Below I will present a list of foods of ritual and social significance among the Newars. The data has been classified under three headings: 1) preparation, 2) general use, and 3) social and ritual significance. Under the last mentioned heading the usage of the food items is accounted for, with special reference to their significance in social and ritual contexts. The significations, i.e., the publicly recognized meanings of those food items that have such, are also accounted for under this heading. Of course, a separate heading “significations” could have been made. However, I feel, it would make the discourse cumbersome. For stylistic reasons I also, according to the context, use various synonyms such as signify, express, announce, etc.
The descriptions of the preparation of the various dishes are at some points rather vague. This is so because the data on cooking has largely been obtained by interviews. Two factors prevented direct observation. Firstly, Westerners are known to be beef-eaters. Even if I had denied this, people would have thought that my father or grandfathers were beef-eaters, and according to the idiom of caste and ritual purity, beef-eaters (and their descendants) are “unclean” and even to some people “untouchable,” comparable to the Sarke (cobbler) caste, and should rather not be allowed above the ground floor, or even into the house, of a respectable Newari household. This is the traditional view. It has declined, though it still has some influence, especially among the old and pious. Secondly, the female-male relationship in Newari culture is such that it would have been regarded as extremely inappropriate and damaging to my hosts’ reputation, to have a young foreign male spending his time with the household’s women while they were cooking.
The list is exploratory, and far from a complete list of Newari food items and their social meanings. The method used to acquire the data has been the following: all food items encountered during my field work in the Jyapu village Sunakothi were listed, whereafter I systematically went through these lists with my assistant Durga Bahadur Maharjan. When anything was unclear, his senior relatives and elderly villagers were consulted. I did not have the opportunity to work as thoroughly in Kathmandu. The data which refers to Kathmandu is instead based on notes, haphazardly collected, and on studies of the literature. It should here be said, that the list could be made much more extensive if I had worked with the same method there, as the Kathmandu and Patan Newars are wealthier and spend more money on food. Indeed, in the cities, I encountered food items which were not at all known in the countryside. All data below refers to the Jyapu of Sunakothi, if it is not denoted that it refers to other castes.
Preparation: Ayela is distilled by the women from rice or millet.
General use: Ayela is commonly served to greet a visitor. At some festivals it is made and consumed in many households.
Social and ritual significance: Ayela is particularly important among the high castes in Kathmandu and Patan, who drink it on many occasions. However, it is distilled and drunk by most Newar castes. To be served ayela when one arrives at a household expresses the host’s hospitality, etc. Among the Uray and other upper castes it is said to be very important that the ayela served at marriages is of excellent quality, as it determines the reputation of the household. Its importance is also reflected in that Pakhanayedyo is worshipped in order that the womens’ preparation of ayela may be successful. One Newari month Pahela is closely associated with ayela. Pahela, literally, means the month of fermentation and is regarded as the month which is best for fermentation. Indeed, ayela mash is often fermented in this month. The Pahela month falls in the winter season, shortly before the marriage season.
According to my informants in the past ayela was frequently drunk in the mornings. The nowadays common greeting ja naye dwunu la? (have You eaten boiled rice) has supplanted the greeting kwala tunu dwunu la? (Have You had a peg of ayela?) Nowadays, due to an increasing understanding of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption as well as the teetotaling ideal the Parbatya castes have provided, ayela is rarely consumed in the mornings. However, it may still occur, particularly on feast days and at animal sacrifices which are concluded by a toast of ayela, which is offered even to the smallest children as a sacrament. Religiously ayela is connected to Jogini and, according to Nepali, represents this Goddess in the paraphernalia used at the Digu dyo puja.(Nepali 1965:392)
Beaten or “flattened” rice.
Preparation: Baji looks somewhat like oats. It is prepared by first boiling rice for a minute; then it is slightly roasted, and lastly it is flattened. Formerly, the women were often seen doing this, using a wooden mortar and heavy wooden poles. However, after the introduction of electric machinery, in the seventies, this has rapidly disappeared.
General use: Baji is one of the most important items in the Newari diet. It is eaten daily as “tiffin,” the snack-like meal one eats at midday. It is also the mainstay of large feasts; at feasts baji is the base to which various meats and curried vegetables, etc., are added.
Social and ritual significance: Baji is less susceptible to pollution than ja (boiled rice). Thus, one may accept baji served by various people. However, one does not accept it from the la maju group of castes: i.e., from those from whom one does not accept water. Ritually it is used in dhau sagan (see below) which is served when people depart on, or arrive from, a long journey. Baji is also part of the nisala offering in Sraddha (Pyan) ceremonies. Then, it is mixed with a piece of ginger, salt, some coins, and nowadays, a biscuit. Baji is also found as a component in many minor offerings to various deities. Furthermore, baji is given to Brahmans, whenever one of them officiates at a domestic puja (rite), as the Brahmans do accept baji, although not ja, from the Jyapu. The Brahmans are then given curd, which they mix with the baji.
Mixed grains for sacrifice.
Preparation: Uncooked grains are mixed. Ideally, there should be nine varieties. However, I could not find even one informant who could enumerate the nine grains; in most biwa there are actually fewer.
General use: Sacrifice.
Social and ritual significance: Biwa is offered to the gods on various occasions, particularly after a death in the family, when one goes to various temples to scatter biwa to the deities. In Sunakothi, at Mataya, it is given to every God and Goddess in the village by the women who go around in a procession doing this. The prescription that there should be nine different kinds of grain may be related to the Naudurga cult, the cult of the nine Durgas, though I have not been able to confirm this from informants. Biwa means literally: give-grain.
