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Newari food in Nepal, nestled in the heart of the Himalayas, is a country rich in diverse cultures, languages, and traditions. Among its many ethnic communities, the Newars stand out as a distinct and vibrant group known for their unique cuisine, culture, and traditions.
The Newari people, also known as Newars or Newahs, are an indigenous ethnic group residing predominantly in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. They form a significant cultural and historical presence in the region and have contributed substantially to Nepal’s diverse heritage.
Newars are renowned for their distinct language, Nepal Bhasa (Newari language), which has its own script and serves as a testament to their unique cultural identity. This community follows a syncretic blend of Hinduism and Buddhism, with numerous temples, stupas, and monasteries gracing their towns and cities.
Newari culture is a vibrant tapestry of traditions, art, and festivals. They are celebrated for their artistic skills, notably in woodcarving, metalwork, and architecture. The elaborate woodcarvings found in temples and palaces, such as those in the Kathmandu Durbar Square, are emblematic of their craftsmanship.
One of the highlights of Newari culture is its diverse and delectable cuisine. Momos, Bara, Samay Baji, and Yomari are just a few examples of their culinary delights. These dishes reflect the Newars’ penchant for intricate flavors and are often enjoyed during festivals and special occasions.
Overall, the Newari people are an integral part of Nepal’s rich cultural mosaic, preserving their traditions, language, and heritage while contributing significantly to the nation’s cultural diversity.
Newari Culture: A Glimpse into the Past
The Newar community, also known as Newah, is indigenous to the Kathmandu Valley, the capital region of Nepal. Their history dates back thousands of years, with their roots firmly entrenched in the valley’s fertile soil. Newars have played a pivotal role in shaping the culture, art, and history of Nepal. Their culture is a blend of indigenous practices, Hinduism, and Buddhism, resulting in a unique and syncretic way of life.
Language and Religion
The Newar community primarily speaks Nepal Bhasa, also known as Newari language, which is a Tibeto-Burman language with its own script. Religion is an integral part of Newar culture, and they follow a mix of Hinduism and Buddhism, with numerous temples, stupas, and monasteries scattered across the Kathmandu Valley.
Festivals and Celebrations
Newars are renowned for their vibrant festivals and celebrations. The most famous among these is “Indra Jatra,” a week-long extravaganza dedicated to Lord Indra, the God of Rain. The Kathmandu Durbar Square comes alive during this festival with processions, masked dances, and the erection of the “Yosin” (a ceremonial pole). Other notable festivals include “Nepal Sambat,” the Newari New Year, and “Mha Puja,” a celebration of self-worship.
The Newar people of Nepal, an indigenous community primarily residing in the Kathmandu Valley, celebrate a rich tapestry of festivals that reflect their unique culture, traditions, and spirituality. These festivals are deeply rooted in Newar folklore, history, and religion, and they play a vital role in preserving the cultural heritage of Nepal. In this article, we will explore some of the prominent Newari festivals celebrated in Nepal.
What festivals are unique to Newari culture?
Mha Puja is a day celebrated during the popular Tihar festival. While Tihar is celebrated by most of Nepal, Mha Puja is only celebrated by Newari. During Tihar, each day represents a different thing. Most foreigners have seen viral photos of dogs being worshipped, however there is also a day for crows, cows, and brothers. In Newar culture, one day is dedicated to oneself and is called mha puja or “self-worship day.” This generally takes place in November. Each person cleans themselves, their home, makes beautiful mandala designs on the ground, and celebrates.
Gai Jatra, also known as the “cow festival,” is another Newar festival. If a family member passed away during that calendar year, then young children dress up in their honor and walk down the streets and gather in Durbar Square in remembrance. On the way, strangers will give them treats or candy. It’s not a somber day, but it’s also not extremely cheerful. It’s a way to show that many have lost family and that no one is alone. The day is meant to comfort those who have experienced loss. In Hindu culture, cows are gods, so paper cutouts of cows will be made to carry during the festival. Gai jatra takes place around September or October.
Indra Jatra is another Newari festival which is popular in Kathmandu. It usually falls in September and marks the beginning of Autumn and the upcoming festivals of Dashain and Tihar. You’ve got to love a culture that has a festival to celebrate upcoming festivals. During Indra Jatra, you can witness the famous Kumari (Living Goddess) in her chariot. At night, there are masked dancers in the streets who dance to the music of drummers.
