The Newar houses generally have at least three stories, the exception being the houses of thiyemaju castes, as they in the past were prohibited by sumptuary laws from living in houses higher than one story.[1] The floors of the houses have varying degrees of sanctity. The bottom floor is generally occupied by storage rooms, stables, or, which is very common, by a shop. The first and, if there is one, second floor, have sleeping rooms and in wealthy households living rooms and reception rooms. There will also be a storage room for grain, other food stuffs, and valuables. This room is regarded as sacred and one never enters it with shoes or any objects of leather. In this room an image of the Goddess Lakshmi may also be kept.[2] Though in some houses the domestic Gods are kept in the kitchen, yet others may have a special worshipping room on the same floor as the kitchen or on another floor. The kitchen is situated on the top floor. It is often large and spacious. I (l79cm. tall) could invariably stand straight in Newar kitchens, though oftentimes I could not in the other rooms.

The kitchen is regarded as sacred. It is kept pure, and one never enters it with shoes on. They are instead left downstairs or outside the entrance to the kitchen, if there are other rooms on the top floor. How far one may enter into the Newar house reflects one’s caste status and relation to the household. In the house of a Jyapu or a member of a higher caste, members of “unclean” castes are only allowed to enter the bottom floor, even when they are invited for a feast. Members of Nau, Citrakar, and other low but “clean” service castes may come up to the second floor, but not into the kitchen. The kitchen is a closely guarded sanctum, and being invited to it marks a high degree of closeness to the household. The Newars are very particular about whom they allow to enter their kitchen. If one is not part of the household, one never walks straight into a Newar kitchen, and one can certainly be a friend of a household a long time without ever being invited to the kitchen. Indeed, it is so closely guarded and private, that I have often heard both Nepalese of “clean,” but not Newari caste and foreign anthropologists devoted to Newari studies complain about never being invited to the kitchen of their Newar friends and express the feeling of alienation they get from being excluded from the innermost social circle of the kitchen. “I have known him for years and I have still never been to his kitchen,” is a not uncommon comment. Although one may sometimes make exceptions for close friends and higher caste persons, in general, people who enter the kitchen are members of one’s own caste and particularly one’s agnatic kinsmen, affines, and fellow guthyars . In the following chapters the discourse will turn to these categories within the caste.

Newar households go through cycles, in which, during some time, the household may be a joint household, encompassing several generations, only to be divided later into a number of nuclear households, for instance, after a father’s, or grandfather’s, death. The household will then consist of a nuclear family — a husband, his wife, and their children. Daughters marry out, i.e., join other households, and sons have their wives brought into the household. Hence, when the sons have married, the household may again become joint . Consequently, among the Newars one encounters several types of households. The most common are single households, nuclear family households, extended households, and joint households. The single member household consists of a one-member household, the one family household of a nuclear family, the extended household of a nuclear family with members of the elder generations, and a joint household of several nuclear families and members of elder generations.[3]

In Sunakothi and in Kathmandu the terms used to refer to the household unit are chey (house), jawan (family), and bhutu (hearth). However, in Pyangau Toffin noted that the Jyapu referred to the closest kin-group (fathers and brothers), which often constitutes a household, as sye phuki, which literally means “marrow patrikin.”[4]

The Newar household is the basic social and economic unit. It is within the household one lives, sleeps, eats, is socialized, and has one’s closest social contacts. The women do all their domestic chores in the household. Many Newar houses have a shop on the bottom floor, owned and attended by the family members, and if the household farms, the household members provide the basic labour force. If the household is joint, there is generally a great deal of redistribution of the household’s incomes within the walls of the household. Most, or all, income is pooled, and the expenditure is joint: in a household consisting of a father, three brothers, and their wives, some of the brothers may work the household’s fields and some may earn cash from employment in the labour market. Ultimate responsibility for the expenditure will then rest with the eldest male and his wife. The sources of cash are manifold. Newars are found in all professions.[5]



The head of the family is known as thakali and is the eldest living male, although a widow with grown-up sons may retain a strong position and function as de facto household head after the death of her husband. Formally, major decisions rest with the household head. During the field work I inquired into this question and invariably received the answer that the eldest make the strategical decisions[6] concerning education, marriage, major expenditures, etc., often in consultation with elder phukis -members (agnatic kinsmen), and the younger are expected to abide by the elders’ decisions. However, observing people in interaction, I noted that important decisions are usually made on a consensus basis. In several cases I noted that the decisions were made de facto by the younger and better educated family members rather than by the eldest; ability may, in practice, be as weighty a factor as age in the decision making of the household.

Social change seems to be occurring rather rapidly in Newari society. Fürer-Haimendorf, Nepali, and others maintain that the eldest members of the phuki group and the guthi societies exercise strict control over their members’ social lives.[7] However, this has not come to my notice. On the contrary it seemed to me that most decisions of strategical importance are made within the household, although phukis-members, caste fellows, and guthyars may have an advisory function. According to my observation, the guthis and the phuki merely provide a framework of rules by which the household has to abide, and as long as it does so, there will be little unwanted interference from the phuki and the guthi s. Indeed, it even seems as if one is able to break many of the traditional interdictions without incurring ostracism from the phuki and the guthi societies.

The decisions taken within the household tend to be consensual and will generally conform to the rules of caste and the household’s position in the caste system. Even if there are deviant opinions on important issues when the decisions are made, the former will generally be kept within the walls of the household and the family once the decision is irreversible. When consensus concerning the economy or what is fair in terms of income distribution within the household or other important matters, cannot be maintained, a process of fission is initiated.

Thus, there is a continuous process of fission going on within Newari society. The most common situation in which fission occurs is when the father who is the head of a large household dies, leaving a group of brothers and their wives under the same roof. Then, it may be difficult for the younger brothers to accept the superiority of the eldest, as, generally speaking, an elder brother — although respected — does not command the same authority as a father. The ensuing conflicts may be fuelled by ambitious wives, who put the nuclear family’s interests above those of the joint household. The conflicting ambitions of wives is a reason the Newars often give to explain fission. Another reason often cited is “quarrelling.” However, division of the household need not be the resultant of conflicts. Particularly among farmers the eldest son may be given his share of the inheritance in advance; i.e., he may be given land and a house a few years after his marriage in order that he shall be able to set up an independent nuclear household. In this case he will generally be given a larger share than if one had waited until the father’s death, when all sons get equal shares. The continuing fission is also reflected in that plots of land are increasingly smaller and fragmented, houses are divided, becoming smaller and smaller, and the towns and villages become ever more congested.

There are also other divisive factors. The continuous division of the landholdings has brought about a situation in which few households can support themselves on the land only. The result is that an increasing number of people earn cash which leads to conflicts about the division of labour and money in the household. Increasing and highly differentiated earnings have also, in some instances, led to jealousy, and, according to my informants, unwillingness from the major cash earners to bear the brunt of a large joint household’s maintenance. Hence, increased monetarization may be a divisive factor. However, it is by no means so that the wealthy families tend to become “nuclearized.” On the contrary, in Kathmandu all well-to-do households I visited were in one or another of the possible joint family constellations, whereas in Sunakothi , where the Jyapu are less well off, I encountered many nuclear households. A possible explanation would be that a household with a large cash inflow is more able to support a greater number of people than one with little cash income; i.e., when there is more to redistribute, cohesion and cohabitation may be more likely to be maintained.