Preparation: Bhuti is a kind of white bean which is used for better feasts. It is soaked and then cooked to a curry.
General use: At feasts.
Social and ritual significance: Bhuti is regarded as indispensable at better feasts, at marriages, at Kyetapuja, and at Barabhoye (feast that concludes the girl’s pre-menstrual seclusion). They are more expensive than other beans, and it is regarded as a token of respect and esteem to serve it to close relatives, etc.
Prepared bhuti is not accepted from “unclean” castes.
Preparation: Caku is made from sugar cane which is brought from the Terai. It is processed in Patan and in Kathmandu.
General use: Caku is regarded as a sweet in itself and is an important component in Newari sweets, too.
Social and ritual significance: Caku is eaten by new mothers, at marriage ceremonies, and on other occasions. It is served as a lump, with flattened rice, cooked meat, and ghyö. It is particularly important to eat at the Ghyöcaku sanlu day. Then children go to their maternal uncle’s home to have it. Its ritual significance is that it is said to make childless women bear offspring.
In relation to caste, caku may not be eaten with the castes one does not accept water from. However, it may be eaten with lower castes. For instance, a Jyapu may eat it together with a Nau (barber).
Preparation: Cana are cooked, fried, or roasted.
General use: Cana are eaten, more or less anytime on their own, roasted or fried and curried with flattened rice (baji).
Social and ritual significance: Cana is not ritually prescribed for any occasion. However, cana may not be eaten in the company of “unclean” castes nor accepted from them. Among Newars, as far as I could determine, it has no particular social or ritual significance, apart from the interdiction mentioned, although in India it is often offered to the Gods and then eaten as a prasad.
Flat breads made of rice.
Preparation: Catamari are steamed from rice flour.
General use: Catamari are regarded as a delicacy.
Social and ritual significance: Catamari are eaten at the Bala-Kumari Yatra, when every villager gets one as prasad from Bala-Kumari: i.e., in this context, it expresses village unity and the villagers’ relation to the Goddess.
Dust from the preparation of baji.
Preparation: Cokka baji is made from the tips which are residual in the making of beaten rice. Cokka literally means “tips.”
General use: Cokka baji is never eaten by people, though it is often fed to the ghosts.
Social and ritual significance: Cokka baji is food for the ghosts and spirits. It is fed to these whenever they are thought to be dangerously present, for instance, when a bride is taken into the house, during the Laskas rite, and when a child is brought to its mother’s parental household for the first time. Then, cokka baji is scattered at the cross roads or at the pekhalukhu (an area in front of the door which represents Kartikeya), etc. It is also needed at the bhau (plate with offerings to spirits and ghosts), unless cokka baji is among the offerings the ghosts “will not eat,” it is said.
Roasted wheat and soya.
Preparation: Wheat grain and soy beans are roasted.
General use: Chusyamusya is often eaten at midday as a snack.
Social and ritual significance: Chusyamusya is customarily eaten by the Jyapu at Sivaratri, Sakhamari punhi, Bara ceremonies, and at Nyapakhu marriages. Furthermore, among the Uray it was traditionally sent from the wive’s parental homes, until the wives had born children. These gifts of chusyamusya would coincide with the period of Agamdyo (secret patrilineal cult) worship. This act is regarded as an honouring of both the affines and their “family-god.” Chusyamusya is also sent by the maternal uncles to girls who are undergoing Bara ceremonies. That is to say chusyamusya may give expression to affinal and avuncular relationships.
Chusyamusya is not accepted from lower castes.
Preparation: There are several varieties of choyala: plain choyala, haku choyala, and mana choyala. The common choyala, which I have called plain here, is prepared by frying buffalo meat in a ladle with oil. Haku choyala (lit., black choyala) is made by roasting the meat directly on the coals of the hearth. Mana choyala is made by first boiling the meat in water, then spices are added, and lastly it is fried in boiling oil in a ladle.
General use: Choyala is one of the most important items in the Newari menu. It is practically eaten daily if one can afford it and in almost any context.
Social and ritual significance: Choyala is eaten at most feasts, though not at the very largest, as it is impractical to prepare choyala for several hundred persons. It is also a part of same baji and many other offerings which are eaten after having been sacrificed.
Furthermore, choyala is important as it heralds the coming of a ritually significant day, the arrival of festivals, as most major festivals begin with choyala bhu (lit., choyala plate), i.e., a plate with baji, choyala and — usually — a curry, with which one serves beer (thon) or spirits (ayela). The choyala bhu is eaten instead of the usual boiled rice meal the day before the festival starts, and these days are commonly referred to as choyala bhu. Choyala bhu may also be observed the day before an important domestic rite, e.g., Kyetapuja when choyala bhu is served to the maternal uncle of the initiand. The former has important ritual functions at the Kyetapuja. Choyala is associated to the Tantric tradition, which has reversed many of the food rules under Vaisnavitic Hinduism. Choyala is not eaten on vrta days, nor for twelve days after the death of a household member, i.e., up to the Ghasu. Choyala is not accepted from castes lower than one’s own.
Preparation: Tea leaves, or tea dust, are stewed with water, milk, and sugar, whereafter the concoction is strained. The taste and quality are extremely varied. Often second quality tea (“dust tea”) is used and much sugar is added. In the past salt tea was drunk by the castes who traded with Tibet. This tea is prepared with butter and salt.