Indra Jatra is one of the most significant Newari festivals in Nepal and is celebrated with great pomp and grandeur in Kathmandu Durbar Square. The festival usually falls in September and lasts for eight days. It marks the end of the monsoon season and the beginning of autumn. The main attraction of Indra Jatra is the Kumari Jatra, where the living goddess Kumari is paraded in a chariot through the streets of Kathmandu. Various dances, processions, and cultural performances take place during this festival, showcasing the rich Newar heritage.
Nepal Sambat New Year:
Nepal Sambat is the traditional lunar calendar of Nepal, and the New Year’s celebration is known as Nepal Sambat New Year. It usually falls in October or November. People clean their houses and decorate them with colorful rangoli patterns. Families come together for feasts, and there are processions and cultural events in different parts of the Kathmandu Valley. This festival is a time for Newars to renew their cultural and familial bonds.
Nepal Sambat, also known as Nepa Sambat or Newar New Year, is a unique and culturally significant celebration in Nepal. It marks the beginning of a new year in the traditional lunar calendar of the Newar community, the indigenous people of the Kathmandu Valley. Nepal Sambat is a lunar calendar system that predates the widely used Bikram Sambat and Gregorian calendars.
The celebration of Nepal Sambat New Year typically falls in the month of October or November, depending on the lunar cycle. The festivities include various rituals, cultural performances, processions, and feasts. People clean and decorate their homes, light oil lamps, and offer prayers to deities for prosperity and good fortune in the coming year.
One of the most distinctive features of Nepal Sambat is the Nepal Sambat Guthi, an organization responsible for preserving and promoting the culture and traditions associated with this calendar. During the New Year celebration, the Nepal Sambat Guthi organizes various events, including a ceremonial chariot procession in Kathmandu’s historic Durbar Square.
Nepal Sambat New Year is not only a time for cultural revival but also for fostering a sense of community and solidarity among the Newar people. It is a testament to Nepal’s rich cultural diversity and the resilience of its indigenous cultures. This celebration serves as a reminder of the importance of preserving and celebrating the country’s diverse heritage.
Yenya Punhi (Indrajatra of Patan):
Yenya Punhi, also known as the Indrajatra of Patan, is similar to the Kathmandu Indra Jatra but is celebrated in Lalitpur (Patan) with its unique traditions and rituals. The Kumari of Patan also participates in the festival, and various forms of traditional dances and performances entertain the crowds. The festival typically takes place in September and lasts for eight days.
Mataya, also known as Matatirtha Aunsi, is a unique Newari festival dedicated to honoring mothers. It falls on the new moon day in April or May. Families gather at the Matatirtha pond on the outskirts of Kathmandu to pay homage to their mothers. People take a holy dip in the pond, make offerings, and spend quality time with their mothers, expressing their love and gratitude.
Jana Baha Dyah Jatra:
Jana Baha Dyah Jatra is a traditional chariot procession held in Kathmandu to honor the deity Jana Baha Dyah, a manifestation of Lord Vishnu. The festival typically takes place in April or May and involves the pulling of a massive chariot through the narrow streets of the city. Devotees participate in this grand procession, which includes traditional music, dance, and religious ceremonies.
These are just a few examples of the many Newari festivals celebrated in Nepal. Each festival has its unique customs, rituals, and significance, but they all serve to strengthen the cultural identity of the Newar community and bring people together in celebration of their rich heritage. These festivals also provide an opportunity for outsiders to glimpse the vibrant and diverse cultural tapestry of Nepal.
Newari Art and Architecture
The Newars have made significant contributions to Nepal’s art and architecture. The exquisite woodcarvings, intricate metalwork, and impressive pagodas found in temples and palaces are testaments to their artistic prowess. The iconic Patan Durbar Square and Bhaktapur Durbar Square are prime examples of Newar architecture and are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Newari art and architecture refer to the artistic and architectural traditions of the Newar people of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. The Newar community has a rich and diverse cultural heritage, and their art and architecture are highly influenced by both Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Here are some key aspects of Newari art and architecture:
Pagoda-style Temples: Newari architecture is best known for its distinctive pagoda-style temples. These temples have multiple tiers or stories with elaborately carved wooden roofs and eaves. The most famous example of this style is the Kathmandu Durbar Square, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Wood Carving: Wood carving is a prominent feature of Newari art and architecture. Skilled Newar craftsmen create intricate wooden carvings that adorn temple facades, windows, doors, and struts. These carvings often depict deities, mythical creatures, and religious symbols.
