In Newari society the relationship between a husband’s household and his wife’s parental household is close and ritually important. Unlike the Parbatya castes the Newars prefer to marry within their own neighbourhood, allowing the wives, their offspring, as well their husbands to frequently visit the wives’ parental home. The maternal uncles have important ritual obligations in relationship to their sisters’ offspring. Indeed, the role of the maternal uncle is essential in initiation and marriage ceremonies.

Marriage and Divorce

The Newars ideally always marry within the caste, though the Vajracharya and Bare castes have traditionally intermarried. It also seems as if the abolition of the caste system has led to increasing marriage over the caste borders.[1] The generally cited rule is that at least seven generations must have passed before one may marry into a lineage to which one can trace one’s ancestry. This is the main rule which all are aware of. However, this rule is not always strictly adhered to. According to Nepali, some Jyapu and Shrestha marry cognates if the link to them is maternal and three generations have passed since the previous marriage.[2] A few affines are also included in the non-marriageable category, e.g., the elder sister of a man’s wife. But one is allowed to marry those who have the same family name, and even the same Digudyo or Agamdyo, as long as the rules cited above are observed.

In the marriage proceedings there is a great exchange of food gifts between the groom’s and the bride’s households. Betel nuts are the first gifts which are sent, after the marriage has been contracted through a lami.[3] In the Uray marriage, the groom’s household sends uncut betel nuts (goye) with the lami in a lampica, a highly elaborate silver cup. In the lampica there will be ten unbroken betel nuts and one mohar (half a rupee). This gift of betel nuts is known as goye bigu, and the custom seems to be practiced by most Newar castes, though in more or less elaborate forms.[4] When the lampica has been received in the bride’s household, it serves as a token for the contraction of the marriage. Indeed, it may be sent several months, in the past even years before the marriage was consummated. It even occurred that young men on trading missions to Tibet were married off without their knowledge. Then, the lampica was sent to the bride’s household by the groom’s parents.

Later, approximately one month before the marriage, the groom’s household sends lakha mari to the bride’s. Lakha mari is a kind of large, sweet bread made of wheat and rice flour. There should be thirty-six lakha mari. Traditionally (ca. 50 years ago), there were three kinds of lakha mari: 1) savai (jo pasta), 2) pacinta, and 3) matha. Nowadays, the last category has disappeared. The breads are ranked. The savai is the most valued, the pacinta less, and the matha the least. Dried fish is also included in the lakha. At the bride’s household the lakha maris are addressed to the bride’s relatives by attaching small notes to them with the receivers’ names. The maris are distributed according to the preferences of the bride’s household. The size and the standard of the bread given is determined by the receiver’s relationship to the bride. Close relatives will receive savai; less close, pacinta; and the distant kin used to receive matha. The father, the mother, brothers, sisters, maternal and paternal uncles, daughters-in-law (living in the household), and the affines of the household head are regarded as close relatives. The sisters’ daughters and phukis (though sometimes they may also be in the first category) are regarded as less close.[5] The third grade includes distant relatives. Twaye cine, ritual brothers or sisters, may also be given lakha mari, if one chooses to do so. Lakha breads are similarly distributed among other Newar castes. Among the Jyapu of Sunakothi, it only occurs in the most elaborate form of wedding proceedings (Nyapakhu), which is rarely observed, and then there is only one kind (jo pasta). I have not had the opportunity to collect information on lower caste Newars, but it seems reasonable to assume that there is little or no lakha distribution among them, unless they are particularly well-to-do. The distribution of unbroken betel nuts, however, seems to be universal in Newari society.[6]

Nepali has also noted the significance of lakha, which according to him, “...when sociologically interpreted, is a manifestation of the structure of kinship-bonds.”(1965:215) He provides an account of the lakha distribution, which is different from the one (above) I have obtained from the Uray. He does not provide details as to which caste, or which castes, the account refers to but writes:

[t]he following relatives are generally considered as falling within the circle of ‘lakha’ distribution, the relationship being counted by taking the bride as the point from which the relationship emanate: 1. All Fukee families. 2. Father’s sisters’ families. 3. Mother’s brothers’ families. 4. Mother’s sisters’ families. 5. Father’s brothers’ wives’ brothers’ families. 6. Mother’s mother’s brothers’ families. 7. Father’s father’s mother’s brothers’ families. 8. Mother’s sisters’ daughters’ families. 9. Married sister’s families. 10. Brothers wives’ brothers’ families. 11. Collateral brothers’ wives’ parents’ families (if collaterals are joint with the bride’s parents). 12. Families of cross-cousin sisters.(1965:214)

According to Nepali “...the size and variety of the lakha varies with the nearness of relationship to the bride’s family.”(ibid.) Particularly notable is that in Nepali’s account the phuki do get the first grade lakha, whereas among the present day Uray this may not be a matter of course. Nepali also states that among those who receive lakha “...there should be a constant flow of mutual obligations”(ibid.), though he does not specify what obligations the bride has to families of cross-cousin’s sisters, etc. I believe that he is perhaps exaggerating the corporateness of the lakha receivers, though there is little doubt that the lakha expresses the net-work of kin and the relationships of different families to the bride’s household. Moreover, “...a family of a cognate or affine excluded from receiving the lakha ceases to be regarded as a close relative.”(Ibid.)

The distribution of lakha mari is interesting as it grades various kinsmen and friends according to their relations to the household. Although the distribution will follow standard procedures, referring to the Uray, there is room for individualization; one may, or may not, give the phukis the highest ranked savai bread. The former practice indicates that the relationships within the phuki are preferred to be close, or it may confirm that such is the case, while the latter shows that one does not regard them as one’s very closest kin. Indeed, the distribution of lakha may be used to provide a net-work graph of the household’s relations, as everyone gets a share which both marks the relationship and says something of the quality of the relationship. The latter, of course, may be a reflection of the relationship’s character or an expression of the character one would prefer it to have.

Among the Uray a rite known as Kalya chwoyegu is performed two days before the bride is brought to the groom’s house. A party consisting of the family priest (Guruju), a goldsmith (Bare) or a copper smith (Thaba), the lami and one Jyapuni go to the house of the bride. They bring a number of things: a tuti bagi, a bronze bracelet, which the Bare (or Thaba) fastens to the brides ankles; dhau sagan in a jar with flowers and covered with exquisite brocade; one dharni of fish; one pathi of milk, to pay back the breast milk the bride has had in her childhood; one piece of navel from musk deer; and one earthen pot containing twelve lika mari and twelve pacinta mari. The earthen pot is known as nan mari kosi. The symbolical significance of these items is in some instances clear. The tuti bagi[7] represents the conjugal bond; the dhau sagan represents purity and is a good omen, an expression of the wish for future purity; and the musk represents richness, successful trade in Tibet. The likamari and the pacintamari are regarded as pleasant sweets, though I have not been able to obtain a Newari exegesis attributing any particular meaning to them. Neither has any of my Newari friends and informants been able to explain why fish is thus sent. An interesting detail is that later, when the bride has been brought to the groom’s household, the nan mari kosi is returned to the groom’s house, prepared with a practical joke (see below).