Households which have divided will be related to each other as phukis. Such a cluster of segments of phukis is referred to as kawo. Then, obviously, if the division of the household was the result of persistent quarrelling, this may lead to the phuki having less influence over the split household than has been said to be the rule by certain authors. On the other hand, large groups of households who trace their descent to the same household may in some instances maintain amiable relationships for a very long period and classify themselves as members of the same kawo. The formal head of the kawo will be the eldest male of the included households. In some cases a kawo may include as many as a hundred families, i.e., households, who cook on their own and have their own economy.[8]


Daily Food and Cooking

The daily food is generally cooked by the women, although there is no taboo to prevent a man from cooking. The chief-lady of the house is in charge of the cooking, and she will direct the domestic work of her unmarried daughters and, provided her sons are married, her daughters-in-law. The cooking is done jointly, and the food is served by the women. Newars , particularly the conservative of high caste, tend to think that the womens’ proper place is in the kitchen, cooking and bringing up children. The farmers tend to think that the proper place for a woman is both in the kitchen and in the fields, where the women do a large part of the work. It is regarded as a duty for the daughters-in-law to do a large part of the cooking, cleaning, as well as fetching the water, etc. The need for additional hands on the family lands is in some instances also a reason that marriages are contracted sooner than would otherwise be the case. Marriage is regarded as necessary.[9] If the women work outside of the house, a part of their salaries may go to pay a servant who can take on some of their duties. However, domestic servants are rare among Newars, because they infringe upon the privacy of the kitchen. It is also regarded as difficult to obtain servants of appropriate caste. Generally, only relatively high caste households can afford servants, and, although there is no explicit rule against it, it is generally not regarded as acceptable to have servants from one’s own caste. Lower caste servants are unacceptable as cooks, and higher caste servants are not easily available. Boiled rice is the staple for the main meals. It is eaten in the morning and in the evening at ca. 9-10 A.M. and ca. 8 P.M. , respectively. The rice is served with soup, known as ke, generally based on lentils. If the household is well-to-do, vegetables and meat will be included. At midday or, in some instances, at 2-3 P.M. , one eats flattened rice, accompanied by beans or some other side dish. According to Toffin, in reference to the Pyangau Jyapu, an adult man daily eats one and a half mana, approximately 600 grams, of uncooked rice, whereas women and children eat a little less, approximately 400 to 500 g. of rice.[10] The consumption of flattened rice is estimated by Toffin to 13.5 to 20 kg. per month for an adult and 10 to 11 kg. for a child,[11] i.e., ca. 600 and ca. 350 grams daily, respectively. Meat is also important. The amount of meat consumed varies with the economic standing of the household. In Sunakothi through interviews I could determine that most households eat meat approximately once a week, and invariably at festivals. Most, 81%, had meat once a week, 9.2% had meat more often, and 3% had meat less often than once a week. All households said they ate meat on festival days.[12] Well-to-do households in Kathmandu and Patan probably eat meat considerably more often.

The food is cooked on a hearth made of clay bricks and plastered with mud. A variety of fuels are used; in Sunakothi most food is cooked on straw (preferably from wheat) and stalks (from maize), which are collected in connection with the harvests. The use of wood is generally reserved for the preparation of meat. I have no comparable data on the practices in the cities, Kathmandu and Patan, in this regard, but have a strong impression that more wood and charcoal are used there, as the people who are not farmers have less access to straw. Among some castes the hearth is symbolically charged. Thus, according to Toffin , referring to the Jyapu of Pyangau, “[s]eul le chef de famille est habilité a construir un foyer; lorsque cette personne meurt, son successeur dans la hierarchie familiale doit démolir le bhutu [hearth] et en construire un noveau” (1977:158). In reference to high caste Hindus (unspecified which) Pradhan found that, at a demise “[t]he hearth is cooled and no cooking is done in the house. The hearth, however is destroyed only if the Thakali dies.”(1979:10) The Uray do likewise. However, according to my informants, the Jyapu of Sunakothi do not make a point of extinguishing the hearth at a demise. It may cool, however, as the food consumed during the first period of pollution, until the Ghasu (the observance the 12th day after a demise), is provided by the affines through the married daughters who come daily to feed and look after the bereaved. However, in so doing they may also cook part of the food in the house.

The household is the place where the daily rice meals are eaten. Indeed, rice is rarely eaten outside of the household. In the Jyapu village, Sunakothi, I conducted a survey of the contexts in which people admitted eating boiled rice outside the village. I could establish that the Jyapu of Sunakothi very rarely do eat rice outside the village. Of 59 responses, 14 said that they did not eat rice at all outside the village, whereas 45 said they did. Of 36 responses to the question “where and when did You last eat rice outside the village?,” 28 said that they had eaten at relatives’ houses, 8 that they had eaten at non-relatives’. Those who had eaten at relatives had done so when they had gone to a neighbouring village to see a yatra (religious festival) or to call on a relative. The 6 who stated that they had eaten rice with non-relatives had eaten with friends or at the home of their employer. Notably, the boys who go to the school in Lagankhel, on the outskirts of Patan, have also occasionally eaten boiled rice in the house of a class mate, though it is exceedingly rare that this happens if the class mate is of a different caste.

Of course, methodologically, what was measured here was attitudes and responses to queries, not de facto behaviour. In some instances, one may have preferred not to reveal that one had eaten with other castes, particularly if one had been involved in taking boiled rice with low caste persons. Nevertheless, the survey results give strong indications that the Jyapus of Sunakothi rarely eat rice outside the village, and when they do, it is most often with relatives. One can thus distinguish two groups: i) those one may eat rice with, according to the norms of caste; and, ii) those one de facto eats rice with. The latter group is dominated by kinsmen, which reflects the great importance of kinship in Newari society. Many Newars have their best friends, business associates, and working friends in agriculture among kinsmen. Newars who eat out do not generally eat boiled rice. Instead, one will eat flattened rice (baji ) in snack-like meals, consisting of baji, curried beans, etc., often accompanied by a cup of tea stewed with milk and sugar.

Among the Jyapu I noted that there was rarely any conversation during the rice meals,[13] and one observed little or no formality. One seemed rather to be utterly unconcerned about politesse and formal rules regarding the seating order. The male family members would generally eat first and sit haphazardly without any formal order (not even a line would be formed), quietly stuffing themselves with rice served by the women who would eat afterwards, also without any formalism, in sharp contrast to the highly formal seating order during, for instance, a si rite (see below). The women who prepared the food will generally serve the meal to the household’s men first and, then, eat when the men have concluded their meal. Among the Jyapu there is , however, considerable flexibility in the every day meals. Children, even girls, and wives who have worked the whole day in the fields in the company of the men may occasionally be observed eating in the first batch.