Malla Architecture: The Malla period in the Kathmandu Valley, from the 12th to the 18th century, saw a flourishing of Newari architecture. During this time, numerous temples, palaces, and other structures were built. The Malla kings were great patrons of the arts and architecture.
Stupas and Chaityas: Newari architecture also includes Buddhist stupas and chaityas. These structures are characterized by their dome-like shapes and are important religious and architectural elements. Swayambhunath (also known as the Monkey Temple) is a famous stupa in the Kathmandu Valley.
Durbar Squares: The three Durbar Squares in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Patan are centers of Newari art and architecture. These squares are surrounded by palaces, temples, and other historic structures, many of which showcase exquisite Newari craftsmanship.
Metalwork: Newari artisans are also known for their metalwork, including bronze and copper sculptures and ritual objects used in both Hindu and Buddhist religious practices.
Thangka Paintings: Thangka paintings, a traditional form of Tibetan Buddhist scroll painting, are also created by Newari artists. These paintings often depict religious deities and scenes and are used for meditation and religious rituals.
Festivals and Rituals: Newari art and architecture are closely linked to religious and cultural festivals. During festivals, temples and other structures are decorated, and processions are held, showcasing the vibrant art and architecture of the Newar community.
Preservation: The preservation of Newari art and architecture is a significant concern, as many of these historic structures are vulnerable to earthquakes and urban development. Efforts are being made to protect and restore these cultural treasures.
Overall, Newari art and architecture are an integral part of the cultural and religious identity of the Newar people, and they continue to play a crucial role in the cultural heritage of Nepal.
Newari Cuisine: A Gastronomic Adventure
Newari cuisine is perhaps one of the most enticing aspects of their culture. Known for its bold flavors and wide variety, Newari food is a gastronomic adventure that has captivated the taste buds of locals and travelers alike.
Newari cuisine refers to the traditional food and culinary traditions of the Newar people, the indigenous inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. Newari cuisine is known for its rich flavors, diverse dishes, and the use of local ingredients.
Newari cuisine is a rich and diverse culinary tradition originating from the Newar people, the indigenous inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. This unique cuisine is characterized by its flavorful dishes, creative use of ingredients, and a blend of indigenous and external culinary influences. Newari food plays a significant role in the cultural and social life of the community, often enjoyed during festivals, rituals, and family gatherings. Here are some key features of Newari cuisine:
Momos:These are dumplings made of a thin wheat flour dough and filled with various ingredients like minced meat (buffalo, chicken, or pork) or vegetables. They are typically served with a dipping sauce, often called achar.
Momos are a beloved and widely recognized Newari dish. These dumplings consist of a thin wheat flour dough filled with minced meat or vegetables, usually served with a spicy dipping sauce known as achar. Momos can be found throughout Nepal, but they have their roots in Newari culture.
Bara: These are fried lentil patties made from black gram dal. They are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and are often served with various sauces. Bara, another popular item, is made from black gram dal. These lentil patties are deep-fried to perfection, resulting in a crispy exterior and a soft, flavorful interior. They’re commonly served with various sauces and are a favorite among locals and tourists alike.
Yomari: Yomari is a sweet Newari delicacy made from rice flour and filled with sweet fillings like molasses and sesame seeds. It is traditionally made and consumed during the Yomari Punhi festival. Yomari is a unique sweet delicacy made from rice flour and filled with sweet fillings like molasses, sesame seeds, and spices. This special dish is traditionally prepared and consumed during the Yomari Punhi festival, symbolizing the Newar community’s rich culinary heritage.
For yomari recipe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHQLtwipDs4&ab_channel=YummyFoodWorld
Sel Roti: Sel roti is a traditional homemade, ring-shaped, rice-doughnut bread/doughnut. It’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and is a popular street food in Nepal.
Sel Roti is a traditional Newari rice doughnut. Made from rice flour, it’s prepared by frying the dough in a distinctive ring shape. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, it’s a popular street food in Nepal and a must-try for any visitor.
Newari Samay Baji: This is a traditional Newari platter served during special occasions and festivals. It includes various items like beaten rice (chiura), marinated meat, fish, and vegetable dishes, curd, and other accompaniments. During special occasions and festivals, Newari people prepare a grand feast known as Samay Baji. This elaborate platter includes beaten rice (chiura), marinated meat, fish, and vegetable dishes, curd, and a wide range of accompaniments. It reflects the importance of food in Newari culture and is a celebration of their culinary traditions.