General use: Among urbanites tea is drunk quite often. Then, it is taken the first thing in the morning. However, among the farmers it is rarely drunk. It is generally not part of the daily food intake.
Social and ritual significance: Friends occasionally go to drink tea together. Tea shops are sometimes popular spots where people hang about. Tea may also be served to guests in well-to-do households. However, tea seems to lack ritual significance.
Preparation: Milk is made to curdle by setting it in a clay bowl. Dhaupusa, i.e., old curd, is applied along the rim. The bowl is set on a bed of paddy husks to warm it, while it is curdling.
General use: Dhau is a highly valued food item. People who keep buffaloes prepare it and eat it often. However, its cost is out of reach for most people. Hence, it is generally not eaten daily.
Dhau is known to be good against dysentery, and persons who suffer severe diarrhoea are often fed curd with flattened rice.
Social and ritual significance: Dhau is eaten at all large feasts. Then it is served with sugar and beaten rice towards the end of the meal, after the main courses (the meat) have been eaten, in order to purify after the meat consumption. Dhau’s purifying effect stems from the fact that it is a product of the holy cow — indeed, everything derived from the cow is sacred and purifying, including the dung (which is used to smear on the floor) and the urine. Dhau is also an essential part of dhau sagan, a ritual dish (of dhau and baji) which is served when someone departs on a long journey and at certain life cycle rituals: e.g., at Kyetapuja, as observed in Sunakothi, the maternal uncle and aunt of the initiand bless him by giving him dhau sagan. Dhau sagan may also be taken after a narrow escape from an accident, thought to be an act of God. Among the Uray it is used in several rites in connection with the marriage. Newar informants explain that dhau sagan means literally “curd good omen.” Ritually, it signifies purity. Dhau is also smeared on the cheeks in certain rituals, for instance, at Mhapuja and Kijapuja. The Urya also give it at birthdays and several other occasions, generally in connection with the life cycle rites. Dhau can be eaten on vrta days. However, it is also subject to a number of taboos. Dhau may not be eaten for one year after one’s father has died. It is regarded as analogous to semen, as it is sour. Furthermore, dhau may not be eaten with those castes one does not accept water from. However, it may be bought from the Nay butchers.
Preparation: Dulca is prepared from ka, the residual rice after beer brewing. The ka is cooked with meat and spices. The result is a brown soup-like drink. Its taste is somewhat like a fermented bouillon.
General use: At feasts only.
Social and ritual significance: Dulca is not accepted from lower castes. At better feasts it is invariably served towards the end of the meal. Dulca is said to be good for the digestion. In Sunakothi the Jyapu only serve it at feasts which are held in the day time. The Uray say it is an essential component in outdoor feasts (khya bhoye).
Preparation: Ghalaphala is a curried stew. First vegetables are boiled in water; later when they are half cooked, spices and mustard oil are added. Lastly buffalo meat is put into the stew.
General use: Ghalaphala is generally eaten at large feasts and served with baji.
Social and ritual significance: Ghalaphala is regarded as a necessary and much appreciated item at large feasts. Ghalaphala is not accepted from lower castes.
Clarified butter, (Hindi “ghee”)
Preparation: Ghyö is prepared by churning milk which has been allowed to sour. The resulting substance is called tahar; it is cooked; and when it has cooled, one has obtained ghyö.
General use: Ghyö may be eaten on any occasion. It is used in curries, etc., if one can afford to. Otherwise, the cheaper mustard oil is generally used for cooking purposes.
Social and ritual significance: Ghyö is regarded as very pure in itself, to the extent that it can not be polluted, and hence it may be accepted from any caste. One informant told me it was as pure as the sacred river Ganges and as pure as dhau (curd). The reason for the great purity of the ghyö is that it is a product derived from the cow. Lower castes will offer ghyö to the Brahman when he comes to officiate at domestic ceremonies, to recite the holy stories, etc. Even the vegetable curries and other foods offered to a Brahman on such occasions will be prepared with ghyö. Ghyö is prescribed to be eaten at Ghyöcaku sanlu. This day one eats ghyö, molasses, ginger, and flattened rice. It is thought that women hereby become pregnant. Women also anoint their backs with mustard oil on this day.
Preparation: Gorma is made by cooking the hide and the bones from a buffalo for at least ten hours. Often it will be cooked on low heat for much longer. The result is a white pudding to which one adds meat and spices, before it is allowed to settle.
General use: It is only eaten by the Buddhist castes in Kathmandu and Patan. It is prepared on various festive occasions.
Social and ritual significance: In Vajrayana ritual it occurs as “cow meat.” This may sound remarkable at first, considering that Hindu tradition has saturated even the Newari Buddhist culture. However, a closer look at ancient Vedic civilization reveals that cows were not only eaten but also sacrificed to the Gods in Vedic times. However, this is not general knowledge in Nepal, and the fact that gorma is regarded as cow meat is sometimes interpreted by the Buddhists (Vajracharya, Bare and Uray), as an indication that they are descendants of a non-Indian, even non-Hindu people. Moreover, they are clearly aware of that only Buddhists eat, or even know of, gorma.
Betel nut (Areca)
Preparation: Goye is always cut up into pieces before it is chewed.
General use: Goye is generally chewed plain, as it is, or with pieces of cloves and cardamoms. It is often chewed after meals, though many people will chew it anytime, analogously to the way westerners consume chewing gum, chocolate bars, and toffees.