Among higher caste people (i.e., castes above the Jyapu ) the seating order at the daily rice meals is more formal. According to my informants one sits in a line at the daily rice meals among the Uray and the Shrestha. Then, the house’s father or, if the household is joint, the household’s head (the eldest male) will sit to the far right. Ideally, seniority order should be observed in the seating down the line, though one may, in practice, only observe it among the persons at the head of the line. This can be taken as an indication that Shrestha and Uray , being higher castes pay more attention to hierarchical etiquette. However, even among them the daily rice meals are informal in comparison to the bhoye.[14]

It is also noteworthy that the everyday rice meal is rather poor compared to the highly elaborate bhoye. Often there will be only rice and lentil soup and a curry. The amount of rice will be large, whereas the portions of soup and curry are small. A feast may be extremely complex and include numerous dishes. Indeed, in some feasts, there will be an emphasis on the sheer number of dishes: e.g., the ghasas, which may contain five, eight, twelve and several other numbers of items, and the thayebhu, which can be prescribed to contain eighty-four different food items.


Relations Between Men and Women

Within the family the men will generally eat first at the daily rice meals. The women serve the men and then eat afterwards. This expresses the idea that the women are subservient to the men and that the status of women is ritually lower than that of the men. Indeed, in some Parbatya households the woman, if pious in the Hindu sense, after having served the husband, will eat on the husband’s plate, thus accepting his jutho ( Nep. , pollution).[15] In Hindu conception this does not pollute the woman. On the contrary, it is often regarded as desirable that “a woman should worship her husband as if he were a God.” The analogy to prasad is obvious. When one has offered food to a deity it is eaten afterwards and is then called prasad, although it simultaneously is refuse, and refuse, things that have touched the lips of another person from most categories of mortals, is regarded as highly polluting. The structural message conveyed by this practice is that some persons and deities are so much higher in the hierarchy that their refuse is sacred and worshipable to those of the lower ranks. To my knowledge Newar women rarely take the husband’s cipa (New. pollution) in this fashion, though it would not necessarily be regarded as strange if a wife did so. Here, I believe one would find a great deal of variation among different Newar castes, and even within a given caste.

Newars do not regard men and women as equals, but rather as complementary. Thus, traditional-minded Newars think that the women should be subservient to the men, particularly in public contexts, i.e., outside the household and the net-work of kin. However, within the household the women’s positions may be strong. The eldest woman ( kucima) in the house is in charge of the cooking and many important domestic affairs. The Newari woman’s standing varies over her life span. In her natal household she may be, in her capacity as a daughter, indulged until she becomes marriageable. Newars do appreciate daughters. Although one prefers to have a son, especially if it is the first child, one does not deplore the birth of a girl — unlike among the Parbatya and many castes of the Indian plains. Approaching marriageable age the girl will often be exposed to pressures, as she will generally be reluctant when a proposal for marriage is about to be accepted by her parents and kinsmen (occasionally the phuki has a say in the marriage negotiations). Then, after the marriage the young woman experiences what is, generally, the most trying period in her life. Now, she has to adjust to her role as a wife in a joint household, to learn about sex,[16] and to cope with her husband’s mother and his brothers’ wives. Initially she may have a hard time; one recently married couple I knew did not speak to one another for the first three months of their marriage, and the young woman was the butt of many jokes, particularly concerning her shyness. During the initial period the recently married woman has to be subservient to everyone older than she in her conjugal household, and she is sometimes requested to perform the least liked menial tasks. The norm is that the junior should always be deferential to the senior within one’s own caste. Later, when she has borne a son and feels thoroughly at home, her position improves with increasing age. The more sons she bears and the older a woman becomes, the better her standing will be, though the very old are sometimes set aside from the daily decisions. In the autumn of her life she may, if lucky, find herself in command of several married sons’ wives and grandchildren, and if she becomes sufficiently old, she will also become thakalinakin, the head woman of the lineage who has various ritual functions to perform at life cycle rites. The thakalinakin is the wife of the senior-most man of the phuki. However, if widowed she loses her ritual prerogatives in relation to the phuki she has married into, although she may still be invited to its rituals and the accompanying feasts.

The Newari woman’s life is surrounded by restrictions somewhat more than the man’s, particularly between Bara (menstrual or pre-menstrual seclusion) and marriage. As long as the woman is of fertile age she will be watched, and traditional-minded women never go out on their own for long without an accompanying child, known as limha (lit., follower). Thus Newari women on their own appear in the role of mothers rather than as lone women who are subject to the mens’ suspicions. However, this does not apply to some of the modern Newar women in Kathmandu and Patan. There one encounters women in many professions, and sometimes in advanced positions. They are, however, very circumspect before marriage, as any doubt about their virginity may diminish the likelihood of a good match drastically.


Wife, Husband, and Mother-in-Law

Below, I shall give some examples concerning the symbolism of food in the marriage rites and the family, as these clearly express the ideal relationships between the bride, her husband, and her mother-in-law.

Among the Jyapu of Sunakothi there are several forms of marriage: Lakha kocika, Nipakhu, Nyapakhu, Svayamwara, and Paena wane (elopement).[17] Only in the Svayamwara marriage, will the bride at the culmination of the ceremonies eat from the groom’s plate after he has first eaten from it, making it cipa (New., pollution). However, here it should be noted that the Svayamwara is regarded as unorthodox, as non-traditional.[18] At the marriage rites among the Uray, Bare, Gubhaju, and the higher groups within the Shrestha caste, the bride and the groom share a feast from the same plate (thaye bhoye), thus, together making it cipa and eating each others cipa, which does not necessarily imply equality but rather unity and extreme closeness. In Newari cultural conceptions they are literally eating each others dirt as a feast, as if it were prasad.

Within the household the relationship between the husband’s mother and the bride is of great significance. The mother-in-law is the mistress of the house. She may dominate both the domestic affairs and her son(s), and she holds sway over her daughters-in-law. She is the one who directs the household chores, and, among the Jyapu, she together with her husband, also directs the agricultural work in which the women perform many heavy tasks. Hence, the relationship between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law is of crucial importance in Newari society. This is reflected in that, according to Nepali,[19] the most common ground for divorce is conflicts between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. Indeed, a Newar marriage is not only an affair between the husband and the wife, but is rather a relationship between two households and in the extension, as far as ritual obligations are concerned, between two patrilineages.