Among the Uray, on the day the bride is fetched she distributes whole betel nuts to her relatives.[8] Distant relatives give them back to the lami, who sits next to the bride at the ceremony, whereas close relatives keep ten each, and the very closest are given putu goye (lit., pouch betel), small pouches of exquisite cloth with two and a half, three and a half, or one and a half betel nuts stitched into them. The putu goye have been provided by the groom’s household. When the bride’s relatives receive goye from her, they give her dowry (kosa) to her. The dowry generally consists of household utensils and remains her personal property throughout her life.[9] The culmination of the rite is when the bride at last gives betel nuts to her mother. At this point both the bride and her mother are expected to and, indeed, generally, do weep, as it marks the very moment the bride is thought to be leaving her parental household. This moment is known as lha goye phaye, lit., begging betel with open palms.[10] The putu goye may (as an analyst’s construct) be interpreted as representing intercourse, the putu representing the vagina and the goye testicles. Then the half betel nut would represent the expected off-spring. An alternative interpretation would be that the whole betels would represent boy children and the half, girl children. Then, the putu would represent the ovary, and the putu goye a marriage fulfilled with off-spring of both sexes. However, I have not been able to confirm either interpretation. The indications are that round unbroken betel nuts at childbirth represent the birth of a boy as in the message that is sent to the affines (see below). Furthermore, the feast at which the putu goye are distributed is known in Newari as paena bi bhoye, lit., to give to intercourse feast.[11] The betel nuts are also said to signify durability, which is a quality desired of marriage. According to Sumon Tuladhar: “Gwaye is used as the ritual ‘fruit’ because of its ever-lasting quality.”(1979/80:62) Thus, goye is given to the bride and her relatives to announce the marriage and to introduce her into the groom’s family; it is also given by her to them “wishing an everlasting relationship.”(1979/80:69)

P.B. Bajracharya (1959) has presented an account of Newar marriage, which is somewhat at variance with the account above concerning the Uray marriage. Unfortunately, he does not mention which caste the account refers to, but I assume, as he is a Vajracharya, that it refers to the Vajracharya caste. The preliminaries are the same as among the Uray; a lampica is sent with unbroken betels, and lakha breads are sent shortly before the marriage. But fifteen days after the lampica has been delivered, the groom’s household begins to send “sisa fusa,” seasonal fruits and peanuts to the girl. This continues up to the month of the marriage.(1959:419) Then the date of the marriage is communicated to bride’s household thus:

Eight days before the marriage ceremony the boy’s parents send nika to the girl’s family, which is another kind of matrimonial sweet shaped like a ball. Sixty-four pieces of nika are placed in a pitcher shaped clay pot (madhi nang), the mouth of which is covered with a piece of paper which is opened by the prospective bride. On the side of the pot is placed a piece of paper on which is written the auspicious time for the marriage ceremony, as fixed by the Joshi (astrologer). Along with this are sent three pathis of beaten rice, one dish of sweets, five or six plates of different kinds of fruit, one plate of dried fruit, and a plate full of pieces of crystallized molasses, called nikakhyaye choye (bagi choye).(Ibid.)

Four days before the marriage a delegation of three is sent to the bride’s house with gifts and food. The three include one Bada (or Taba), one Jyapu, and the lami. The Bada fastens a bracelet on the bride, and the Jyapu delivers the food and the gifts. The lami introduces the Bade and gives the bride the food sent by the groom’s family. Here an interesting exchange of food occurs.

The girl must eat only food brought from the groom’s household on this day. The emissaries are feasted in the house of the girl, and her family send gifts of food to the bride groom through the same Jyapu. The bride groom also takes only that food on this day, and therefore bride and bride groom exchange food with each other. This is called kalya nhyake chhoye.(Ibid.)

According to Pradhan a similar ritually prescribed exchange of food takes place among high caste Hindus (unspecified which), on the morning of the day when the bride is brought to the groom’s house. Then, the groom’s household sends her khe sagan and other foods. And, “[t]he bride eat[s] a bit of these [items] and adds more [of the] same items and returns them to the groom who can eat only after these have been returned.”(1979:12) These exchanges of food may be interpreted as ritual expressions of the union between the groom and the bride, although they may not yet have met face-to-face.

In the recent past among the Uray, the bride’s relatives would come to see her face in a rite known as Khwa swa waye (lit., go to see face), which is held on the third day after the bride has arrived in the groom’s household. In the past the groom’s folks would bring the bride to a third house, selected by the bride’s folks, that is, to “neutral territory.” The bride was brought there by her mother-in-law and other leading ladies of the household. At the rite the bride’s father, brothers, phukis, and uncles were present; only men and prepubescent girls came from her parental household and its net-work of relatives to “see her face” and give her lavish gifts. Then, the ladies of the groom’s household served ayela (spirits) to the members of her parental household who had come. Four senior ladies of the groom’s household walked down the lines pouring ayela into the salings (clay pegs). Each man was expected to drink one saling of ayela from each of the ladies, who would be spectacularly dressed in lavish silk and gold brocaded saris, etc. They also gave each one a jo pasta bread, which was taken home to be eaten later. It was important that the ayela was of superior quality, as the quality of the ayela served was said to determine the household’s reputation. When this was completed, the bride returned to her parental household along with her relatives.

The Khwa swa wanegu is significant, as it would often be the first contact between the affines. As the Uray is a small caste and the localities inhabited by it quite limited, the affines would be likely to have had some knowledge of each other through commerce, participation in ritual events involving a large part of the Buddhist community, or reputation. Nevertheless, the Khwa swa wayegu was the first formal immediate contact in connection with the marriage, the previous having been through the lami.

Indeed, the affines are not invited to the feasts observed in the two respective households. There is no participation in the bride’s paena bi bhoye from the groom’s household, though his father or another senior male from his household or phuki will be dispatched to the feast in the bride’s house thrice, asking them to “hurry up.” Neither do any of the bride’s close relatives participate in the large marriage dinners which are served on the groom’s side, when the bride has been delivered. Thus, the significance of the Khwa swa waye was not only that the bride’s relatives had the opportunity to see her face, but it was also a first introduction to the affines, where the women of the groom’s household display their wealth (by brocades) and their skill in distilling ayela. The custom, though now extinct, also gives an indication of the traditionally strong position of the women in Newari society; within the “society of the caste” they were called upon to perform rituals. The Khwa swa wanegu is still observed among some groups of the Uray. However, nowadays the bride is fetched and brought to a third house by her kinsmen. No one from her conjugal household comes along. At the rite no alcoholic beverages are served; they have now been substituted with musipo, packages with nuts and sweets, and cigarettes for the people who smoke. These items are provided by the groom’s household.

Later the same day, the groom, who has not been present at the Khwa swa wanegu, is called by his wife’s family. A Jyapu will go to call the groom. Arriving at his in-law’s house accompanied by his household’s Gubhaju priest, the groom is fed a sumptuous feast served with baji not ja. This feast is also significant for the social structure. It is called Duchayenke (Etym., to be included); it marks his inclusion into his spouse’s circle of relatives. At the Duchayenke he gives betel nuts to all the members of her parental household. Doing this he begins with the youngest children and gives to the eldest last. He also bows down in respect to all who are his seniors, and his junior in-laws bow down to him. This again demonstrates the importance of seniority in Newar society. That he gives the younger children betel nuts first is significant, as it emphasizes his special relationship to them in his capacity as husband of the elder sister or father’s sister (ZH or FZH). The couple returns the same evening to his household. The Duchayenke rite is still performed and regarded as essential in the marriage proceedings.