Social and ritual significance: Pieces of goye are often offered as tokens of friendship or respect, as chewing betel nuts is regarded as a pleasantry. Unbroken goye is an important ritual item which marks the conclusion of a marriage contract. Unbroken goye are, for instance, sent to the bride’s household from the groom’s, and the acceptance of the nuts signify that the marriage has been agreed to by the two parties. For instance, among the Jyapu, this is expressed in the fact that if the bride should die after the nuts have been accepted, the groom’s household is responsible for the last rites, the cremation, etc. Unbroken goye is also distributed among the relatives on both sides in various rites connected to the marriage. Here the betel nuts signify the acceptance of the marriage agreement by the bride’s family and phuki, and the groom’s family and phuki, respectively. By refusing to take betel nuts they can, on either side, indicate that they do not accept the marriage, and consequently, that they do not accept the bride or the groom into “their society.” In the past it may also have marked divorce. According to Nepali (1965:239) and Pradhan (1979:15) divorce could be initiated by the woman, in some instances, by placing two betel nuts under the husband’s pillow. It is said to have occurred that a woman who does not want to mourn a dying husband places two betel nuts on top of his chest when he is dying or already dead, particularly in child marriages, when the marriage has not yet been consummated. Goye is also used among the Uray of Kathmandu to convey the message of the new-born child’s gender to its mother’s parental home. If the child is a boy, unbroken betel nuts are sent, and if it is a girl, halved nuts are sent. The former represents testicles (birth of a boy), and the latter vagina (birth of a girl). Goye also represents endurance, as it has an “everlasting” quality. Hence, it is used in rituals to express the wish for this type of relationship, particularly in the marriage ceremonies.(See Tuladhar 1979/80)
Goye is not chewed when one is mourning, i.e., when one wears white mourning dress. If the deceased was a member of the same household, one will not chew it for one year. In case the death is of a member of one’s phuki (patrilineage) who lives in a different household, one will abstain from goye for twelve days, i.e., up to the Ghasu.
Goye is sold in shops held by any caste and in roadside stalls. It is not subject to caste restrictions, though upper caste people would hardly accept it from “untouchables,” who, in any case, would be unlikely to offer it to them.
Fermented radish leaves
Preparation: Gundro is prepared from dried radish leaves. The leaves are soaked in water, then they are put in a clay pot to ferment under a cloth cover for ten to fifteen days. Then it is ready to be served without further preparation, though sometimes spices are added.
General use: Gundro is a popular dish, largely because it is cheap, and, sometimes people are embarrassed to admit that they eat it daily, as it is thought to mark poverty. Gundro is eaten at any meal: morning, day, or evening. Some people regard it as a pickle and eat it only in moderate quantities, whereas others regard it as a tarakari (curry) and eat large quantities. Gundro can be eaten both with boiled rice (ja) and with flattened rice (baji). It is never served at large feasts.
Social and ritual significance: Gundro is part of the ritual codes that apply after the death of someone in the household, both by proscription and by prescription. After a death in the household it is not eaten for the first eleven days following the demise. However, at the Ghasu, the ceremonial meal held on the twelfth day subsequent to a demise, it is prescribed to be eaten.
Betel (Areca) leaf
Preparation: Gwa is a betel leaf into which various spices and lime are rolled. There are several varieties, which differ from one another by the condiments. Such a roll is known as pan and is generally bought from a pan shop. It is brought to Sunakothi from Patan.
General use: In Sunakothi it is eaten by the Jyapu at the yatras (communal religious events), after better feasts, and at marriages.
Social and ritual significance: Pan is not accepted from lower castes, because in the pan shops the betel leaves are left lying in water to be kept fresh. It has a social meaning, as it is expensive and highly esteemed to chew. In Sunakothi it is offered to visiting relatives from other villages who come to see the yatra. Among the Uray the initiand at Kyeta puja walks over seven pan leaves laid out on the bottom floor of the house. This is analogous to the way Buddha took seven steps when he became enlightened.
Pan is also thought to help against coughing; so sometimes people take it for this reason.
Black soya beans
Preparation: Hakugu musya is most often fried but it may also be roasted.
General use: Hakugu musya can be eaten on most occasions. It is commonly eaten at large feasts, and it is a necessary item in some rituals.
Social and ritual significance: Hakugu musya is needed at large feasts, when it is served as a curry. It is also a necessary item in Bhauthegu: i.e., ritual plates with food offerings that are set or scattered at crossroads (for the Ajimas, grandmother Goddesses) or at a spot in the fields which one forgot to plant (to satisfy a ghost which is thought to have caused one to forget to plant it). It is also needed at Sa puja, a kind of worship which is performed on Tuesdays and Saturdays at certain temples to cure the ill. In this context, it is thought to be the equivalent of animal sacrifice; it is the poor man’s “animal sacrifice.” Households that are mourning do not eat haku musya for a full year, i.e., as long as they wear white mourning dress. Phukis, patrilineal kinsmen who live in other households, and married daughters of the household do not eat it for twelve days after a demise. If fried or roasted, haku musya is not accepted from lower castes.
Preparation: Hila is a preparation based on meat. It contains curried meat and hi (asafoetida). The meat is first fried; then curd and asafoetida are added.
General use: Hila is eaten at happy feasts. The Jyapu of Sunakothi eat it only at marriages.
Social and ritual significance: Among the Jaypoo in Sunakothi, it is an essential item at marriage feasts. Indeed, it is regarded as necessary. I was unable to obtain any explanation for this.
Preparation: The seeds are first fried, then ground to a powder.
