Newar girls are married thrice in their lives. The first marriage is called Ihi or Bel bibaha”. It is performed when a girl reaches her 7th year. She is married to bel “apple fruit” as it signifies immortality. And then they are married to the Sun which is called “Bara Tayegu” (Newari) or “Gufa Rakhne” (Nepali). When they get into human conjugal relationship its actually their marriage. These marriage ceremonies are conducted both among Buddhist Newars and Hindu Newars.
Bara Tayegu: It is conducted before girls strait menstruation. Girls in a group or alone are kept in a room with windows draped with thick clothes and door always locked so that not a single ray of sun can enter the room. She can’t see boys nor hear their voice. Twelve days- she lives a solitary life as if she were a prisoner in solitary consignment. This is how we or I, not belonging to newar clan think or may think. But for Newars it’s a time for celebration. A step taken by woman towards her womanhood.
Dipita Shrestha-a 10 years old girl just made her walk out of her room which was the only place for her to live since 12 days. Draped in Red saree and gold jwelery, she looked like a bride and yes, she was a bride, walking to a Mandap to get married to the SUN. Looking beautiful outside but what must be she feeling looking at her male counterparts after so long and The SUN-her groom. Dipita is now a goddess-as she marries the GOD. But for this she was imprisoned. Was it worth it? Dipita answers with a shy-smile, “Its our tradition, my mom did it, even my grandma did it and I want my daughter to do it”.
Sangita Shrestha, now in her 30s, is proud that her daughter loves this tradition. Being a mother, she was always on her side when she had to enter the dark room- she slept beside her-played carom and ludo with her so that she wouldn’t miss her friends who were in school preparing for their exam as she was grounded. Sangita is a modern-educated woman and understand the psychology of a girl. Educating daughter’s about pubescent and menstruation is the duty of a mother. During Dipita’s gupha-she made sure that when she gets out of the room than she would understand her womanhood and won’t hide herself from others. But it wasn’t same for her. She remembers how she fought to come out of the room and see the light. How her grandmother scolded her for doing so. She says, “its much easier for today’s generation as they have full access to entertainment in the room, which we didn’t have in our times. Sure, even my mom was with me but she always felt hesitant to talk to me about menstruation and my changes in my body. I don’t want that to happen to my daughter, she should be proud of her body and there is no shame in menstruation.”
Ganesh Maya Shrestha, in her 78th years, smiles as she remembers her gufa ceremony. “I wanted to see the airplane flying above my room, I tried to pick through the window, but unfortunately was caught by my aunty, she hit me and said that by looking at the sun I was breaking the God’s rule. I cried and I didn’t get the point why I was locked in a room and as I’d hear my brothers playing Gucha (marbles) outside”.
Even though Ganesh maya hated sitting inside the dark room, she wanted her own granddaughter to go through it. WHY? In the name of preserving what was started long long back. Noone knows who started the tradition of Gupha and nor why it is done. All they know is it is a part of Newari culture and they don’t want it to disappear.
(Documented the ritual for Hinduism Today)