Among the Malla (subgroup of the Chatharia Shrestha) the parents of the bride will come to fetch the groom at a rite called Jilajan duchakegu (i.e., including or welcoming a son-in-law). Carrying a large amount of food the bride’s parents come to the household into which their daughter has been married. There should be sixty-four different dishes. These are displayed at a reception held by the groom’s parents but are not eaten there. The display is held to show the “good society” of the bride’s parental household. After the food has been displayed the young couple is brought to the bride’s parental household, where the food is eaten. This is done in order to include the groom into their circle of relatives. Among the Jyapu of Sunakothi a similar ritualized visit to the in-laws is observed. It takes place on the fourth day after the bride has been brought to the groom’s household and is known as Pinewanegu (lit., go (on the) fourth).

In the relationship between affines some remarkable teasing occurs. Among the Uray a load is sent with a Jyapu from the bride’s parental household for rites performed in connection with the marriage. It is called San pyake cwanegu (lit., hair dress send). It will contain the following items: kon khola (powder box), chikan khola (oil box), jola nhyakhan (bright or glittering mirror), kakicha (comb), thaku (broom for the hair), and sinha batta (vermilion box). The nan sent previously to the bride’s parental household is now returned. Upon its return it is loaded with thirty-six breads of three different kinds: twelve lika mari, twelve gwara mari, and twelve pacinta mari. This is in return for the thirty-six lakha breads sent previously by the groom’s household to the bride’s. One remarkable thing here is that the returned nan mari kosi is prepared with a surprise. The groom is expected to open it, and, when so doing, he is likely to find it covered like a Chinese box by layer upon layer of papers and with plenty of vermilion, which will scatter all over him as he struggles to open it. I have also been told that he may unexpectedly release a pigeon which flutters out, etc. In Sunakothi among the Jyapu the bride’s family may also expose the groom’s party to practical jokes. For instance, when they go to fetch the bride, they are offered mushipo, a bag with sweets and nuts, and in these bags goat leavings and the like may be surprisingly found.

Among the Uray the bride’s household would, in the past, send chusyamusya (A mixture of roasted wheat and soya beans) to the groom’s household for three years or until the bride had given birth to her first child. The chusyamusya would be sent near the time of lineage’s secret god (Agam) worship; the first year one would send three dharnis,[12] the second year two dharni, and the third year one dharni. Among the Jyapu the wife’s household will send offerings to the Digudyo puja of the husband’s lineage for the first time she participates in the cult’s rites.[13] Here, I would like to point out again the close connection between Newari religion and society. When the affines want to honour the daughter’s conjugal household, one simultaneously honours the very own and exclusive cult of that household and its patrilineage.

Until a woman has had her first child she spends much of her time in her parental household (thachey). Newars explain this by saying that it would damage her reputation, as it would indicate an excessive interest in sex, if she stayed all the time with her husband. Indeed, in some cases a newly-wedded wife will spend most of her time in her parental household, only coming to visit the husband at various domestic ceremonies and feasts, which, indeed, are very frequent.

The wife’s long periods of stay at her parental household are frequently a reason for conflict and are regulated by certain customs. A woman whose parental household is near her conjugal household may go “home” practically every day. However, she usually does not remain there longer than two nights. If she has been away three days or more she has to be called back to her husband’s household by her husband, who sends a messenger. Often it is the wife’s parents who like to keep their daughter at home. Hence, in order to avoid conflicts with his in-laws, a Newar husband rarely, if ever, goes in person to call his wife. Instead, a messenger is sent. Urays, Shresthas, and the castes above them will generally send a Jyapuni (woman of Jyapu caste),[14] whereas, the Jyapu themselves and the castes below them in rank will send a friend or a sister-in-law. The wife’s prolonged stay in her paternal household is sometimes instrumental in divorces, when the husband wants a divorce. Then, he will simply refrain from calling his wife home, in which case she cannot come to her conjugal household without a severe loss of face. Thus, Newari women who have problematic marriages do not stay in their parental homes longer than two nights if they fear that they may not be called back.

Apparently, divorces initiated by the wives were much more common in the past. According to Kirkpatrik, who made his observations in 1793, “...the Newar women, like those among the Nairs, may, in fact, have as many husbands as they please, being at liberty to divorce them continually on the slightest pretenses.”(1811:187) According to Nepali, the Newari wife is identified with the Goddess Laxmi: and,

[as] Laxmi is never stable, so also is a woman. This is accepted at least in theory by the Newars. This has perhaps led the Newars to take a lenient view of a wife’s going to live with another husband. ...[I]n the former days a woman coming to live with her eighth husband, after leaving the previous seven, used to be called Sapta Laxmi and she used to be much welcomed in the house. Though the jealousy of the males would no longer tolerate such laxity on the part of a woman, the traditional belief still exists.(Nepali 1965:268)

In the past some of the betel nuts accepted by the woman to mark the contraction of the marriage were returned to the husband at divorce. According to O’Malley,[15] as cited by Nepali, the “...Newar women used to leave their husbands and remarry whenever they wanted. The only intimation necessary, he reported, was to place two betelnuts on her bed while leaving the house. She was then free to choose another husband.”(Nepali 1965:239) According to Nepali, the practice has declined and “ confined to the Udas (Uray) and Manandhar castes only.”(Ibid.) According to Pradhan, writing about high caste Hindu Newars: “...a woman may divorce her husband — simply by putting two areca nuts under the husband’s pillow at night.”(1979:15) However, I have not been able to document any case of divorce effectuated by the wife returning the betel nuts to the husband. Although most have heard of the custom, it is never, or very rarely, practiced. But there is one exception, namely when a man dies, particularly before the marriage is consummated. Then the betel nuts may be placed on the dying man’s chest. Elderly persons can still remember such instances. The divorce is then regarded as convenient both to the groom’s family, as it disinherits the wife, and to the wife, because it relieves her of the mourning obligations and puts her at liberty to remarry.

The custom of returning betel nuts given at marriage when divorcing was also recognized by the government of the 19th century:

If a Newar go to Bhote, and his wife remaining at his house or at the house of her father, should elope; or, if her protectors (father, uncle, brother &c) should resolve to give her in marriage to another, her husband being (as before) in Bhote, in either case the wife must perform “pachuki” that is, she must go to the Mul Sabha of the city she belongs to (Kathmandu, or Bhatgaon or Patan) and present two suparis[16] and one mohr (six and a half anas) to the judge; when the judge sends the two suparis by the hands of a Mahan to the house of her husband. The Mahan having reached the house says to the relatives of the husband, “this is the supari of him who has gone to Bhote. His wife is divorced from him, and I therefore return you the instrument of the marriage contract (i.e. the supari).” Then the wife returns all the ornaments &c given by her husband, or if she delays in so doing, the Mahan compels restitution of them. The wife is then free to do as she wills.(Hodgson 1836:130-31)

Hodgson also comments in a note that, “[n]ow, under the Gorkhas, a Newar wife cannot get free without paying two four, or six or more up to twenty rupees according to her means.”(1836:130) The return of betels nuts at divorce is thus an ancient Newari practice, although it is not possible to date its antiquity. It does not occur among other people in Nepal, and, indeed, the Nepali-speaking Chetris and Brahmans did not accept divorce at all in the past. Even today, although divorce is legally possible, divorces are exceedingly rare among them. Instead, one will live separately without effectuating a de jure divorce.