Marriages are arranged by the parents with the aid of a lami, a go-between. The last word about whom one is to marry rests with the parents and grandparents and, if the net-work of kin is strong, sometimes with elder phukis. Considerations of caste, wealth, connections, reputation, and bhangsa ( Nep. , “kitchen-acceptable”) are determinant. The groom’s parents or grandparents take the first initiative through the lami, who is often a senior woman[20] They may have a particular girl in mind or the lami may propose one. Indeed, young men and women often find themselves married off against their own preferences. In the past child marriages were the rule rather than the exception, though it should be said, as there has been much popular debate about child marriage and it is now prohibited, that sexual relations were not commenced until after puberty.[21] The great importance of the groom’s mother is expressed in that the groom does not go to fetch his bride, unlike the practice among many other Nepalese castes.[22] Instead, the groom waits in his home, and when the procession arrives with the bride, he is not the one who receives her. The main person in the reception, which is known as Laskas, is instead his mother, who meets the bride at the gate or door and pulls her in by inserting a key into the folds of the bride’s clothes. Alternatively, the bride may hold the key and thus be pulled into the house.[23] Among the Uray the bride is first placed on a mattress, then the mother-in-law washes her feet with yaothon (red beer) and scatters cokka baji (dust from beaten rice) around the quarters to frighten off ghosts who may have followed the bride, whereafter she is pulled into the house with the key.

Among the Uray the relationship of the bride to her mother-in-law and her husband is further ritually expressed by the Nichaybhu rite. After having been brought to the phuki’s Agam (secret clan God), the bride will take cipa from her mother-in-law and the groom. At this rite, three saling (clay pegs) are filled with spirit and beers. The first will contain thon (white beer), the second yaothon (red beer), and the third ayela (spirit). The groom’s mother will first take a sip of the thons and the ayela and pass it on to her son, who also takes a sip and then passes it on to the bride, who takes the last sip. Thus, the bride accepts the pollution of both her mother-in-law and her husband. The etymology of Nichaybhu reveals that the symbolism of the rite is conscious. Ni means pure, chaye to mix and bhu feast; its import is to admit into the same social unit, to accept the bride as pure. Significantly, at the Nichaybhu the bride also eats ja (boiled rice) for the first time with the groom’s phuki.[24]



Seniors and Juniors

If there is a joint family, age is the factor which determines the relative status of its male members. The eldest is ranked highest and the youngest lowest. This is expressed in some households by sitting in line at the daily rice meals, with the eldest to the extreme right, though in many households this formality is not observed (See above).[25] However, on certain occasions it is invariably observed. For instance, at Mohani ( Nep. , Dussein ), Mhapuja (worship of one’s body on the Newari calender’s “New Years Day”), Kijapuja (sisters’ worship of brothers), and several other calendrically prescribed domestic ceremonies followed by feasts, one will sit according to the order of seniority within the household.[26] The father, followed by his eldest son, will sit first in the line, i.e., to the extreme right. Variations may be encountered here according to the composition of the household. If the father’s younger brothers live in the house, i.e., if the household is joint, and they are older than the oldest man’s elder sons, then they will sit before them, etc. It is also noteworthy that the women will serve the men beginning from the right, i.e., serving the eldest first. Then, the women eat afterwards. The women of the household are also ranked according to their de facto age.[27]



The internal ranking among the men within the household is most clearly expressed at a ceremony called si, or sometimes si ka bhu (lit., to take si plate). Then, an animal will be sacrificed to a God. When the blood has been given to the God, the animal is cooked and eaten. The si is a rite at which certain parts of the animal will be eaten ritually to express seniority and, among the Uray , to expiate or prevent sin. If the sacrificed animal is a quadruped, its head will be divided into eight parts: 1) right eye, 2) left eye, 3) right ear, 4) left ear, 5) tongue, 6) right jaw bone, 7) left jaw bone, and 8) the snout. The tail will also be prepared and eaten with the si. If the sacrificed animal is a fowl, it will be divided into five parts: 1) head, 2) right wing, 3) left wing, 4) right leg, 5) left leg.[28] The si will be taken in the evening. At the rite the previously described seating order will be observed. Only men take si. The si will be served to the eldest first, next to the second eldest, and so forth. The eldest will take the right eye, the second eldest the left eye, the third eldest the right ear, etc., if it is a quadruped. The tail has a special significance. It is taken by the man who killed the animal, although he may also get another share in accordance with his age. If it is a fowl, the eldest will start with the head, the second eldest will take the right wing, and so forth.

The si rite can be performed any day except on vrta days. On such days animal slaughter is prohibited throughout Nepal . Nor can it be performed when the household is ritually polluted, for instance, up to the thirteenth day after a death. Si is generally taken only at feasts which members of one’s own caste attend. However, there are exceptions: e.g., the priest may sit at the head of the line and eat the first piece (the right eye). Then, his ritual superiority surpasses the age factor. Although he may be younger than the household’s thakali, he is regarded to be of a higher rank and sits first in the line.

When asked to explain the significance of the si rite which is rather common among the Jyapus, the Jyapus would invariably say that it is performed in order to show who is eldest, i.e., to emphasize the order of seniority. However, in Kathmandu , Prem Bahadur Kansakar, an acknowledgedly learned Uray, explained that it is done to purify one’s senses. According to him, the eyes are eaten so one shall not see bad things, the ears so one shall not hear bad words, the tongue so one shall not say bad things, the jaws (cheekbones) so one shall not eat bad things, and the snout so one shall not smell bad things. Furthermore, the tail, which is eaten by the one who slaughters the animal, represents hell, because excrement passes by it. It is eaten to expiate the sin of killing the animal. Of course, among the Uray, the si also marks the relationships of seniority. The literate give the following etymology to the word si; it is derived from Sanskrit and means to expiate sin. However, Toffin, referring to the Jyapu of Pyangau, states that the word’s root is siye , i.e., death.[29]

An interesting detail is that if one family member who is entitled to a share cannot attend, his share will, if possible, be saved for him, so that he may eat it later. This gives an indication that the si can be interpreted as a metaphor for the “ si-taking” unit’s social order. The si is taken to emphasize the social order, to confirm it after having first sacrificed to the Gods. Significantly, the households in Sunakothi perform the si ka bhu on animals sacrificed either to the Goddess Bala-kumari, who is regarded as the village’s mother, or to the household’s private Gods and tools.[30] In Sunakothi 63 households, of the 65 which have responded in a survey, stated that they sacrificed to Durga at Mohani and took si.[31] The sacrifice is then performed in the house’s storage room where the household’s deities are kept. For the occasion one will have brought in the agricultural implements on which one depends for one’s living, and the blood is made to gush out over them. In Sunakothi this rite is observed by the households on the ninth day of Mohani. Although phuki members and married daughters may come to visit, they do not take part in the si.[32]

Indeed, the Newars do have a tendency towards gerontocracy, although it would be misleading to say that Newari society is strictly gerontocratic. Much respect is shown towards the elderly, and they do take an active interest in the household’s affairs and the guthi societies the household is a member of, as long as they are able. Ideally, a father always holds sway over his sons, and an elder brother commands respect from a junior brother. Indeed, in the Jyajanko rites old men and women are deified. However, the janko rites can also be regarded as a first step towards retirement.[33] The first janko , which is performed at the age of seventy-seven years, seven months, seven days, seven ghadi s (unit of time), and seven palas (steps), is called Bhima-Ratha-Rohan, and “[o]n the completion of this ceremony a person is believed to enter upon the first stage of divinity and he gives up taking active interest in family affairs.”(Nepali: 1965:121) The Bhim-Ratha (lit., great/strong vehicle/chariot) is followed by Deva-Ratha (lit., God vehicle/chariot) on the eighty-eighth year, eighth month, eighth day, eighth ghadi, and eighth pala. The last Jyajanko is known as Maha-Ratha (lit., extremely great vehicle/chariot) and is performed at ninety-nine years, nine months, and so forth. In Sunakothi, the village’s eldest living man, the Yethakali, acts as the Bala-Kumari Goddess’ main priest, propitiating her daily. Even in the agricultural cycle the village thakali has a role; for instance, if his household has not completed the rice transplantation before a certain day when a rite called Ghate mangal ( Nep. , Ghantha kharna) is held, the rite will be postponed until his household has completed its transplantation.

