Tuesday, December 9, 2014

[Nepali Culture Workshop 2014-2015] Religion in Nepali Everyday Life

Multiculturalism in Action: Nepali Culture Workshop
Session 3: Religion in Nepali Everyday Life
Date: October 25, 2014
Guest speakers: Dr. Wai-man Tang and Family of Ms. Raima Gurung Shah

Prof Tam (2nd row, 3rd right), Dr. Tang (3rd row, 3rd right), Workshop participants, and Ms. Shah (2nd row, 4th right) and family
Tihar is the second biggest festival for the Hindus in Nepal. Some may call it the Nepali version of Diwali, as they both share the same dates on the Hindu calendar. It refers to a five-day celebration, with different targets of worship and purposes on each day.

Participants of the Nepali Culture Workshop visited a Nepali household in Jordan to observe the celebration on the 5th day of Tihar, the Bhai Tika (Brother Blessing). It is the day in a year when sisters worship their brothers, and receive blessings from them. There is a mythology behind the festival. A girl, Jamuna, whose beloved brother is mortally ill, makes a deal with Yama, the God of Death. She asks Yama to promise to only take her brother’s soul when her offerings of grass and flowers wilt, and the water used to draw the boundary becomes dry. Yama agrees, and each time he sends his messenger to check on Jamuna’s complicated worship, the messenger fails to bring back the brother’s soul. Yama finally gives up, and Jamuna’s brother is saved.

Nepali Hindus offerings for Tihar.
As a celebration of the sister’s love for her brother, Tihar has an important ritual in which the sister draws a tika on the brother’s forehead with with rice flour mixture, topped with different colors to represent different blessings. The tika symbolizes protection of the chakra, thus preventing Yama, the God of Death, from taking the soul. The sister would then present the brother with gifts such as a marigold garland, a Nepali hat, and a tray of sweets and fruits. After the worship, the brothers would pay respect to the sister and return her with a gift of money. Raima showed us two ways of doing the tika—one vertical and the other circular, and explained the meanings of each step of the ritual. A sumptuous meal then followed, and everyone enjoyed great Nepali dishes.

Workshop participants then attended a talk by Dr. Wyman Tang, in a Nepali restaurant in Jordan. Dr. Tang introduced some popular religious beliefs among the Nepalis. According to his research, the number of Christians is increasing, though Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism are still the dominant religions. Yet, as he explained, being a Nepali Christian was not easy, as the older generation may not endorse this religious choice. Dr. Tang also explained the caste system of the Nepalis, which is different from the caste system in India. While the influence of the caste system has lessened, it still exerts a great influence on different aspects of Nepali daily life, including the marriage system. 

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