However, among Newars threats of divorce do occur. In the southern parts of the valley the women may run away, particularly in the months Sravan and Kartik, to fast at the Adinath temple by the Chobar gorge. In Sunakothi, I was informed that this happened sometimes when the woman felt unwanted by her husband and in-laws, particularly by the mother-in-law. The woman would quietly sneak off, saying nothing, to be found later fasting at the Adinath temple. If the husband and his household wanted her back, one would go there after one week, bringing a feast for her, and then take her home. If they did not, her kinsmen would come, instead, to feast and fetch her, and it would be regarded as tantamount to divorce. Here, it is interesting to note that the woman withdraws from the world to meditate and fast. As an ascetic, she enters a liminal status, separated from her ordinary status. The liminal status even denies her food, i.e., it is self-effacing. Meanwhile, her husband and his kinsmen ponder if she is desired in the house or not. The practice is known as Aba san, and according to Nepali, women also perform it at Svayambhunath, Pashupatinath, and Bungamati. He also states that women who have not been called to their husband’s house after a prolonged stay at their parental household may perform Aba san.[17]

A man’s last rites are performed by his eldest son, as the main mourner, but in the last rites of a woman who has had several sons, it is the youngest son who performs the functions of the main mourner, who lights the funeral pyre and performs Sraddha. This can also be taken as an indication that divorces were more common in the past; a woman’s youngest son may then have been born in a different house, by a different father from the eldest son.

In matters related to divorce the Newars have approached Parbatya standards. Indeed, instead of being deified, according to Nepali “[a] woman contracting a fourth husband is legally deemed to be on a par with a prostitute though socially she retains her original status.”(1965:240) Divorces do occur, but are rare and slightly disapproved of. Although if a marriage fails in one way or another, one has a matter of fact attitude. However, the frequent divorces noted from the past, such as the return of betel nuts given at marriage and the worship of a woman who had been married seven times, are no longer current. Instead, one will settle the matter with the local Panchayat, and in the case of elopement the man who eloped with the woman will restitute the former husband for part of his expenses for the marriage. The woman also returns whatever (jewelry, etc.) she has received from him. According to Nepali, the costs of the lakha should be returned, although if the woman contracted several marriages, only the first husband gets full compensation, the second gets half of what he has given the first, and the third gets nothing if the woman leaves him for a fourth husband. The payment was calculated at the rate of two rupees per lakha given at the marriage.[18] I have not been able to confirm this practice, and I believe it has virtually ceased today. Indeed, it was difficult to obtain any data on divorces, as they are infrequent and regarded as somewhat stigmatizing.


Exchanges of Food Gifts

The relationship between the wife’s parental household and the household she has married into is often close, though there may sometimes be tensions, particularly when the women stay at their parental households for long periods, which is rather frequent. Gifts of food are quite common between the two households. However, I have also had it pointed out to me that a wife’s relatives must never eat for free. The stream of gifts between the two households should preferably be to the advantage of the husband’s household.[19] This is reflected in the proverb jincha bhaju la nyayesa, which literally means: a son-in-law knows to buy meat. There is, thus, an expectation that the balance should be slightly in favour of the wife-receivers. This is further expressed in that at marriages, Kyetapujas, and other similar ceremonies, the husbands of the married daughters are preferred to be in charge of and responsible for the supplies, which may be stored in a room to which only they have the key. Although they need not defray all costs, if some crucial item is missing, they are likely to procure it, as they are expected to, and by so doing they fulfill their roles as good sons-in-law. At marriages, for instance, this can be a rather heavy responsibility, as there may be several hundreds guests who are to be sumptuously feasted.

In Sunakothi the affines, the wives’ parental households, send symbolically charged materials for the husbands’ Mhapuja. The wife’s parental household will send tasi, a fruit that cannot be polluted; walnuts; goyeswa, a reddish flower which never withers; and an ita, a long wick at the Mhapuja. These items are set in a mandala made of rice flour and mustard oil. There will be one mandala for each participant, plus one dedicated to Yama, the god of death. The latter will be set at the line’s ritual right. The underlying conception is that one thus petitions Yama for longevity.[20] The tasi represents purity; the walnuts, luck (which should be as hard as the walnuts); the goyeswa ever-greenness; the mustard oil, eternal life (because it is very slow to dry); and the long wick, too, represents longevity (because it burns a long time).

At the Mhapuja the members of the household sit in a line in front of the mandalas. The women of the house worship the men by giving them sinha and dhau (i.e., tika and curd) on the cheeks. Finally they hand over the fruits and the nuts which have been placed in the centre of the mandalas. Children are also thus worshipped, and the children in return worship their mothers. There is considerable variation in the details of the ritual, depending on caste and household composition. The above account refers to the Mhapuja as observed by the Jyapu in Sunakothi.

The following day Kijapuja (lit., younger brother worship) is held. In this puja sisters worship their brothers and petition Yama that they may live long, in nearly the same way as the wives worship their men at the Mhapuja. However, at the Kijapuja, sisters also have a receiving function to fill, as the brother, after having been given sinha and the articles in the mandala, reciprocates by giving his sister money and, if he can afford it, a new cloth or even a new sari. However, among the Jyapu of Sunakothi at the Kijapuja the worshipping materials for the mandala have to be provided by their husband’s household; it reciprocates, after having received the materials for a worship supposed to grant longevity, and it provides the materials for a similar worship devoted to the wife’s brothers. The symbolism in this exchange is obvious. The affines wish their son-in-law longevity, good luck, etc., and, in return, the husband’s household wishes the same to his wife’s brothers. His household provides the worshipping materials to that end. Indeed, both Mhapuja and Kijapuja are performed to ward off death.

In the early stages of the marriage the wife spends little time in her husband’s household. Once the woman has delivered her first child more time is spent there, and after she has had a number of children most of her time is spent there. The woman’s parental household has important ritual functions at the delivery of the children. Among the Shrestha the women of her parental household, particularly her mother, will come before the delivery to look after her and feed her curd and beaten rice. To go to look after a daughter thus is known as Dhau baji naka wane, i.e., to go feed curd and flattened rice. The Jyapus of Sunakothi have a similar custom, but call it Caku naka wai, i.e., to go to feed molasses. The woman who is about to give birth to a child is thus visited by her mother and other female relatives, who feed her flattened rice, caku (molasses), curd, chick peas, soy beans, beans, celery, wa (a kind of bread made from pulses), and thon (rice beer).

Among the Uray this is done after the delivery, though the woman’s mother may informally come to visit her daughter during the pregnancy and come to assist her at the delivery. The Uray call the post-parturition visits Bicha ya wanegu (to go to look after a woman in labour). There used to be two of them; but nowadays only one is made, and the food gifts of what previously were two visits are now delivered at the same time, after the Macabu benke. Here, I will account for the two traditional visits. At the first, one brought purely vegetarian foodstuffs: caku (molasses), ghyö (clarified butter), baji (flattened rice), and a jar of thon (rice beer). This visit was made shortly after the delivery, while the second was two to three weeks later. Then, one brought solely non-vegetarian foods. There would be l2 pieces of lapi (flat pieces of fried minced meat, lit., meat flat) and chunla (fried minced meat, lit., powder meat). There would be one dharni of meat, half in the form of lapi, half in the form of chunla. The contrasting of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food is notable here. The first visit is made shortly after delivery; the second visit was paid some weeks later. However, both visits were paid after the Macabu benke. Between the birth and the Macabu benke the woman is regarded as impure. The benke purifies her and introduces the child to the phuki’s men. I was unable to get an explanation for the practice, which has ceased anyway. As the woman is impure before the benke and pure after, one may conjecture that the vegetarian foods emphasized her marginality, whereas the meat stressed that she had returned to her normal state. Logically, the first visit should then have been before the benke, but this is denied by my informants.

