rice, and Jajanka. These five items of offerings represent the five sense faculties and the five elements such as earth, water, air, light (fire) and ether (mind) that support the life.  She also holds a pot of yogurt on her left hand.

The patriarch begins the rituals of the self-offerings.  He first purifies his hands with the holy water from a water jar and sprinkles the holy water to the Mandalas. He then lights the mustard-seed oil lamp on a special auspicious lamp called Sukunda placed on his right hand side. Sukunda symbolizes the sun god.  It has an image of Ganesh -- the God of Perfection. He lights the incense sticks pinned to the dough figurines placed next to the Mandala to the life-giving God, the person sitting next to the Mandala to the life-taking God lights the incense stick pinned to the dough figurine placed at the Mandala. Thereafter, other members of the family light their respective incense sticks.

The patriarch first makes offerings to Ganesh on the mustard-seed oil lamp. He decorates the God with flowers, red and yellow powder, then offers polished rice, puffed rice, and Jajanka, and then applies the yogurt using the right hand thumb on the right forehead of Ganesh. They need to make first offerings to Ganesh, as none of the deities would accept the offerings made without first offerings to Ganesh. He has the privilege of having the first offerings among the deities. Thereafter, the patriarch makes offerings to the Mandala to the life-giving God at the top and then the life-taking God at the bottom without getting up from his seat.

Now, it is the turn of the patriarch to make offerings to his Mandala. He first takes a piece of flowers from the container the attendant has offered, holds it on his left hand, applies red and yellow powder on it, then offers polished rice and puffed rice, places a Jajanka on it, and finally applies the yogurt on it and then touches it to his head and places it on his Mandala. He does it three times. The first offering is made to the mind, the second to the speech and the third to the body.  The attendant takes the container and the yogurt to each family member. Every member of the family repeats this procedure of offerings.

The second stage of self-offerings is to make offerings to the human body. The woman attendant does this. A large circular (about one meter diameter) wicker tray full of mixture of flowers, puffed rice, cut-fruits and hard nuts is prepared for making offerings to the family members. The female attendant takes the handful of the mixture and puts it in a wooden grain-measuring pot, and then offers it first to Ganesh, then to the Mandala to the life-giving God and then to the Mandala to the life-taking God. All male members take off their headgear. She then makes offerings to the patriarch, pouring the mixture on the head three times. The first offering is to the mind, the second to the speech and the third – the last one to the body. This process is repeated to all other family members.

The third step of the self-offerings is to offer the fruits, nuts, and flowers placed at the Mandala to the worshipper sitting at it. The female attendant makes first offerings to Ganesh, then to the life-giving God and the life-taking God. Thereafter, she collects all fruits, nuts flowers and Jajanka placed at the Mandala, and put them on a tray and offers those things to the patriarch. She also wishes him to be as hard and strong as walnut, as pure and aromatic as a fruit called Toshi, as beautiful and evergreen as the Makhamali flower, as fresh as Katush (a kind of nuts).  He then takes out the garland of Makhamali flower out of the tray, and wears it around his neck.  He takes a Jajanka (a cotton twine consecrated with mantras) and wears it around his neck. Wearing this twine means protecting from the evil spirit. She repeats this process for all the members performing the self-offerings. All male members of the family wear their headgear after completing this process. The attendant then applies yellow and red powder paste on the forehead of all family members.

The fourth step of the self-offerings is to offer ‘Khen-sagan’. They prepare a pot of home-brewed rice beer, one boiled, peeled and then fried egg for each member, one each for Ganesh, and two Gods – life-giving and life-taking, and a few extra eggs, one small fried fish (the head of the fish turned to clockwise direction) for each family members and gods. The patriarch takes an egg and a fish on his left palm and drops them into the pot containing the home-brewed rice liquor, and sprinkles the liquor to all Mandalas by his left hand. This is the symbolic offering of ‘Khen-sagan’ to all Mandalas.

Thereafter, the attendant sets a bronze cup to each family member. She fills the bronze cup with the liquor from the pot. If the fish in the liquor flows to the cup means a person getting the cup is the lucky family member. She holds the cup on her right hand, then an egg, and a fish on her left hand, and crosses the hands and offers those items to the patriarch first. Before doing this, everyone lights all four ends of the Swastika shape wicks placed on their right side. They need to finish the offerings of Khen-sagan before the lights go off. The patriarch takes the cup on his right hand and an egg and a fish on his left hand. He sips the liquor and then bites the egg and fish. The attendant adds the liquor to the cup. He repeats the sipping of the liquor and biting of the egg and fish. This is done thrice. This means offerings of the Khen-sagan to the mind, speech and body.  Thereafter, he places the cup on the floor and then continues to eat the egg and fish and drink the liquor from the cup.  This process is repeated for all the family members.  When everyone finishes eating egg and fish and drinking liquor, and light from the Swastika wicks goes off, the self-offering is almost completes.  The attendant takes a flower and sweeps the Mandalas from the bottom up. This is the symbolic sweeping. A groom does the real sweeping from the top to the bottom, and save all those leftover for the next morning to dispose off in a holy river.

Thereafter, they feast on the various dishes they have prepared for the self-offerings. They do not wash the dishes on this night, save those dishes for the next morning to wash believing the remains or leftovers on these dishes might turn into gold next morning.

The unique thing they do on this occasion is make offerings to the groom and a large circular wicker tray together, and a vase of holy water. They believe that the groom and the wicker tray are the instruments of the Goddess of Wealth called Laxmi.  Those two items never go together at other time.  Newars do not offer those two items to the married sisters and daughters.

Friday, November 2, 2007


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