General use: Powdered imu is thrown in the fire; then, the smoke is directed up to the palms which are held over the fire. First, one has applied oil on the hands to make the essence of the smoke stick to them. Afterwards, one rubs the ailing part — with the “smoked” palms — for instance, the belly of a child. Generally, celery seeds are generally not eaten. Only women at childbirth do eat celery seeds.
Social and ritual significance: One does not accept cooked or fried imu from lower castes. However, there is no bar against buying raw imu from lower castes.
Preparation: Ja is boiled white rice. It is boiled in water forty minutes to one hour. However, it differs in one aspect from boiled rice as it is known in the west, namely, in that salt is not added when it is cooked.
General use: Ja is eaten twice a day: in the morning (9 A.M.) and in the evening (8 p m). Sometimes, it is also eaten on other occasions, for instance, as “tiffin” while working in the fields during the cold season. Generally ja is eaten with lentil soup (ke) and vegetable curry (tarakari). If one can afford it, a meat dish will also be added. The amount of ja consumed is initially startling to the westerner. Compared to an Occidental meal with rice, there will be several times as much rice as one is accustomed to. When the plate is set, there is literally a mountain of rice on it.
Social and ritual significance: Ja is generally only eaten with relatives and members of one’s own caste. It is usually eaten away from the public, in private. There are interdictions against accepting ja from the hands of lower castes; that is to say, that the Sunakothi villagers, who are Jyapu by caste, do accept ja from Shresthas, Brahmans, and Vajracharyas (Gubhaju). However, the question rarely arises, as other castes tend to be cautious about offering ja to persons who do not belong to the same caste. To accept rice from other castes, generally indicates either equality or ritual, and hence social inferiority, although there is also a tradition, wherein religious merit is gained by feeding priests.
The boiled rice is in certain contexts highly symbolically charged. Eating boiled rice together, particularly sitting in the same line, signifies that those who eat are included in the same social unit: caste, household, phuki, guthi (See chapters IV, V, VII and VIII).
Ja is not eaten at large feasts and at certain festivals. Then it may be replaced by baji (flattened rice) or even by a fast. Furthermore, it is not eaten by girls who are undergoing the Bara rites for twelve days preceding the final rites. During this period the girl(s) is in a state of liminality, as she is secluded in a dark room and may see neither the sun nor any man’s face. Ja is also not eaten on vrta days, i.e., on days when fasting is prescribed by the ritual calendar. Ideally, it should not be eaten at all these days, but in practice most only abstain from the morning rice. Furthermore, it is not eaten on the days of Latya, Kula and Dakhila, which are large ceremonial feasts which follow a demise. Nor is it eaten on “Debca” (day of digudyo worship), on Sraddha days (Annually repeated ceremony for a departed relative), or at Kyetapuja (Boys initiation rite). Thus absence of boiled rice marks marginality in connection with certain sacred days and life cycle rites.
Boeuf tartar (Newari style)
Preparation: Kacila is based on minced raw buffalo meat. The meat is first minced, then spices are added — among them, garlic is important. At last hot mustard oil is poured over the concoction.
General use: Kacila is generally served only at small intimate feasts and not at large feasts. The reason cited for this is that it would be too difficult and time consuming to prepare for a large group of people.
Social and ritual significance: Kacila is eaten at “happy,” or joyous occasions. My informants mentioned Piniwanegu (the Jyapu-groom’s first visit to his wife’s parental home, on the fourth day after the bride has been brought to his house) and other occasions related to marriage among the Jyapu as examples. Some households also eat it at Sunti (devalli).
Kachila is not served at sad feasts, for instance ,those subsequent to a death.
Kachila is not accepted from lower castes. Furthermore, some people do not like it, much as some westerners do not like bouef tartar, disgusted by the idea of eating raw meat. Here, it should be mentioned that the Newars, too, are apprehensive of the dangers of raw meat, and that the meat is carefully selected; only the best will do.
Preparation: Kamghasa is made by grinding soaked peas and adding spices.
General use: It is used for worship at Ghasu only.
Social and ritual significance: It is used for worship at Ghasu, the ritual meal held the twelfth day after a demise and which marks the end of the immediate death pollution. At the Ghasu kamghasa is set in front of every plate. Afterwards it is thrown at the pekhalukhu (“pekhalikhi”) in front of the door and at the chwasal (crossroads). The offering at the pekhalukhu is given to Kumar and the one at the chwasal to the Ajimas, the grandmother Goddesses.
Preparation: Kegu can be prepared in several ways. It can be curried or pickled; the latter is an especially popular achar. Dried kegu are soaked in water and then cooked. One kind of pickle (achar) is obtained by mixing raw chilli with amaling, a sour fruit. There are several varieties of peas: small, large, dried, etc.
General use: Kegu are generally not served at small feasts but are commonly served at large feasts.
Social and ritual significance: Kegu are not accepted from the hands of low caste people. Kegu sometimes serve to convey to the participants the message that a feast is over. Then, it is served last, after the curd and the sugar, to convey that no further dishes are going to be served. In this context, only two or three peas are dropped on the plate by the bhonies (the persons who serve).
Preparation: Khe is either fried in mustard oil or boiled.
General use: Eggs are generally not eaten daily, except for among the very wealthiest, but are often reserved for special occasions.