Furthermore, among the Uray, the message about the child’s birth is conveyed formally to the bride’s parental household by a basket of food stuffs. The basket will be filled with chi (salt), palu (ginger), caku (molasses), imu (celery), and goye (betel nuts). The basket is delivered by a Jyapuni, and the contents of the basket reveal the sex of the child. If a boy has been born, the caku will be formed into a round ball, and the betel nuts will be unbroken, i.e., round. The roundness represents testicles. If a girl has been born, the caku will be made into a flat cake, and the betel nuts will be neatly halved to indicate flatness. The analogy here is that the vagina is flat. The message is given because it is essential that the relatives of the child’s mother know the sex of the child, as this household is obligated to provide a number of[21] the items used at the Macabu benke, the rites which are held to purify the household after the childbirth. If a boy has been born, it is held six days after the delivery; in case a girl has been born, it is held four days after the delivery.

Approximately a month later the young mother will move to her parental household for at least a month. This is regarded as a holiday for her, as she need not do any domestic work. This visit is known as Macabu lahika wanegu (lit., child birth support go). During this period she does not see her husband, but her mother-in-law will come to visit her bringing postigan for her. The mother-in-law brings at least one dharni (2.5 kg) of postigan, a sweet based on kua, milk and sugar boiled together until most of the liquid has evaporated turning the remainder to a thick mass. It is regarded as very tasty and fattening. It is said to be good for the new mother to eat it as a part of the recuperation after the parturition.

In Sunakothi, among the Jyapu, gifts also pass back and forth between the households, who are in affinal relationships on the annual Newari “mother’s day” (Ma khwa swayegu, lit., to see mother’s face) and “father’s day” (Bau khwa swayegu, lit., to see father’s face.) The husband’s household will send a basket of food to the wife’s mother on the former occasion, and the wife’s parental household will in turn send a similar basket to the husband’s. The same exchanges take place on “father’s day.”


The Mhayemaca: the Married Daughters

The married daughters retain strong links to their parental home (thachey), which they frequently visit. They are often invited to domestic feasts and obliged to perform certain rituals for their brother’s children.

The phuki (patrilineage) the woman originally belonged to regards her as an outsider, as an affine in the sense that she is thought to belong to her husband’s phuki. Indeed, among some castes a special rite is held to admit her to the husband’s phuki (see below chapter VI). Among the Uray and the Bare (I have no data on the high caste Hindus), she is not allowed to take part in some of her paternal phuki’s rites, e.g., at the Goye ka bhoye and the Nichaybhu (both rites serve to “include” a new bride into the phuki) and other rites wherein the unity of the phuki is emphasized. She is not allowed to sit in the same line as her father, brothers, and other patrilineal relatives, although she may be in the same room and take part in the preparation of and even serve the feast foods. Among the Jyapu the married daughter’s separation through marriage is notable in that, when the bride-to-be has accepted the betel nuts sent from her future husband’s household, she is partly regarded as a member of his household: e.g., if she dies before the marriage has been consummated, his household will take charge of the funeral proceedings, and take on the roles as main mourners, although she may never have met the husband nor lived in his household.

Although the boundary between her father’s and husband’s phukis is expressed by excluding her from the line of eaters at certain ritual occasions, there are other occasions when the mhayemaca do have ritual obligations to fulfil. For instance, among the Uray, on the day after the Ja nakégu rite, the rite in which the infant eats rice for the first time in its life, the child is taken to the local Ganesh temple. Then, the eldest mhayemaca (preferably eldest sister of the child’s father) is expected to carry the child there in her arms. At the temple she officiates in a rite in which Ganesh is first offered laddu (a round sweet meat). Then, the laddu is fed to the child as prasad. The rite is known as Kathu pwa chayekegu, lit., to cause a hole to be bored in the throat. The laddu, the prasad of Ganesh, is supposed to open or widen the child’s throat, which only the previous day had boiled rice passing through it for the first time. At the Bu san khan (lit., birth hair cut) rite, which is the first hair cutting of a boy, the eldest mhayemaca is obliged to attend and catch the initiand’s hair as it is cut, place it on a tray, and carry it to a river where she immerses it in the water. If there are no mhayemaca in the household, the wife of the eldest male will do it. Among the Jyapu and the Shrestha the married daughter’s husbands are also expected to provide bahn (sacrificial animals) at the Kyetapuja. Preferably, a goat should be given by the husband of the initiand’s paternal aunt (FZH), the husband of the father’s sister, and if the initiand has a married sister, her husband is also expected to give a goat.

Furthermore, seemingly among all Newars, the mhayemaca have important obligations during the period subsequent to a death. After a death the household members are temporarily polluted for twelve days. The pollution extends to the whole phuki. Then the mhayemaca, who are regarded as polluted for only four days, are responsible for seeing that the household gets food. During the first period of mourning they prepare all the food consumed in the house of the deceased in their husbands’ houses and go daily to look after their bereaved relatives. The expenses for this are, generally, defrayed by the affines, the husbands’ household. The cooking may in some instances be done in the house of the deceased, though the Uray do not cook any food in the house for the first four days. On the evening of the fourth day, the mhayemaca and other related women who are not members of the phuki bring flattened rice, brown sugar, ginger, salt and curd for a mourning meal known as loca baji. The women bring the food in cloth-covered baskets, and as they walk through the streets, they weep ostentatiously. The closer the relationship to the deceased, the more food the individual woman will bring. The food is served by the mhayemaca to the phuki members who sit in line in order of seniority. The mhayemaca’s obligation also extends to feeding the dead through the Jugi, who come on the seventh day to be fed at the gate. The food served to the Jugi is boiled rice (ja).[22]

There are also certain feasts to which the mhayemaca are invited. According to Anderson, at Paha care it is “important to invite married daughters back to paternal homes for family feasts, that sisters may meet in good fellowship.”(1977:265)[23] Among the Uray and the Jyapu, the married daughters will also be invited to the major calendrical rites, e.g., at Mohani and Sunti. Then, also their husband and children may be included in the invitation. However, for the most important feasts and major rituals the woman will generally be present in the husband’s households.


Paju: the Maternal Uncle

The maternal uncle, known in Newari as paju, is a social category of great significance. The paju is of great emotional and ritual importance to Newari children, and he often has a very close relationship to his nieces and nephews, who frequently visit his home. Nepali has attested to the significance of the maternal uncle thus:

...the mother’s brother is the most important individual in the life of and individual apart from his [the maternal uncle’s] ceremonial duties. He is expected to help and look after his nephews and nieces, if his sister leaves her husband’s home. It is a common practice for an individual to spend much of his childhood in his mother’s brother’s house. He has to be loved and respected: he should never be scolded nor treated with harsh words. He must not be allowed to touch the feet of his mother’s brother. Whatever he does and says are to be tolerated. Thus a Bhincha [nephew] enjoys much liberty and freedom in his mother’s brother’s house.(Nepali 1965:280)

The children enjoy far more liberties and are indulged in the homes of their mother’s brothers. Furthermore, the maternal uncles have important ritual functions to fulfill in the samskaras (life cycle rituals) of his nephews or nieces. He is of the same generation as the child’s mother, and thus he is the one who will inherit the woman’s parental household (thachey) and its ritual obligations in relation to her and her offspring. These relationships are also emphazised by customs related to food. Below, I will give some examples.

