As part of a unique old tradition, ethnic Newar community in New Jersey celebrated Mha Puja or the self worshiping on Saturday, November 10th.
Mha puja, (Body worship) the worship of the inner self, is a unique tradition of the Newari community of Nepal. Newa people believe that one needs to understand and respect oneself before he/she can understand others. Mha puja (is purification, strengthening, empowering the soul and understanding of oneself). Mha puja exposes the relationship of a person with the surrounding nature and the cosmos. Mha Puja, which is marked annually during the Kathmandu’s second biggest festival Tihar. The day is celebrated as a part of celebrations of their New Year called Nepal Sambat as per the lunar calendar.
During the festival, family members gather and sit on the floor and worship their bodies with a belief that it will purify the body, mind and soul for enlightenment. They use the elements like flowers, fruits, oil lamps, nuts and sweets to worship after creating a colorful Mandala, circle of life.
Manda (Mandala) is an essential part of Mha puja celebration. First the floor is purified by sprinkling holy water. Next Mandalas are created on the floor in front of the row of seats for each family member. The total number of Mandalas exceeds the number of people in the household by three. One at the top of the line, which is usually smaller in size and separate from the rest, is for the House-God. This is followed by one for each and every member of the household and two additional ones at the end that are at right angles to the main row. The last two Mandalas are for the ever-watching Yamaraj and Jamaraj, the ambassadors of Death who are always ready to take sinners to hell.
Oil marks last longer just as Itah (oiled strand of strings) burns longer. Circles signify completeness. On the top of the oil rings a beautiful and artistic geometrical shape which constitutes the core of the Mandala, is created. The markings are done in yellow Potaye (yellow mustard powder). On the outside is a large ring enclosing a smaller one within which two squares are overlapped to form eight triangular shapes. Abhir (vermilion powder) is spread along the various Potaye lines. A handful of paddy and rice mixture is placed on each of the four triangles along the north-south and east-west lines with respect to the worshiper (worshiped) and one at the center of the Mandala.
Next comes the very important offer of light. Two Itaa (hand-woven cotton strands soaked in oil) about two and a half feet long, are lighted at each end and offered to the worshiped who accepts by chanting in Sanskrit – “Swah prakashah mahatejo sarbapatti bidapaham. Sabhayabhyamtaram jyoti deepoyam pratigrihyatam.” Newars use Sanskrit words during the worship. The light is accepted to enhance one’s inner supreme brightness and to drive away any possible problems. The blessing is for the person to be able to keep shining bright like the burning Itaa for a long, long time. The four lighted ends occupy the locations of the four outer paddy/rice lumps in the Mandala. Soaking of Itaa with mustard oil makes it last longer. The lights are kept on through the completion of the whole Mha puja process. Light, which is considered as one of the five elements used to create the universe (the other four are air, water, earth, and sky), has a special meaning in worships. The offer of light spiritually brightens the inner self, makes it more powerful and keeps anything evil at bay.
Sagun is another very important part of Mha Puja. Offering of Swaga (Sagun) to a person is usually made to to a person for their extraordinary and meaningful achievement. Dhau Swaga on the forehead unveils the shining and cheerful face enjoying a great celebration. Next comes the all important Khen (egg) Sagan. Khen Sagan constitutes the offering of Nyata (the five elements of egg, fish, Rakshi, bada and meat).. Nyata (five) signifies the five elements of water, fire, earth, air and space.
The final purification of the soul and the blessings come from the Naki (female head of the community) with a pouring of a mixture of paddy, flowers, pieces of fruits, abhir (vermilion powder), aakhen (hand-milled rice) and taye in a Patthi (bronze container about a gallon size). All during the puja, the light keep burning, the incense keeps spreading fragrance and the colorful Mandalas keep cheering the mood. Completion of Mha puja is achieved after the Naki drags tuphi (broom) from House-God’s Mandala all the way down to Jamaraj’s Mandala.
Shilpy Malla, a Hillsborough resident attended the event with her husband and young son. “This is my first time to experience such unique celebration with FONNJ family. I feel lucky to celebrate this special Mha Puja with my family,” Malla said.
The participants also enjoyed homemade special dishes like Sanya Khuna, PauuKwa, MeeKwa, Sisa pusha, special sweets, Pukula and Thou (special brewed liquor, popular among Newar community). Young kids prepared Masala pow (dreid fruits and sweets) and helped to prepare Mandala – circle of life.
“The main purpose of this event was to teach our young generation about our culture and tradition”, said, FONNJ Vice President Roshan Karmacharya.
Surendra Man Singh, said, “We are very rich in culture and tradition thus the participation of young generation in such rituals strengthen the ties between community and culture of birth. It is an integral part of culture preservation.”