Social and ritual significance: Eggs are often used to greet a guest. Then one egg will be served with flattened rice and some alcohol, beer, or spirits depending on which is available. This is called paha yaye (lit., guest make), and, sometimes, in common parlance, khe sagan (lit., egg good omen). To be greeted thus, with egg, flattened rice, and spirits is a sign of respect and care for one’s person. Among the explicitly Buddhistic castes only duck eggs are served in this fashion. The Buddhists have a traditional taboo against chicken eggs and chicken meat, though nowadays it is not strictly observed. The cited explanation for the taboo is that Buddha once had a toe which was infested by a worm. He suffered much from this, and a chicken gave him relief by picking out the worm. In Sunakothi, the taboo is still observed to some extent in households that are actively devoted to Buddha. In some of those households the household’s head will refrain from chicken eggs. Furthermore, among the pronouncedly Buddhistic castes the taboo is more strictly observed. For instance, up until the 1970’s marriages between the Uray of Kathmandu and Patan were rare. The Uray of Kathmandu particularly did not want to marry the Tamrakhars of Patan, because they were “known to eat chicken and chicken eggs.”
Duck eggs, on the other hand, are uncontroversial and are eaten by all. They are generally used in paha yaye and in khe sagan. Duck eggs are often used in offerings to various gods: to the Laksmi (goddess of wealth) in the storage room, to the Digudyo (Patrilineal god), to the Ajimas, indeed, to any Tantric deity. However, duck eggs are the poor man’s offering. If one can afford it or is desperate for a boon from the Gods, one will preferably sacrifice a duck or a billy goat.
Neither chicken nor duck eggs are accepted from the lamaju- castes, if prepared in any way.
Eggs are frequent in rituals, wherein they represent fertility, prosperity, and birth; khe sagan is a way to give someone a good omen or to wish him or her fertility and prosperity. Khe sagan is also given at all life cycle rites which mark the entry of individual into a new status, i.e., in a sense becoming reborn. A piece of cloth should also be given with the khe sagan. Furthermore, in certain rites the initiand is placed in a large earthen jar from which he breaks out analogous to the way a chicken gets out of an egg. This occurs at the last form of Jya janko.
Pieces of roasted meat
Preparation: Kwala is prepared in the same way as choyala, though extra care is taken to ensure the meat is tender. Sometimes it is made from brains of buffalo.
General use: See below.
Social and ritual significance: Among the Jyapu Kwala is served at all large feasts. Here it is a necessary item, as those who serve (bhonie) do not eat or drink before the kwala has been served. At the feasts following a death, it is served ritually into the palms of the participants, who do not put it on the plate but eat it immediately, washing it down with beer or spirits — in a sense similar to the Occidental toast. Afterwards, the persons who have served the food are free to sit down to eat. Kwala is not accepted from lower castes, nor is it served at smaller feasts. It is not eaten on vrta days, nor for twelve days following a death, i.e., up to the Ghasu.
Mixed bean sprouts
Preparation: Kwati is prepared by making beans sprout. Generally, it is said that there should be nine types of beans in the kwati. However, I found that the villagers in Sunakothi would only put four or five varieties in the kwati. I could not find a single informant who could enumerate all nine varieties of beans which should go into the ideal kwati. The soya bean is soaked four or nine days; the others are soaked only one night. At last the sprouted beans are cooked to a thick soup (kae). Kwati is generally served with ja, boiled rice.
General use: There is no general use, but kwati is prescribed to be eaten at Janai purnima only.
Social and ritual significance: Kwati is prescribed to be eaten at the Janai purnima (lit., the full moon of the sacred thread), a full moon when Siva is worshipped and the Bya ja nakegu (lit., to make frogs eat boiled rice) rites are performed and at juga. Kwati is said to have several effects. It “makes one strong,” and it purifies one’s stomach because the beans sprouts are hard to digest and thus cleanse the stomach. Indeed, when kwati is eaten at Janai purnima, during the monsoon season, dysentery is rampant. Moreover, eating kwati is said to kill a certain kind of mosquito. The idea is that, while eating kwati, one also eats the mosquito in a metaphorical sense. As the rains are subsiding in this season, according to popular conception, one can see the result in that there are fewer mosquitoes.
I have not been able to ascertain if kwati has other connotations. However, one may conjecture that it be related to the mysteries of creation and growth. That there are nine kinds of beans may reflect a relation to the Naudurga cult, the cult of the nine Durgas, though I have not been able to confirm this.
For one year after a demise, Kwati is not eaten in households where somebody who had passed Bara (girls’ menstrual seclusion) or Kyetapuja (boys initiation). Phukis, living in other households, only observe this interdiction for twelve days: i.e., only in case the death occurred within the twelve days that precede Janai purnima.
Kwati is not accepted from the lamaju castes.
General use: Cloves are chewed on almost any occasion. At marriages they are always included in the mushipo (a sort of candy bag which is distributed at marriages).
Social and ritual significance: Offering lawan indicates respect and/or friendship between the giver and the receiver: close friends walking down the street holding hands can be seen chewing lawan and goye. Lawan is put on the betel leaves an Uray kyeta puja yamha walks on. I could not obtain any answer to what the cloves represent at this rite. Perhaps, in this context, they may represent thorns. Lawan is not subject to caste taboo as it is not cooked or prepared.
Micha is used to prepare ke (soup). First it is soaked then cooked to a curry.
General use: Micha is eaten at most large feasts and sometimes when one has fever.
Social and ritual significance: It is regarded as a necessary item at larger feasts. Micha may be eaten at any time. However, prepared micha is not accepted from lower castes, as it is cooked in water.
Preparation: Musya is either fried or roasted.
General use: When musya is in season (October, November, December, January, and February), it is eaten daily with beaten rice, roasted maize (pop corn), etc.