Among the Jyapu of Sunakothi, custom bids one to visit one’s maternal uncle annually at the Ghyöcaku sanlu. Then the maternal uncle(s), or his wife, will serve flattened rice with molasses (caku) and clarified butter (ghyö), and his wife will anoint the nephew’s, or niece’s, hair with mustard oil. This takes place every year. But, by far, the most important function related to ritual foods for the maternal uncle(s) is to provide bahn(s) (sacrificial animals) for the Kyetapuja of his nephews. The husband of the initiand’s paternal aunt (FZH), and, if there is one, his sister’s husband also have to provide bahn. If a buffalo is given, the money for it may be pooled on the maternal side, i.e., instead of buying several goats one may buy a buffalo.

Among the Jyapu the Kyetapuja is celebrated on a large scale. The day before the Kyetapuja, choyala bhu is observed. The choyala bhu consists of choyala, kwala, baji, dayekula, ghalaphala, achar, kachila, musya, kegu, and alu tarakari. At the choyala bhu the maternal uncle is seated in the place of honour, i.e., first to the ritual right in the line, followed by his nephew, the initiand, and then the other participants. However, apart from the rules regarding the uncle and his nephew, no further seating order is prescribed. The choyala bhu is performed in the evening, at approximately 10-12 P.M., and it replaces the regular rice meal. When the food is finished the bholis (persons who serve the food) put kwala (pronounced: kwåula) on the plates. The kwala will here be either buffalo brain or lung which has been roasted. Now the maternal uncle says: Cipan thiya disan. This is a standard phrase which means “please drink,” literally, “please pollute.” This induces the bholis to drink beer. Here a special point is made that the beer must be pure, as at other times, when there are great congregations of people at feasts, the beer will often be diluted with water to a secondary quality. When the kwala has been washed down with pure beer, curd, and sugar are served as a dessert. This is followed by sisapusa (lit., fruit), pickled radish, and peas. At last pieces of betel nut, cloves, and cardamoms are given to everyone. Then the whole party moves down to the gap yaye kotha, the gossiping room. Here beer is served to everyone. The Jyapu have no inhibition against having even the smallest toddler drink beer, and some time is spent in pleasant chatter. The maternal uncle spends the night in the nephew’s house, and so do the relatives who have come from other villages.

Early the following morning, after the Nau has shaved the hair of the boy’s head, the initiand (kyeta puja yamha) is seated either in the kitchen or outdoors. Now, he is first worshipped by the Gubhaju and by his mother. Then, the maternal uncles and aunts bring sagan, a good omen, a plate with dhau (curd) and baji (flattened rice), jaki (uncooked rice), vermilion, flowers, one five paisa coin, and four eggs. The initiand will also be given one piece of cloth and a cap. On this day the household abstains from boiled rice also which marks the liminality of the occasion.

Later, a procession goes to worship Ganesh, the god who protects the locality, and sacrifices the bahn animals given by the maternal uncles. The maternal uncle and the aunt are the last ones to worship the initiand before the procession sets off to the local Ganesh temple. The procedure was described to me as follows. The maternal uncle and aunt begin their worship by scattering rice grains and puffed rice over the initiand. They put flowers in his hair and apply tika to his forehead. Then they present him with one piece of cloth on which five rupees and five paisa coins are placed. Rice and flowers are also given to him, and so is the sagan referred to above. The nephew bows down to the floor, paying obeisance to them. Then the new cloth is put on his shoulder. When this rite has been completed, the participants go downstairs and on outdoors to the Ganesh temple of the locality where the bahn are sacrificed to Ganesh.

In the evening si ka bhu is performed. In this particular si ka bhu the following persons participate: the Gubhaju, the phukis, the initiand’s maternal uncle, and the initiand’s sisters or paternal aunt’s husbands. They are seated in the following order: 1) Gubhaju, 2) phukis, 3) initiand, 4) main maternal uncle (sajipaju), and 5) husbands of the father’s sisters (ninupaju). A simple feast is served first. When this has been concluded, one proceeds to take the si. The si for this occasion consists of eight pieces prepared from each of the sacrificed animals. The maternal uncle, or husband of the father’s sisters, who has given the animal from which the si has been prepared, presides over the distribution of the si. At first he will direct the right eye, which is most valued, to the Gubhaju; then he will take the left eye himself, and then the right ear is given to his nephew, the initiand. The rest of the goat head can be distributed according to his liking. No prescribed order prevails here. However, my informant said: “If I were the maternal uncle and I were giving the si, I would say give to the boy’s father, to the thakali, the mubhali (main cook), etc.” It is interesting to note that the customary seniority rules are abandoned both in the choyala bhu preceding the rites and in the si the following evening. The nephew of the uncles is indulged to the extent that the ranking normally prevailing is partly bypassed; only the Gubhaju is not bypassed at the taking of si. This is extraordinary, as seniority tends to be observed very strictly in other ritual contexts, and it expresses the special quality of the avuncular relationship. It reflects the fact that the relationship to the maternal uncle is radically different from those within the household and the phuki, where the child will be on the lowest rungs of the seniority order and is expected to be deferent and obeisant to the senior men. Although a nephew is expected to respect his maternal uncle, the relationship is not regulated by the strict rules which apply in his relationships to senior phuki members. On the other hand, the relation to the maternal uncle can not be described as a joking relationship. Interestingly, the same type of relationship seems to be the case between the initiand and the husband of the father’s sisters (FZH); that is to say, it would be dependent on linkages though women. Indeed, FZH is also called paju, though ninupaju.

In a slightly different form of Kyetapuja, also practiced by the Jyapu, one will make fun of the paju. This version of the Kyetapuja follows the same procedures as those accounted for above, but also has some additions. When the sacrifice to Ganesh is concluded, the party proceeds to the Chaphaphal (place name) crossroads in the centre of the village. There the Gubhaju makes a large mandala, ritual pattern on the ground. The mandala is worshipped with rice and seven unbroken betel nuts. The boy, or the boys, will be placed in different parts of the mandala.[24]

After a while a game between the initiands and their maternal uncles begins. The boys are expected to walk seven steps forward, while the sajipajus remain at the same spot; then the boys dash off to circumambulate certain deities.[25] The boy placed on the eastern side of the mandala runs around Bhagvan, the boy on the northern side runs around Ganesh, and the boy on the southern side runs around another Bhagvan. As the boys dash off, the sajipajus run after them trying to catch them as best they can. If a maternal uncle succeeds in catching his nephew, he lifts him up and carries him around the God the nephew was attempting to round, and gives him five rupees, or more. If the uncle fails to catch his nephew, he is much chagrined, or at least he pretends to be, and the assembled crowd laughs at him. Sometimes the assembled onlookers will playfully interfere and grab hold of the maternal uncle the very instant he is about to catch his nephew.

The maternal uncle spends the night in the initiand’s household and returns home the following day. He is then provided with the following food items: half a mana of peas (or beans), one fourth of a plate of takha, six or seven mana of baji, two pieces of wa, and one plate of choyala. It is also essential to send with him one leg from a goat, sheep, or buffalo. This leg is known as chaphan, and any leg from the sacrificed animals will do. Before leaving, the maternal uncles and other relatives who stayed the night go to the bholi kotha. In this room the things used during the Kyetapuja (i.e., food and beer) are kept. There one bows down and offers three to five rupees to the bholis. Then, the bholis will serve some choyala, wa, ayela, and thon and kwala. During the proceedings of the Kyetapuja one bholi has stayed in the bholi khota all the time. He has then been in charge of the supplies and of their distribution during the three days the Kyeta puja has lasted.

