Have you ever heard about the Newar people? They are the original inhabitants of Kathmandu valley in Nepal and the creators of the historic heritage and civilization of this beautiful region. Let’s discover together where they live, what they eat and some curiosities about their traditional habits. You will, for sure, consider the idea of visiting them and experience a life-changing journey!
Newars and their wonderful habitat
Ornate windows symbol of Newar culture and artistry
The Newari are a mixed ethnic minority of Tibetans and Indians who, for centuries, have inhabited the beautiful hills near the Himalayas. Their stronghold is the Kathmandu valley, but the Newars are careful to distinguish themselves from the other peoples of the hills. Although they are an ethnic minority, their majority presence in the valley has allowed them to exercise a strong cultural influence.
Social distancing is nothing new for Newar people
We sadly become familiar with the concept of "social distancing", recommended for all of us in the current emergency circumstances… but Newars used to practice this since centuries: among their unique rituals and traditions is the practice of imposing "isolation" upon newcomers to the valley.
Newar girls and the unusual marriage
The tradition of Newar people wants girls to be married three times: the first one with a bael fruit, also known as wood apple, to protect them if the future husband dies. The second one to the Sun and finally they get married to a man. The Newari girls also go through the Bara ceremony or ( Gufa rakhne) as a symbol of ascension to womanhood.
Hindu or Buddhist Newari?
Newari religion is exceptionally diversified and complex: individual Newars may identify themselves as either Hindu or Buddhist, depending on their historical origin. This fact will only make little difference in their fundamental doctrines or practices. Beyond religion, kinship roles are significant to Newars and reinforced by elaborate life-cycle rituals and annual feasts and festivals.
The importance of 77, 1000 months, 88, 99 and 110 years
Jankhu is a traditional ritual done when a person reaches the age of 77, 1000 months, 88, 99 and 110 years to celebrate her or his survival. The real reason why these specific years must be asked directly to them. After death, a ritual called Shraddha is done. During this ritual death is mourned by the dead person's relatives for 13 days by wearing white clothes: this will help him to remain pure. In the Upper Mustang and Dolpo, sky burial is carried out and the body left to be eaten by vultures and crows.
Newari cultural heritage: stone sculptures, temples, pagoda-style roof and UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Temples of Bhaktapur, UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Buddhist stupas (shrines) dating to the 3rd century bc are all that is left of the early cultures of the Kathmandu Valley. However, numerous magnificent stone sculptures survive from the subsequent Licchavi period, and you will see superb woodcarving, metalwork, and stone sculpture belonging to Mallas period in temples, palaces, and courtyards throughout the Kathmandu Valley. More: a Newari architect introduced in the late 13th century the valley's distinctive pagoda-style roof into Tibet: This kind of architecture was spread later to all the rest of East Asia. Also: in Kathmandu Valley, we can find seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 2,500 temples and shrines. These places deserve to be admired closely!
Folk art crafts and hobbies
Many of the traditional handicrafts of the Newar are based on religious objects and carved into stone and wood, such as statues of deities, prayer wheels, thankas (painted scrolls), Nepālī khukhrīs (curved knives), and paper maché dance masks. More utilitarian crafts include weaving, pottery, and basketry.
Rice, meat and liquor to celebrate festivals
Chariot of Kumari Goddess, Indra Jatra Festival, Nepal
Inter-caste celebrations are the main festivals of the Kathmandu Valley. These include many Jatras, when images of the deities are carried through the streets in procession, while rituals often include the sacrifice of buffalo or goats. All the Newari festivals used to be accompanied by a significant consumption of rice, meat, liquor, and home-made beer.
Newari love indoor sports and board games
The majority of Newari sports and games tend to be indoor, and many include gambling. One example: Kupi, which involves betting on a coin tossed in a scoop. Cards appeal to both adults and young people, while upper classes love chess and other board games. Outdoor sports such as soccer are practised in Kathmandu and other big cities.
Current and past entertainment and recreation
Newar men play traditional Newar music
Newars have access to the modern amenities offered by the city of Kathmandu and other neighbouring cities, such as theatres that mostly show Indian films. At the same time, government-controlled radio and television programs are only available to those who can afford the receivers. It has to be said that many Newars still devote themselves to religious festivals and rich folk traditions including song, music and dance.
NOMADIC TRIBE TEAM
Read more about Newar tribe in our tribes section.
Cover photo Newar couple iStock.com/Zzvet