Social and ritual significance: Musya may be eaten on all occasions and is not subject to taboos, etc. Although one may buy uncooked or unprepared musya from the lamaju-castes, prepared musya will not be accepted from their hands. Ritually, musya is used in chusyamusya and in chata mari. (See above)
Preparation: Palu is eaten both in pieces and ground as a part of the spices in a curry.
General use: Ginger is commonly used in vegetable and meat curries. One notable thing is that a lot of ground ginger is sometimes put into a curry of buffalo meat, which according to the Newars turns it into “duck meat” (haela). Of course, one is well aware that it still is buffalo, but it is referred to as duck meat. The underlying conception is that duck meat in itself has a strong taste similar to that given by the ginger.
Social and ritual significance: Palu is a necessary item in same baji and at Ghyöcaku sanlu, when it is eaten with molasses and ghyö. It is also one item that is brought by the mhayemaca, married daughters, when they come to their parental household after a demise during the period when they are responsible for the food, etc., in their parental home.
Preparation: Same baji is a compound ritual dish made up of fried flattened rice, meat, fish, ginger, and black beans.
General use: Same baji is always eaten to mark some special occasion.
Social and ritual significance: Same baji can have different forms. It may be a small plate with the items mentioned above, which are offered to a deity and then eaten as a prasad. It may also be a literal hill of baji, elaborately decorated with stripes of roasted meats, black soya beans, etc. In front of these the men of a tole (locality) or the members of a guthi play religious music, whereafter the same baji is distributed as prasad to all the households in the neighbourhood or to the guthyars and via them to their households.
In Sunakothi it is above all associated with Inyapunhi, the full moon during Indra yatra, when every household in the village brings a basket with same baji outdoors and distributes it to the children. Here, the children, who spend much of their time outdoors in the village’s lanes, have much fun as the person who comes out with the basket runs away with all the children chasing him until the same baji is finished. If one does not distribute same baji in this way, the other villagers will say that one has become poor. The only households that abstain are those that are in mourning.
Same baji is generally not eaten at small feasts. Nor is it eaten at vrta days.
Same baji is not accepted from castes lower than one’s own.
Jellied meat soup with fish
Preparation: Sanyakhuna is closely related to takha, as it is based on the bouillon, the broth from the preparation of takha. To the warm broth a little bit of meat, dried fish, and a large amount of red chillies are added. The meat has been cooked separately for three to four hours. Hi is also added. Then, the concoction is set to jelly.
General use: Sanyakhuna is generally only eaten on special occasions. (See below)
Social and ritual significance: Sanyakhuna is generally not made for small feasts, except in well-to-do households, but is prepared for large and happy feasts: e.g., marriage and Kyetapuja. However, I once had it at Sraddha feast of the annual type. The deceased, for whom the Sraddha was performed, had expired thirty-seven years before; thus, the household had long since stopped mourning. Sanyakhuna may be eaten anytime except on vrta days and at the feasts that follow a death.
Sanyakhuna is an important part of the menu at a “happy” feast. I have repeatedly been told that it is important for the reputation of such feasts. At marriages and at Kyetapuja it is an essential item, perhaps partly because its colour is red. Red is closely associated to marriages and signifies, in this context, passion and love. The bride invariably wears bright red clothes, as do the parbatya women who dance and fast at the Tij observance to imitate the dancing and fasting of Parbati in order to gain Lord Siva’s heart (On Tij, see Anderson 1977:116-20 and Goodman 1981:76-78.).
Sanyakhuna is not accepted from any caste lower than one’s own, “because it is cooked meat.”
Preparation: Simi are boiled in water and sometimes curried too.
General use: Simi are eaten at large as well as at small feasts. They are also eaten in the daily meals, when in season.
Social and ritual significance: Simi is regarded as a necessary part of the menu in most auspicious feasts, as well as in the feasts following a death. Serving simi indicates respect to and/or eagerness to please close friends and relatives. Prepared simi are not accepted from the lamaju-castes.
Fermented radish leaves
Preparation: Sinki is prepared from dried radish leaves. The leaves are soaked in water; then they are put in a clay pot to ferment under a cloth cover for ten to fifteen days. It is ready to be served without further preparation, though sometimes spices are added.
General use: Sinki is a popular dish, largely because it is cheap. Sometimes people are embarrassed to admit that they eat it daily, as it marks their poverty. Sinki is eaten at any meal: morning, day, or evening. Some people regard it as a pickle and eat it only in moderate quantities, whereas others regard it as a curry and eat large quantities. Sinki may be eaten both with boiled rice (ja) and with flattened rice (baji). It is never served at large feasts.
Social and ritual significance: Following a death in the household, it is not eaten for the first eleven days following the demise. However, at the Ghasu, the ceremonial meal held on the twelfth day subsequent to a demise, it is prescribed to be eaten.
Preparation: Buffalo meat and bones are cooked for at least ten hours in a large cauldron. Later it is allowed to settle into a pudding. The Newars literally say it “freezes,” as takha can only be made during the cold season, October to March.
General use: Takha is eaten at great feasts, where it is one of the most essential items.
Social and ritual significance: Takha is not accepted from castes lower than one’s own. For instance, in the past men of Jyapu caste would carry the takha for the Shrestha when the latter had a picnic. The takha was carefully covered, and the Jyapu were instructed not to look under the cover for any reason. Furthermore, takha is not eaten on vrta days and during the periods when holy stories are recited, such as Swasthani and Satya Narayani. Except among the very pious, the interdiction only applies to the last day of the recital.