The Kyetapuja of the Uray is different from that of the Jyapu. Unlike the Jyapu the Urays do not sacrifice (animals) bahn, nor is choyala bhu held in connection with the Kyeta puja. Instead of providing bahn the maternal uncle sends two miniature razors, one of gold (lu khaca) and one of silver (aoh khaca). The miniature razors are sent with a puja bu,[26] which is delivered to the initiand’s home by a Jyapuni on the morning of the day the rite is going to take place. In the early morning, the Nau comes to shave the head of the initiand. Before the Nau begins the maternal uncle makes some shaving gestures with the razors he has given.

Later a procession is held to the local Ganesh temple. The initiand wears a kyeta (a minimal piece of cloth, made of seven pieces of cloth which cover his genitals). He is provided with certain objects associated with a hermit and a hunter, and, conceptually, he is thought to go off to live in the forest for hunting, i.e., outside the strictly ordered Newari society. Coming out of the house the initiand will proceed to the local Ganesh temple. After worshipping Ganesh he “goes to the forest.” This is known as bana prastha (lit., to dwell in the forest), from the Sanskrit. Here the boy is expected to run off. However, when he thus symbolically tries to go off to the forest, his maternal uncle will stop him, put a cap on his head, and thrust some money into his hands. The cap and the money represent normal domestic life.

Occasionally the initiand, the kyeta puja yamha, as a joke, will be kidnapped at the Ganesh Than by some of the spectators. Seeing the preparations for the Kyetapuja being made, some people may go to the Ganesh Than to create a crowded and confused scene there, making it easy to whisk away the initiand, the kyeta puja yamha. He will then be kept hidden during a couple of hours, while his maternal uncle anxiously searches for him. Eventually the initiand is released.

Thereafter, the maternal uncle is served a feast at the initiand’s home. The feast will be a common paha yaye, i.e., good meat, sweets, egg, and ayela. The details of the contents are not prescribed.

Also at the Baratayegu, pre-menstrual, or first menstrual, twelve day seclusion, of his niece, the maternal uncle provides for the girl who is secluded. On the sixth day, according to Nepali, “[t]he maternal uncle is under special obligation to send the eldest married woman of his household to feed the girl with Chhusya-Mussya”(1965:113), and, “[o]n the twelfth day also, the maternal uncle of the girl sends again a set of clothes, some mixture of paddy and rice and Saga[n].”(1965:114) Nepali does not tell which caste he is referring to. Indeed, the practice seems to be general, as the maternal uncles do likewise among the Jyapu in Sunakothi and among the Uray of Kathmandu.

The maternal uncle also has ritual obligations to his nephews and nieces at marriages. At a marriage among the Uray, the last morning on the very day she is to be brought to her groom’s household, the bride will have her last boiled rice meal at her maternal uncle’s house. This meal is known as Paju ja na wanegu, i.e., to go to eat boiled rice at the maternal uncle’s. Significantly, the bride goes to eat boiled rice at her maternal uncle’s house after the kalya has arrived in her home and a bronze or silver bracelet has been fastened to her ankle by a smith, which marks that she is entering wedlock.

Among the Jyapu of Sunakothi, in the Nyapakhu form of marriage which is the most expensive, the bride goes to have dinner at the houses of different relatives from the day the lakha breads have been delivered. Indeed, from this day she does not eat boiled rice in her father’s house. Instead, she and a group of her friends known as samalcha (in Kathmandu samelu) have their meals at different relatives’ houses. They start by having dinner at the house of the thakali of the bride’s phuki, the next day they eat at the noku’s (the patrilineage’s second eldest man), and so on. The last day, the very day as she is going to be carried to the groom’s house, she is feasted along with her friends at her maternal uncle’s house, whereas the groom’s maternal uncle provides the pajukhu, foods and worshipping materials (see below), which are brought as a gift to the bride’s household when one goes to fetch the bride.

The gifts from the maternal uncles, known as pajukhu (lit., maternal uncle’s load), have given the name to two different forms of wedding rites in Sunakothi, though the rites differ in other respects as well. In the Nyapakhu, the most expensive and elaborate form of marital rites, the maternal uncle of the groom brings pajukhu containing five pathi of baji, five pathi of pure white thon, two mana of various beans, hila, pala, thirty wa, waca, and one pau (200g) of palu. At the Nipakhu, there will be only two pathi of baji and two pathi of thon. The maternal uncle joins the procession, which fetches the bride, and delivers the gifts to the bride’s household in person. There it is used for a feast.

The day after the bride has been brought to the groom’s household, in the Nyapakhu rites, a grand feast is held in the groom’s household. On this day the guests also include distant relatives and the groom’s maternal relatives. The most important part of the feast is the ritual distribution of betel nuts by the bride to the groom’s relatives, who receive four betel nuts each. Her in-laws, for their part, give money, generally between five and one hundred rupees, to the newly weds. In the middle of the day the bride’s sajipaju, main maternal uncle, comes bringing nayakuli (a jar filled with fish), durukuli (a jar filled with milk), and waca (small wa). The number of waca should correspond to the number of persons who come in the sajipaju’s party. The nayakuli, the durukuli, and the wa are placed in the house. They are eaten later, and there seem to be no firm rules regarding who may take part in it. When the sajipaju and his party arrive, the food gift is delivered; then he and his party are offered a feast meal. They do not stay long.

Among the Uray on the day of the Laskas the groom’s maternal uncle will send two sets of dresses with a Jyapu: one sari for the groom’s mother and one suit (traditionally lan and sanuwar), complete with a jacket, for the groom. The maternal uncle also sends a nan, an earthen pot with twelve breads. The gift is known as pajukhu (lit., maternal uncle load) and is delivered by a Jyapu before the Laskas ceremonies begin.

At the conclusion of the rites on the first day the bride has arrived at her conjugal household, there is a great feast in which the groom’s maternal uncle has a ritual function and part of the responsibility for the feast, i.e., to see that all necessary items have been procured. This is the major marriage feast to which outsiders, too, are invited. When the feast meal, in which several hundred guests may have taken part, is concluded, ayela will be served by the senior-most women of the groom’s household. Serving the ayela, the ladies, dressed in the richest of brocades, walk down the lines of guests. First the groom’s mother will go, followed by two other senior women of the household. They pour ayela into the guests clay cups. Etiquette demands that one should drink at least three cups, one served by each of the women. Second comes the groom. He serves large breads (pacinta mari), which are handed over to him by his maternal uncle, who in his turn, is handed them by a Jyapu who carries them in an earthen pot, a mari kasi. Then comes the Gubhaju (the family priest), the thakali, and three or four other senior males of the groom’s household and phuki. They perform binti yaye, i.e., they join their palms in order to apologize for any mistakes or faults that might have marred the feast. This is also regarded as an excellent opportunity for the hosts to see who came, or did not come, to the feast. They are followed by male children who offer tiglica, a kind of small bread, and packages with cloves, betel nuts (in pieces), cinnamon, etc. This rite is interesting, as it demonstrates the significance that the relatives one has through female linkages have in socialization, in bringing the groom from one status to another. Indeed, the maternal uncle gives the groom the ritual bread he passes on to the guests and thus enables the groom to assume the role of host.[27]



In marriage the affines’ reception of betel nuts, which are distributed among them, marks the conclusion of a nuptial commitment: the establishment of affinal relations. Then, unbroken betel nuts are the very instrument of the marriage contract, and in the past they were thus returned at divorce. The lakha breads are, in some weddings, also instrumental in expressing the establishment of affinal relationships: all the bride’s kinsmen are expected to take part of the lakha, and those who do not are (according to Nepali 1956) not regarded as kinsmen. Furthermore, what makes the lakha particularly interesting is how it differentiates the bride’s kinsmen. Different categories of kin receive different types of lakha, and every acknowledged relative gets a share.