Seniority order is also observed in the seating in all Newar households at Mhapuja and Kijapuja. Then, the members of the household will sit in line with mandalas , ritual patterns made of flour and oil, filled with various edibles in front of them. Although at the Kijapuja only the men sit in line. Seniority order is also observed at other domestic rites, although, according to my observations, it may be less strict at other rites, particularly if there are many participants. Then, attention will only be paid to see that the eldest are in the proper order at the places of honour at the very right of the first line.

Hierarchy according to seniority is also apparent in practices concerning the staircases within the houses. If one is well-behaved, one avoids walking so that one comes above or underneath someone else, particularly an elder person, who is also going on the stairs. There is, indeed, a spatial dimension to hierarchy. The Newari term for high is tha and low is kwo. This recurs in the terms for old and young; the former is thakali , the latter kwokali . During my field work I also noticed this in the attitudes to height people had when I was taking photographs. To one fellow it was a great joke when I took a photograph in which he, although a senior male, was depicted seated in a lower position than a woman who sat behind him.


Feasts and Guests

The Newar household is culturally prescribed to arrange a great number of feasts, some of which are restricted in participation to the household members, while others involves phukis, affines, guthyars, and friends. These feasts serve to maintain certain relationships. Feasts which have many and varying participants are generally either life cycle rites or guthi feasts. In the feasts there are also a number of ritualized behaviours where food serves to convey messages, apart from the togetherness expressed by inviting and feeding people or eating together with them. There are basically two types of rites accompanied by feasts: i) calendrical and ii) life cycle rites. The major calendrical rites vary somewhat from locality to locality. Here I will list those that are observed by all Newars: Sunti, Ghyöchaku sanlu, Sri pancami, Sithinakha, Ghate mangal, Janaipurnima and Saparu, Indra yatra, and Mohani. In addition there a number of more or less localized yatras: e.g., the Bala-Kumari yatras in Sunakothi, Thimi and Panga; Indra yatra[34] in Kathmandu ; Matysendranath yatra in Patan ; and Bisket yatra in Bhadgau.


Of the above-mentioned, Ghate Mangal, Janaipurnima, Indra yatra, Mohani and Yomaripunhi are initiated by choyala bhu; i.e., baji, choyala, and thon or ayela replace the ordinary rice meal the evening before the rites proper commence. These feasts are observed by all households except for those in mourning. At some of them there are several days of eating, feasting, and visiting, for example, in Sunakothi, the Bala-Kumari yatras, Mohani, Sunti, Yomaripunhi, and Ghyöcaku sanlu. In Kathmandu Bala-Kumari is not honoured by her own yatra; instead Indra yatra is celebrated on a large scale, which involves a great deal of visiting among kinsmen and friends.

The Bala-Kumari yatras of Sunakothi honour the village’s most important Goddess. Mohani is a ritual period when the worship of Durga is particularly prominent. Sunti concludes the Newari year with worship and feeding of crows and dogs (which are eaters of carrion and therefore thought to be in contact with Yama the God of death). The storage room is also worshipped ( Lakshmipuja) in order that Lakshmi shall bestow wealth and prosperity upon the household. Then the new year is initiated with the Mhapuja (body worship). Yomaripunhi is the full moon of fig breads ( Yomari) made from rice which are kneaded and steamed to various forms and then kept in the storage room for four days.

At Ghyöcaku sanlu one eats ghyö (clarified butter) and molasses, which are thought to make women more fertile. At Mohani practically every household in Sunakothi sacrifices a chicken or a duck to Durga in the home or at the Bala-Kumari pith; this day the Goddess is regarded as Durga. In the evening the sacrificed fowl is prepared as si, which is shared by the household members.[35]

There is an obvious difference between Kathmandu and Jyapu villages. In the former, one is increasingly conforming to the demands of the modern world’s time reckoning; i.e., feasts tend to be of shorter duration and to disrupt normal life less. In the countryside villages one may feast for a week after a season of hard work: i.e., Bala-Kumari yatra after the wheat harvest, Ghate mangal, Janaipurnima, Sapuru and Mata ya after the rice transplantation; and Mohani and Sunti after the rice harvest.[36]

Below some data is presented on the costs and participation in the calendrical rites among the Jyapu of Sunakothi.


Expenditure on Calendrical Rites:[37]



Cost in


No.of Participants





Mangsir Bala-Kumari yatra




Ghyöcaku sanlu




Chaitra Bala-Kumari yatra




Sithi nakha








Indra yatra








Bau kwa swa




Ma kwa swa







Average 9.8


The expenditure per household is thus 1206 rupees; the average per capita income is 1134 rupees in the village; and the average household size is 7.19. Thus approximately 15% of the households’ cash income is spent on the major calendrical feasts. The expenditure of the household’s own produce is also significant, as most of the foods eaten are produced in the village, as well as the grain for the beer and the spirits. The consumed meat, generally, is purchased in Patan and constitutes the main expense. All the feasts mentioned above involve consumption of buffalo meat and beer, often in large quantities. The variation in participation is related to those invited. On Sunti and Mohani married daughters are invited for at least one feast meal, and at Chaitra Bala-Kumari yatra one invites kinsmen from the neighbouring villages, e.g., married daughters and their husbands, and maternal uncles and aunts.

The major life cycle rituals are Macabu benke (post-parturition purification), Janakegu (rice feeding), Kyetapuja (for boys), Ihi and Bara (for girls), Vivahan (marriage), and Jyajanko (worship of the old). Lastly come the rites subsequent to a death. The major are Ghasu (12th day), Latya (45th day), Khula (six months), and Dakhila (one year). Below some data are presented on the expenditures for some of the life cycle rituals among the Jyapu of Sunakothi and the Uray of Kathmandu.


Expenditure on Life Cycle Rituals among Jyapu and Uray:[38]









No. Guests


No. Guests





in rupees


in rupees







Ja nakégu


































Simple 50-60






Elaborate 800-1000


Last Rites









Among the Uray 5-25 persons participate in each of the post-funeral feasts, and the cost varies from 500 to 10,000 for all the feasts following a demise. If one holds a last feast called paha wana, 200 guests may be invited.

