Preparation: It is roasted.
General use: Taye is not eaten but is used exclusively for ritual purposes.
Social and ritual significance: For instance, taye is used at Kijapuja, Kyetapuja, and Janko. Then it is scattered over the initiand, and it is regarded as an auspicious sign.
One may conjecture that scattering puffed rice over an initiand may be a way to say “may You become prosperous,” as there is a close associational connection between grain and riches: e.g., in Nepali the word “dan” denotes both grain and riches.
Preparation: Thon is beer which can be prepared from boiled rice, uncooked fermented rice, millet, or maize. There are several varieties of thon: aithon (white), yaothon, etc. I will deal with the preparation of thon, in a separate forthcoming paper.
General use: Thon is drunk in most contexts, at work and on ritual occasions.
Social and ritual significance: Both men and women drink thon. However, the men drink the most, while the women prepare the beverage. The Jyapu men tend to think that thon is one of the things that makes life worthwhile; indeed, they regard it as indispensable. To be able to make good thon is very important to the Jyapu woman, as a wife who is good at it, is much appreciated by her husband and sons. Indeed, after the Newari New Year (Mhapuja) Newari women often go to worship Ganesh in a form known as Pakhanayedyo, the Lord (or master) of fermentation (lit., fermentation-head-God). Pakhanayedyo is propitiated in order that he shall make their thon good. Significantly, the same deity (Ganesh) is regarded as a protector of the household’s domestic happiness and as the bestower of a good husband.
Thon is also used in various domestic rites: e.g., the Nichaybhu among the Uray (see Chapter V). Among the Vajracharya, according to Allen, it is used in the initiation into the agama cult, when the initiand drops a small piece of gold into a bowl filled with red beer and covered by a blue cloth.
He lifts the cloth, drops a small piece of gold in the beer, dips his fingers in the liquid and rubs his eyes with it, and then lets three drops fall on his tongue. Finally he takes the gold piece from the bowl and carefully places it on his forehead. My Purohit informant interpreted the rite as follows: the red beer is female, literally womb-liquid, while the gold piece is male spermatozoa. The female part stands for pragya — the wisdom of Vajrayana Buddhism — while the male part stands for upaya the method or practice of wisdom. Furthermore, the act of dropping the gold in the beer is, as are all such symbolic fusions of male and female, a means for gaining enlightenment. The gold piece placed on his forehead is called the third eye; the eye that sees truth, the eye of wisdom or pragya.(Allen 1973:11)
Furthermore, thon is intimately connected to the Bhairav cult. Bhairav is also known as Harkadyo, the unruly God. Bhairav is often worshipped with thon. Indeed, both in Kathmandu and in Sunakothi, there are guthis who arrange his worship, wherein thon is poured from the back of his image to sprout out from a pipe through his mouth, while the devotees scramble below to catch a few drops of the sanctified beer. According to Nepali (1965:392), Bhairav may in the Digudyo puja be represented by an anti “a pot containing rice beer.”
Thon is a necessary thing to the Jyapu, in his own view, during the heavy work in the fields. One often practices labour exchange, known as “bola,” in which work is done in one another’s fields on different days. The household whose fields are being worked is also expected to provide food and beer to the people who come to help. Then, thon is invariably prepared.
Thon is prepared for every ritual and festival; there is no proper feast without it — unless it has been replaced by ayela. Thon also occurs in exchanges between households: e.g., arriving at a post-funeral feast, the affines bring some pots with thon. They also bring thon to the Kyeta puja.
Preparation: Wa is generally prepared from black pulses (maye), but sometimes it is also made from green pulses (mu). Then, it is known as muwa. It can also be prepared from soya (musya) and is then known as musyawa. The pulses are first soaked for one day. Then they are ground into a mash, which at last is roasted, forming thick flat cakes.
General use: Wa is often eaten. It is served with beaten rice.
Social and ritual significance: Wa is eaten at most large feasts. It is a necessary item at any thabhoye (i.e., big feast). Wa is also prescribed to be eaten at Sithinakha (in Sunakothi: sinkha), which is the feast that marks the beginning of the rice transplantation season. In this feast several varieties of wa are generally served. Sithinakha is generally associated with wa.
Wa is not accepted from lower castes, particularly not from the lamaju-castes. There is also an interdiction against eating wa extending twelve days after the death of a household member. This interdiction applies to the members of the household and its phuki (patrilineage).
Rice breads steamed in various shapes, such as persons, animals, etc.
Preparation: Yomari are steamed from rice flour breads. Molasses and sesame seed are included in the yomari dough. Yomari are prepared at yomaripunhi; literally yo means fig.
General use: Yomari is only consumed at Yomaripunhi.
Social and ritual significance: Four days before the Yomari punhi the yomari are placed inside the house’s storage room (granary). At the full moon they are taken out and consumed by the family members. No one is allowed to enter the storage room during the period the yomari are locked in there. And, “...it is generally believed that some miracle may cause this unseen rice store to multiply in the bins, a long-standing dream of Nepalese people.”(Anderson 1977:214) According to Anderson, the celebration is related to harvest thanks-giving to the Gods and to a legend of Kuber, one of the Gods of wealth, who, although disguised as a beggar, was hospitably treated by a merchant in Panauti. This had so pleased Kuber that he revealed his true identity and presented the merchant with a gift of figs, and “[t]hereafter, the fig-shaped yomari became the traditional food of harvest full moon.”(1977:215)