There is a high potential for conflicts between husbands and wives and between in-laws, and it is notable how many customs seem to be designed to regulate conflicts and channel them through ritual behaviours which, in some instances, involve symbolic usage of foods, e.g., the traditional methods of divorce through return of betel nuts or ritual fasting (Aba san).

Moreover, one may pose the question whether the ritualized exchanges of food at marriage and through the ritual calendar year may not be as much an attempt to create a working relationship as a reflection of a working one? In the affinal relationship, one may note that food is in a metaphoric sense the woof of the social warp giving it substance, which is particularly obvious in the first phases of the marriage. Indeed, among some castes, the couple who are going to be married have eaten each others food before they have even met. Gifts of food are exchanged frequently and according to certain rules. Thus foods give social relationships substance and give expression to various social imperatives. Married daughters act out their roles by feeding the members of their parental household during the initial mourning period. Affines send food signifying the sex of children born or wishing each other longevity and prosperity, etc. Thus, the provision of food in certain cases signals the status, the positions of the actors in the web of kinship.

The maternal uncle has great ritual importance for his nephews and nieces. The maternal uncle is essential in initiations. He is the very agent who bestows adulthood on the initiand by catching him and putting a cap on his head and some money in his hands, as he is about to go off to the forest; i.e., the maternal uncle is instrumental in making the initiand a householder, a member of the caste instead of an ascetic. The part of the maternal uncle is less crucial in the girl’s Bara ceremonies, though a part is still played by him. These customs mark the closeness of the paju to his nephews and nieces. Indeed, the maternal uncle participates in all rites de passage, either in person or by sending gifts — which often consists of foods; and this role of the maternal uncle is often enacted at the transitional states where the initiand is a semi-naked ascetic boy leaving for the forest or a girl shut up in a room for twelve days. Apparently, the maternal uncle is indispensable in making children adults, and then, although he is not part of the child’s patrilineage and its hierarchy, he is placed in the seat of honour. Indeed, this quality of his, of being an outsider to the patrilineage, may be the very reason that he is the one who is able to make children adults.

At marriages the “loads” coming from the maternal uncle are also essential. Indeed, among the Jyapu he provided food for the groom’s in-laws, whereas the bride’s maternal uncle gives her a special rice meal. Here, the highly pollutable, boiled rice is served, although boiled rice normally is not a feast food. This meal marks her closeness to the maternal uncle.

In reference to the Jyapu there are also other customs concerning food and the relationships to the maternal uncle that are important and serve to cement the relationship between him and his sister’s children: the provision of sacrificial animals, which are used to worship the deities on whom the welfare of the locality and the initiand is dependent; the waiving of the generally strictly applied seniority rules at the distribution of the si; and the sending of food gifts and caphan with the maternal uncle when he returns to his home.


[1] The frequency of inter-caste marriage among Newars would be an interesting research topic. So far no reliable statistics have been compiled on such marriages.


[2] There is a great deal of ambiguity and lack of clarity here. The rules are not clearly defined, apart from the ban on marriage for seven generations. It seems that expedience determines the real behaviour. Although one will try to maintain the seven generation-rule this has, in some instances, become impossible. See, for instance, Nepali 1965:152, 206.


[3] The lami is a go-between who negotiates the terms of the marriage.


[4] Betel nuts are sent by all “clean” castes at this stage of the marriage proceedings. However, quite possibly, one may encounter different customs at the very bottom of the caste hierarchy.


[5] I unsuccessfully tried to determine who are regarded as closest agnates of affines. Here, I got widely differing answers. Agnates within the household are closest. Then, in some rites the phukis are the closest, whereas in others the affines.


[6] However, in the marriages without rites where the young elope, there is no distribution of betel nuts among the kin-groups.


[7] Among the Tuladhars the tuti bagi is known as kalya and is made of silver.


[8] Among the Vajracharya, Bare, and Uray, the Paena bi bhoye may be divided into two feasts: i) for more distant relatives and friends the day before she leaves; ii) for close relatives, the day she departs. Then, the lha goye phaye is performed at the second.


[9] The dowry remains with her in case she is divorced.


[10] To the bride it is known as lha goye bigu: lit., give in the palms.


[11] Caution should be observed while discussing these matters with Newars. The present day morals and general attitude towards sexuality are somewhat prudish and largely imported from India; one may find that Newars nowadays prefer to call this feast Bivaha bhoye (marriage feast), as paena (intercourse) is regarded as a “four letter word.”


[12] One dharni is approximately two and a half kg.


[13] See also Fürer-Haimendorf 1956:30 and Nepali 1965:394.


[14] Generally it will be the wife of a Jyapu tenant.


[15] O'Malley in Census of India 1911, Vol. V., pp. 325.


[16] Supari is the Nepali word for betel nuts.


[17] Nepali 1965:247. See also Locke 1980:278.


[18] Nepali 1965:245.


[19] The Parbatya castes have different customs. They tend to practice village exogamy, and the bride’s family has a relationship with the grooms’s household in which the balance of gifts is explicitly negative, to the advantage of the groom’s household. The bride’s family is expected to send a steady stream of gifts, of foods, sweet meats, etc., to the groom’s household. This household does not reciprocate. Indeed, a man is compelled by custom “to offer hospitality to his sister’s husband, ...[and] to refrain as far as possible from accepting food or anything of value in the latter’s house.” (Fürer-Haimendorf 1966:44) The relationship between the groom and his in-laws is also different. At Newar weddings the groom pays respect to his in-laws, who also pay respect to him. For instance, at Parbatya weddings in the vicinity of Trisul the bride’s father will even wash the feet of the groom when he comes, to fetch his bride accompanied by his kinsmen.(Stone 1977:144)


[20] See also Anderson 1977:170 and Nepali 1965:382.


[21] I have been informed that this gift is not returned, but according to Nepali (1965:90) it is “...returned through the same messenger after having made an equal addition to them.” Unfortunately, it is not clear to which caste he is referring.


[22] According to Nepali, the married daughters cooking for the household of the deceased is a recent innovation. According to him, the phukis would in the past take turns in providing food for the bereaved household.(1965:132) I believe this is questionable, as the reasons the married daughters provide the food is that they are regarded as less polluted than the householders and its phuki.


[23] Fürer-Haimendorf (1956) noted this, calling Paha care “Kora yatra,” which probably refers to “Ghora yatra” (horse feast) which is not a Newari celebration but a national one. It has taken its name from the horse races held at Thundikhel, arranged by the Royal Nepalese Army. The Ghora Yatra coincides with the Newari feast Paha care which lasts three days and involves different observances: e.g., Lukhumahadev puja and the horse races. The Newars generally refer to the festival days as Paha care.


[24] Often one will initiate several boys simultaneously. If they are sons of the same mother, the number of boys from her must be even.


[25] These gods are here represented by statues, which are often circumambulated by the villagers. Bhagvan is term the Jyapu use for Buddha. However, it is used by Hindus all over India denoting “God” in a most general sense.


[26] Plate with ritual items.


[27] Above, I have accounted for the maternal uncle’s significance in rites de passage. However, it would be interesting to explore the maternal uncle’s role in other fields. To what extent are the maternal uncles instrumental in helping the nephews in finding jobs, and establishing trade links; in short, to what extent does he support the nephew’s endeavours in secular, non-ritual matters?