Aila: Aila is a traditional Newari alcoholic beverage made from rice. It’s a strong liquor and is sometimes used in religious ceremonies and festivals. Aila is a traditional alcoholic beverage often associated with Newari cuisine. This strong liquor is made from rice and is sometimes used in religious ceremonies and festivals, symbolizing the fusion of culinary and spiritual practices.
Sekuwa: Sekuwa is a popular dish made by marinating and grilling skewered meat, usually buffalo or chicken. It’s often served with a variety of chutneys. Sekuwa is a popular dish prepared by marinating and grilling skewered meat, usually buffalo or chicken. It is served with a variety of chutneys, and the smoky, flavorful profile of Sekuwa is a favorite among locals.
Pau Kwa is one among the various traditional cuisines of the Newari community. This soup of sour plum fruit (lapsi) is one of the traditional Newari cuisine prepared mostly in the Newari households and is still unknown to many. The sour plum fruit or the lapsi, however, is a popular fruit used especially for making pickles.
Gundruk and Sinki:These are fermented leafy greens and vegetables respectively. They are commonly used as side dishes or added to soups and stews. Newari cuisine also features unique fermented items like Gundruk and Sinki. Gundruk is made from fermented leafy greens, while Sinki is prepared using fermented vegetables. These condiments are commonly used in side dishes or added to soups and stews, imparting a distinctive tangy flavor to the dishes.
Kwati: In Newari language, ‘Kwa’ means hot and ‘ti’ means soup. It is a soup prepared from a mixture of nine different types of sprouted beans (such as red kidney beans, soybeans, mung beans, black lentils, blacked eyed peas, chickpeas, cowpeas and green peas). It is a traditional Nepalese dish consumed during the festival of ‘Gun Punhi’ in Newari or ‘Janai Purnima’. Janai Purnima is the full moon day of Gunla which is the tenth month in the Nepal Era calendar as well as in the first day of the month in Newari calendar. It signifies the end of the rainy season (Ashar-Shrawan) and the beginning of the winter season in Nepal. This super-nutritious soup is believed to cure common diseases like body pain, cold, etc. It’s a perfect dish to rejuvenate your whole body and strengthen the immune system.
Chatamari: Chatamari, often referred to as “Nepali Pizza,” is a popular Newari dish. This traditional delicacy is a type of rice crepe that’s thin and round, resembling a pizza crust. Chatamari is made from a rice flour batter, which is spread thinly on a flat pan and cooked until it becomes a crisp and delicate crepe. Toppings can vary, but commonly include minced meat (buffalo, chicken, or pork), vegetables, eggs, and a variety of seasonings. It’s a delightful fusion of flavors and textures, making it a versatile and beloved dish in Newari cuisine, perfect for both casual snacking and festive occasions.
Juju Dhau: Sweet, creamy yogurt served in clay pots, a specialty of Bhaktapur
Choila: Choila is a traditional and spicy Newari dish originating from Nepal. It is typically made with grilled or roasted meat, traditionally water buffalo, but also sometimes chicken or other meats. The meat is first marinated with a mixture of spices, including garlic, ginger, green chilies, and mustard oil. After marinating, it’s grilled or roasted until it’s smoky and tender.
Choila is known for its bold and fiery flavor, thanks to the liberal use of spices. The smokiness from the grilling or roasting process adds another layer of complexity. It is often served with beaten rice (chiura), which helps balance the heat of the dish.
Choila is a popular appetizer or snack in Newari cuisine and is often served during festivals, celebrations, and special occasions. Its rich flavor and cultural significance make it a beloved dish in Nepal.
Kachila: Kachila is a traditional Newari dish from Nepal, and it’s similar in preparation to another Newari dish called “Choila.” Like Choila, Kachila features marinated and spiced meat, which is typically buffalo meat, although chicken or other meats can be used as well.
The preparation of Kachila involves marinating the meat in a mixture of spices, including garlic, ginger, green chilies, and mustard oil. The marinated meat is not cooked through heat but is instead left to ferment, similar to a ceviche. The acidic properties of the spices and mustard oil partially “cook” the meat during the fermentation process.