(Pyan thayegu)









Obviously, the expenditure on life cycle rites can be very high. Indeed, the life cycle rites may be ruinous. During the field work I encountered several households which had become heavily indebted in order to meet the ritual obligations. Particularly, the last rites may cause great difficulties, as one cannot control when people are to die. The rites and the feasts have to be performed on prescribed days, beginning immediately from the day of death. Marriages and Kyetapujas can be postponed, although not indefinitely, until the household economy permits the holding of a proper feast, and the Jyajanko ceremonies can be neglected altogether.

Apart from the data given above, I have not obtained data which would allow a comparison. However, some general comments may be offered. High castes tend to have more lavish rites. Among the Newars, the Uray of Kathmandu are particularly well known for the great and expensive feasts they give at life cycle rituals. Here the marriages and the Jyajanko are the most expensive, and several hundred guests may be invited and feasted sumptuously, whereas the Kyetapuja and the rites following a death are less lavish among the Buddhist castes. Here, they differ from the Shrestha and the Jyapu, who hold very expensive Kyetapujas, marriages, and feasts subsequent to a death. However, their expenses for the marriage feasts do not come in the proximity of those of the Uray. They observe the Jyajanko quite cheaply, if at all. Due to the great expenditures involved one will sometimes celebrate several rites simultaneously in the same household. Thus, a marriage may be a double marriage, in which two brothers are married to two girls, at the same time as the grandparents pass the Jyajanko rites and five girls pass the Ihi rites (the latter is a requirement at all Jyajanko). Generally, only auspicious rites should be thus combined. However, although it is thought to be improper, it is not unheard of that a Kyetapuja has been performed in conjunction with a Dakhila, a feast to commemorate the first anniversary of the departed. Such combinations of auspicious and inauspicious rites are not well received and are only held when the household is extremely poor. In Sunakothi I inquired systematically as to how many feasts, and which feasts, one had participated in during the last year (from Mohani). The question was put mainly to household heads and showed that the respondents (62 responses were obtained) had been to an average of 9.8 major feasts, as far as they could remember. The average included 2 boys’ initiations ( Kyetapuja), 1.5 post-funerary rites, and 1 marriage. The rest (5.3 feasts) were miscellaneous guthi feasts, picnics, etc. On the other hand, out of 62 households only 26 had given major feasts, and among these there were only 2 Brataman and four marriage feasts, whereas 13 were post-funerary, and of these 9 were annual Sraddhas, performed in the name of dead relatives.

There is an obvious difference in the patterns of entertaining guests between the calendrical and the life cycle rites. At the calendrical celebrations one receives rather few guests. Married daughters and friends may come for a visit, but there is generally no large list of invited guests. This is so because the other households in the locality, except for those that are mourning, are also likely to observe the same feasts and rites. However, many people may be invited to the life cycle rituals. Here one encounters a great deal of variation. The expenses and the number of guests vary with the caste and the economic status of the household which is giving the feast or holding the rites. A poor couple of farmer (Jyapu) caste may when marrying have only a few rites performed and less than fifty guests, whereas a marriage among the wealthy Uray of Asan may have dozens of rituals performed over a period of several months and entertain several hundreds, occasionally even thousands, of guests.[39] Then the food will be extremely elaborate.

A traditional Uray wedding meal has three courses. When the guests arrive, the plates of sal leaves should be set with baji, nyataghasa (five ghasa), and two pieces of choyala . This is known as baji della. Along with it one saling, a clay cup, should be ready filled with thon. When the guests have been seated, have set apart their shares for the Gods from the baji della, and then eaten part of this, the proper meal starts. The first course chasara contains vegetables; one kind of bean; and three kinds of meat: takha, gorma, and chakula (big pieces of cooked meat). The chakula is regarded as pork. In the first course one also serves green vegetables (mustard leaves), one dish of bhuti (long green beans), and phasi (pumpkin). The second course nisara will consist of phaela (meat of sheep) or dugula (meat of goat), kimala (small pieces of chicken), and lainsu (curried radish). The third course swasara will consist of haela (duck meat), coon (bamboo shoot curry), pa:maye (a kind of yellow bean similar to the black bean maye), and amaling. Often all the meat served is buffalo meat. However, it is spiced and cut in different ways and called goat meat, etc. Chicken is made by slicing up the meat into very small pieces. Goat is obtained by having bigger pieces, and duck is made by adding a large amount of ginger. The feasts are invariably concluded with curd and sugar, sisapusa (fruit), ayela (spirits), and pacinta mari (ritual breads).[40] The structure of the marriage feast’s menu, as well as of many other feasts, is regarded as essential. The items to be served and the order in which they are served is prescribed in detail.

Here, it is notable that this most elaborate menu is served to distant relatives, friends, guthyars , business associates, etc. Phukis and affines do take part, but many of them will be on the organizing side. The quality of the food, and not the least, the alcoholic beverages, is regarded as essential to the feast’s success. Urays, as well as other Newars, make no secret of the fact that being able to afford a great feast with excellent food and drink enhances the household’s standing.

There are two different categories of invitation to feasts, bhoci and macaci. Bhochi is an invitation to all the members of an extended household. The invitation is sent to the invited household with the name of the household head and bhoci written on it, whereas the macaci is limited to the nuclear family and is usually used to invite a married daughter, her spouse, and children. Then, the married daughter’s name and macaci are written on the invitation. The invitation may also be delivered in person. The invitation is generally extended one day in advance.

Food is also important when the household receives guests on a smaller scale. This is known as paha yaye, lit., make guest. The food served then varies from very simple to very elaborate. Two factors determine the quality and type of the food: i) the household’s economic standing and ii) the guest’s status and relation to the household. A poor household may provide rather poor food even for a highly esteemed guest, whereas a well-to-do household may give even a less esteemed guest high quality food. The guest’s status is highly variable, too; guests may vary from neighbours who drop in on unofficial visits to guthyars or official personages. If one really wants to honour someone, two water-filled kalas (brass vessels) are set on either side in front of the door. Occasionally only one will be set in front of the house. On top of each kalas will be placed plates filled with baji, flowers, etc. Water-filled kalases thus set are known as purnakalas and represent fulfilment, and when set for someone, express a wish for such. Among the higher castes this is done at marriages and Jyajanko , and among the Shrestha and the Jyapu at more elaborate performances of Kyetapuja (boys’ initiation).[41] But it may also be set out for a returning relative who has been away for a long time. Significant persons may also be welcomed in this manner; in Patan every household in one warda (administrative unit) placed kalases in front of the houses to honour the newly elected Pradhan of the Nagar Panchayat when he came for a visit to the warda.

The most simple repast guests are offered consists of a plate of baji with a curry of some sort (often beans) and preferably a glass of thon (beer) to go with it. Higher up on the scale meat, egg, and spirits will be added. In the cities tea may also be served to guests. Nowadays, tea is mostly served stewed and sugared with milk, but in the past salt (Tibetan style) tea was common.[42] The most elaborate will also contain dried fish. The items served and the manner in which they are served will convey an impression to the guest of his standing in the household. A highly elaborate serving indicates that his standing in the household is one of honour and respect, while a poor serving shows that one does not care very much for him. The seating of the guest may also convey such a message. Appadurai’s remark (1981:500) concerning Tamil Brahmans, that “[ i]t is to culinary ‘syntax’ that the receivers look for an index of their relative standing,” appears to be largely valid in the Newar household as well. A prime example is when someone belonging to a different caste is invited to eat rice with the household members or with one of them. This is so rare, that its significance, implying respect and friendship, is very clear to the participants. The caste rules may be thus waived, more or less covertly, by single households, or high caste individuals on journeys, but not by a whole caste. Here the seating order is also significant. Sitting in one line indicates such a degree of belonging that it is extremely rare that members of different castes do it, if boiled rice is eaten, unless in the secluded privacy of the household.

Two food items dhau sagan and khe sagan are particularly important in ritual exchanges with relatives. The terms mean “curd good omen” and “egg good omen” respectively. The word sagan is said to be derived from Sanskrit. The dhau sagan consists of curd and flattened rice, the khe sagan of egg, flattened rice, meat, fish, wa and ayela. The composition may vary. A piece of cloth should also be included in a proper sagan. The sagan is served ritually at various occasions. Khe sagan is served to initiands at the Kyetapuja , where it is given by the maternal uncle and aunt. It is also served at various ceremonies during the marriage among the Uray , and at janko , among the Jyapu, as well as among the Uray. The Uray also give sagan in the Mhapuja and at birthdays. Then it is given as a good omen, i.e., one gives the receiver a good omen.

Dhau sagan is given similarly at various ritual occasions, particularly when someone departs on a journey. It has not been possible for me to obtain an exhaustive answer as to why one thus serves sagan. According to Pradhan[43] the khe sagan may represent the pancamkara. Newars in general say it is in order to give a good omen.[44] Furthermore, eggs are associated with sexuality and fertility, whereas curd is associated with masculinity and purity. The cloth is given for clothing. It may be a proper cloth which is later stitched into a shirt, blouse, or the like, or just some strips of cloth which serve to signify a symbolic gift of clothing.

The household members may also be involved in external feasting: one may eat in relatives’ households or at a friend’s, one may eat within the circle of the guthi of which one is a member, and one may be invited to feasts. Yet another category of feast is the outing to a pleasant spot; such can be arranged by a group of friends. They may simply be friends, or they may have a common interest or purpose, such as to play music or to play holi. One may go to one of the valley’s Ganesh temples, to Dakshinkali, or any other shrine where the residing deity accepts blood offerings, sacrifice a cock or duck, and cook and eat it at the site. However, at such feast meals outside the household, the food served will generally contain baji instead of boiled rice, to the extent that many Newars will say that baji is always served at feasts, never ja.



At the household level food has several functions apart from the mere provision of nourishment. One may note a dichotomy between the private and the semi-public. In private less order is observed or ritually expressed in connection with the daily meals, which are often poor (“ dal bhat”) and monotonous in composition. In meals in which non-household members participate the food is often elaborate and expensive. Indeed, the quality of the food is crucial to the impact, the impression, of a feast and subsequently to the host household’s social standing.

The comparatively lax seating order of the daily meals with little emphasis on delicacies is reversed at feasts and rituals. These can be divided into two broad groups: samskaras (life cycle) and calendrical . In the samskaras the participation of the phuki is crucial, and so is the use of sagan, the giving of good omens, which expresses wishes for fulfilment and purity. In both types of rites the seating order is significant, i.e., emphasis is placed on seniority ranking. In samskaras the phuki and other relatives often participate and play important roles, while in the calendrical rites the emphasis is often on the participation of the household members. The calendrical festivals are important because they mark the seniority and cohesion within the household. Here, it is highly significant that the demarcation of seniority in feasts is accomplished in conjunction with sacrifice to the household’s or the village’s Gods; these feasts and the seating order, according to seniority, are closely related to the Newars most sacred values. Indeed, certain foods mark the unity of the household to the extent that it is regarded as essential to save shares for absent members, in order that all partake of the sacred food.

Not only seniority is expressed through the ritual use of food, but in some castes, also the relationships between mothers-in-law, daughters-in-law, and husbands. In relation to outsiders, important messages about the guest’s standing may be given by the use of the food rituals, e.g., merely to invite an outsider to share boiled rice is a sign of acceptance and closeness.

The prescribed ritual feasting, particularly in connection with life cycle rituals, also has serious implications for the household economy. A large portion of the household’s cash income is spent on feasts.


[1]  N.Gutschow and B.Kölver 1975:30.


[2]  Though in Uray and Bare households one may have an image of Bhimsen instead of Lakshmi.


[3]  Nepali collected statistics on the household composition in 1957-58. He compared the predominantly Jyapu village, Panga, with Kathmandu , dividing the households into three types: i ) nuclear, ii) intermediate, and iii) joint. The result showed that 31.5% of the families were nuclear in Panga and 30.75% in Kathmandu ; the percentages of intermediate families were 4.25% in Panga and 4.55% in Kathmandu ; and the percentages of joint families were 64.25% in Panga and 64.70% in Kathmandu . (Nepali 1965:259)


[4]  Toffin 1978:118.


[5]  Newars have taken to almost any profession regardless of the traditional ascriptive professions. Thus, one encounters Vajracharyas who are merchants, Jypus who are tailors, carpenters, and peons, and Naye who are taxi drivers, although members of “clean castes” do not accept the jobs which by tradition are most unclean, such as butchering and sweeping. The lack of orthodoxy may be the result of rapid social change, the increasing difficulties of eking out a living in the traditional occupations, and new opportunities. However, it may also be taken as an indication that the caste system and the traditional orthodoxy in the division of labour have never been very deeply rooted in the valley.


[6]  I regard as strategical such decisions which have a determinant influence upon the life carriers of the household members: e.g., decisions concerning the household’s economy, marriages, schooling, etc.


[7]  Fürer-Haimendorf writes “[t]he digu puja guthi [ phuki group sharing a God] is the primary instrument for social controls.”(1956:30) See also Nepali 1965:191-92.


[8]  Personal communication with Siddhartha Man Tuladhar .


[9]  See also Nepali 1965:198.


[10]  Toffin 1977:102.


[11]  Toffin 1977:104.


[12]  Sixty-five household heads responded to the question: How often do You eat meat? Several answers were offered: daily, twice a week, once a week, once a month, at festivals. The survey covered one Warda (ward) in the village.


[13]  Toffin has found the same quietude during rice meals in Pyangau. ( Toffin 1977:135)


[14]  Here, I depend on statements from Urays , Sakhyas, Shresthas and Mallas.


[15]  See Bennett 1983:91.


[16]  Premarital sex is virtually unheard of and strongly disapproved.


[17]  The Lakha kucika is marked by the giving of lakha-breads, the Nipakhu by the food gifts to the bride’s household from the maternal uncle which come in pairs, and the Nyapakhu by the fact that these gifts come in units of five. In the Paena wane no rites are observed.