Kachila is known for its bold and tangy flavors, and it often has a pungent aroma due to the mustard oil and spices. It’s usually served as an appetizer or side dish, accompanied by beaten rice (chiura) or other accompaniments, making it a popular choice during Newari festivals and special occasions.
The fermentation process of Kachila gives it a distinctive taste, and it is a significant part of Newari cuisine’s culinary heritage in Nepal.
Overall, Newari cuisine offers a rich tapestry of flavors, ingredients, and traditions. It reflects the cultural and culinary heritage of the Newar people, with a mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes that cater to a variety of palates. Whether enjoyed during festivals, family gatherings, or at local eateries, Newari cuisine is a testament to the vibrancy and diversity of Nepal’s gastronomic landscape. It invites locals and visitors alike to savor the unique flavors and traditions that have been cherished for generations.
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Newari Traditions: Preserving Heritage
The Newar community is dedicated to preserving their cultural traditions and passing them down through generations. Newari traditions are deeply rooted in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, and they play a crucial role in preserving the cultural and historical heritage of the Newar people. These traditions encompass a wide range of cultural practices, rituals, and customs, all of which contribute to the rich tapestry of Newari culture. Here are some key Newari traditions that help in preserving their heritage:
Festivals and Celebrations:
Newars are known for their vibrant and numerous festivals. Each festival is an occasion for the community to come together, celebrate their heritage, and pay homage to their gods and ancestors. Festivals like Indra Jatra, Machhindranath Jatra, and New Year (Nepal Sambat) are essential in preserving Newar culture.
Newari Language and Scripts:
The Newars have their own language, Nepal Bhasa (Newari), which has several scripts. The preservation of these scripts and language is crucial for maintaining their cultural identity. Various literary and cultural works in Nepal Bhasa play a role in this preservation.
Art and Architecture:
Newar art and architecture, characterized by intricate wood carvings and distinctive pagoda-style temples, are a testament to the rich cultural heritage. The preservation and restoration of these structures and art forms are ongoing efforts to maintain Newari traditions.
Newari cuisine is an integral part of their culture. Traditional dishes like momo, yomari, and bara are not only delicious but also reflect the culinary heritage of the Newar people. Cooking techniques and recipes are passed down through generations.
Newar traditions are deeply intertwined with both Hindu and Buddhist practices. They have their own unique religious rituals and ceremonies, often performed at home or in temples. These religious practices are vital in preserving their spiritual and cultural identity.
Music and Dance:
Newars have distinct forms of music and dance, such as the Newar classical music known as “Nepali classical” and traditional dance forms like “Nepal Bhasa dances.” These art forms are preserved and performed during festivals and cultural events.
Newar traditional attire, which includes colorful clothing and jewelry, is still worn during festivals and special occasions. This helps preserve their distinctive fashion heritage.
Many Newar communities have traditional occupations like pottery, metalwork, and farming. These professions are passed down through generations and contribute to the preservation of their heritage.
Newar communities are closely knit, and their traditions are often passed on through community involvement. Elders play a significant role in teaching younger generations about their culture and customs.
Efforts for Preservation:
Various cultural organizations and institutions in Nepal, as well as individuals and families, actively work to preserve and promote Newari traditions. This includes the documentation of rituals, festivals, and historical accounts.
The Newars take pride in their craftsmanship, which includes pottery, metalwork, and woodcarving. These skills are handed down through generations
Newar Marriage Traditions:
Newar weddings are elaborate affairs, involving numerous rituals and ceremonies. The “Janti,” a procession of the groom’s party, is a colorful and musical highlight.
The Newars follow their own calendar systems, including the Nepal Sambat and Nepal Era. These calendars play a significant role in their festivals and celebrations.
In conclusion, Newari traditions are a testament to the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the Newar people. These traditions, encompassing language, art, cuisine, and more, are actively preserved and celebrated, ensuring that the unique cultural identity of the Newars continues to thrive in Nepal’s modern society.
The Newar community in Nepal is a testament to the rich tapestry of culture and traditions that define the country. From their unique language and syncretic religious practices to their vibrant festivals and delectable cuisine, the Newars have left an indelible mark on Nepal’s cultural landscape. Exploring Newari food, culture, and traditions is not just a journey into the past but an invitation to savor the diversity and richness of Nepal’s heritage. As Nepal continues to evolve and modernize, it is essential to cherish and preserve these age-old traditions that make the country truly remarkable.
Written by : Sandeep Maharjan
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