[18]  Svayamwara : (Sanskrit) the public selection of a princess or lady of rank. Etym., Svayam = self, Vara = choosing (lit., self choosing). (Balfour 1885:789-790) Svayamwara marriage occurs frequently in Hindu mythology, e.g., Draupadi in the Mahabharata and Sita in the Ramayana. Among the Newars the Svayamwara is generally only performed at marriages which are somehow unorthodox, such as young couples who have found each other by their own efforts or inter-caste marriages. However, one is clearly aware that the Svayamwara is not the traditional way Newari wedding ceremonies were performed. Furthermore, in spite of the etymological connotations of Svayamwara , it does not, in Newari society, imply that the young couple need to have made their own choice, as it occurs that one arranges marriage by the Svayamwara rites even in cases where the marriages have been negotiated through a lami (go-between). Then, it is often done in order to save money, as marriage by other rites is far more expensive.


[19]  Nepali 1965:239-47.


[20]  Among the explicitly Buddhistic castes (Vajracharya, Bare and Uray ) and the Jyapu, the lami is frequently a senior woman, whereas, among the Shrestha the lami will be a senior male.


[21]  Significantly, when the bride was fetched by the groom’s folks, their family priest would in a ritual argument with the priest of the bride’s household assure the latter that she would be taken care of as if she was one of the own daughters of the groom’s household.


[22]  Some of the Chathara Shresthas, in accordance with Parbatya custom, fetch their brides in person. (Bista 1972:23) This seems to be largely due to Parbatya influence. Non-Newars sometimes refer to the groom’s passive role in the Newar marriage as odd and as symbolically charged, showing weakness and a lack of masculine prowess, to the extent that one will occasionally ridicule the Newar men for it.


[23]  In Sunakothi, in the Nyapakhu marriage the key is inserted into the bride’s clothes. In other less expensive forms of marriage rites practiced by the Jyapu, the Laskas rite is not performed. Among the Uray the bride holds the key stretched out by the mother-in-law.


[24]  See chapter VI.


[25]  In Sunakothi it is nowadays generally not observed. However, there are indications that it may have been observed in the past.


[26]  Newari feasts and rites, domestic as well as public, generally follow the lunar calendar. For an account of the lunar calendar see Toffin 1977:19, and Slusser 1982:381-83.


[27]  Newars are usually aware of their birth dates. Indeed, I did not encounter any adult who did not know his or her age. I believe the reason can be found in the great importance attached to astrology, which is used to determine the auspicious moments ( lagan) to perform various important rituals, e.g., marriage.


[28]  The order in which the respective part is taken refers to that in Sunakothi.


[29]  Toffin 1976:332.


[30]  The household Gods are given blood sacrifices particularly on the ninth day of Mohani ( Nep. , Dussein). Then, the household’s tools are put in the worshipping room. Poor families will have to be content with sacrificing an egg, which is put among the offerings, whereas a well-to-do family may bring a great many possessions into the shrine and splatter it all with blood from a goat. Modernization has not changed this custom, but it has been adapted to modern technical items. Apparently every taxi has an animal sacrificed to it this day, and the Royal Nepalese Air Lines Corporation sacrifices a goat to each of the aviation engines on the planes before take-off.


[31] The sacrificed animals were chickens, ducks, and goats. The two households which did not sacrifice any animal at Mohani refrained from doing so, because they identified themselves as Buddhists and regarded animal sacrifice as a sin.


[32]  According to Nepali, the si is taken on the eighth day of Mohani, and if “ any consanguine fails to attend this feast all the social and ceremonial obligations of the family in respect of that person are regarded to have ceased to exist.”(1965:469)


[33] The Jyajanko may thus constitute a functional analogue to the Nyungne ritual among the Sherpas, as analyzed by Ortner l978:33-60. According to Ortner this ritual can be regarded as a passage to “ postparenthood,” which it facilitates.


[34]  Indra Yatra is observed all over the valley, though in most places on a small scale; e.g., in Sunakothi a guthi sets up six Khun dyo (lit., thief Gods), said to be the sons of Indra, on poles, and one distributes same baji to the children at the purnima (full moon) day. There is little interruption of the daily routines, whereas in Kathmandu Indra yatra is one of the greatest annual feast and ritual periods, and there are innumerable ritual activities going on throughout the city.


[35]  For accounts of Nepalese festivals, see Anderson 1977, Goodman 1981, and Nepali 1965:343-413.


[36] There are calendrical variations in when these feasts occur, as the dates they fall on are determined by the lunar calendar: hence, some years Mohani falls before the rice harvest or in immediate connection to it.


[37]  Certain methodological reservations have to be made concerning this table. All numbers have been rounded off, those above .5 upwards, those below downwards. The reliability of the data presented in the table is limited, as it is based on a survey conducted in only a few households. Nine households were subjected to questions concerning the expenditures on annual feasts. On the questions concerning how much money was spent, the average number of answers was 8.3, i.e., 92%. The questions on participation were answered by an average of 8, i.e., 88.8%. A second factor limiting the validity is that the questions were asked ex pos t; hence, due to lapses of memory, some of the answers may have been inaccurate.


[38]  The data on the Jyapu has been obtained from a minor survey on nine households in Sunakothi . The data on Uray has been obtained by estimates, “qualified guessing,” by Prem Bahadur Kangsakar. I have also checked them up by asking other Urays. The data on the Jyapu are subject to several limitations: 1) the sample is small; 2) several households were unable to answer due to the household’s composition (e.g., a household without sons need not perform Kyeta puja); 3) I have not tried to correct for the inflation, and some of the rites were performed more than twenty years ago; 4) it was very unpopular in the village to collect this kind of data (Indeed, further surveys would have damaged my standing in the village to the extent that it would have impeded my work); and 5) recent legislation has put ceilings on the capital spending and the number of guests allowed, which may have made the villagers extra reticent on these matters.


[39]  However, recent legislation, the “Social Customs Reform Act,” Samajik vyavahar (sudhar ) ena, 2033 (HMG: B.S.2033), has put a limit on the number of guests allowed to 500.


[40]  This menu covers the items served at the groom’s household. At the farewell feast for the bride given by the bride’s household, Paena biya bhoye, a dish will be served which is not served at other occasions: chyalla. Chyalla is prepared from dried radish, which has first been dried and then cut lengthways. The dried radish sinamuni is soaked for twenty-four hours. Afterwards it is chopped into small pieces and then boiled with entrails ataputi, bowels bhuodi, and ka (residual fermented rice from the brewing of rice beer).


[41]  Occasionally, the purnakalases are painted on the gate posts instead of having real water-filled vessels.


[42]  Occasionally one may still be offered a cup of salt and buttered tea in Uray households, though only when the host first has ensured himself that one appreciates salt tea.


[43]  Pradhan 1979:16.


[44]  I believe the term may also be found in Balfour Vol III 1885:488. “SAGUN. HIND. First payment of the year, first ploughings, first sowings, are all called sagun by Hindus and are followed by festivities.” According to the Newars sagan is of Sanskrit origin and means good omen. However, so far I have not been able to locate the word in Sanskrit dictionaries.