CHAPTER VIII: THE GUTHIS, THE THAKALI, AND ASSOCIATIONS BASED ON LOCALITY

The guthi institutions occupy a prominent place in Newari society. The guthi is a closed association; only members of the guthi in question are allowed to participate in the activities of the inner circle, although, in some instances, non-members may participate in public or semi-public ceremonies arranged by the guthi. Membership in a guthi may be hereditary or voluntary. Membership in the most important guthis is acquired by inheritance through agnatic kinship, generally from one’s father, and among the higher castes membership in certain guthis is obligatory, if one wants to remain part of the “society of the caste.” Potential membership generally extends to all the members of one’s household, but usually only one household member will attend the guthi’s meetings. As a rule, it is the eldest male who attends these meetings, at which one deals with the guthi’s affairs as a steering committee,[1] performs ceremonies, and eats and drinks together. The guthis’ meetings are generally closed to non-members, and there is a widespread belief that misfortune will fall upon those who talk about the guthis’ secrets to outsiders.[2]

The guthis are invariably dedicated to some purpose. Most often this is to worship or perform part of the rites for a certain deity. For instance, there are guthis whose sole purpose is to play the drums for a deity, e.g., the Par guthi of Sunakothi which plays the drums for Karunamaya on the last day of Gunla, the month dedicated to worship of Lord Buddha. The Sanlu guthis go to play the drums and to worship Karunamaya on the first of every lunar month. There are also a small number of guthis which are semi-secular, e.g., in Sunakothi there is one guthi, the Lan guthi, which is devoted to the upkeep of the village’s paths. However, the Lan guthi takes an active part in the Bala-Kumari Yatra during the Nepali month Chaitra, when it partakes of choyala bhu and sacrifices a billy goat to Bala-Kumari, which is prepared for a si by the Guthyars. The si is taken in the home of the pala (man in charge), and no women are allowed to be present. Furthermore, to maintain the village paths is regarded as a religious duty, as the dharma of the guthyars (members of the guthi). Still other guthis are tied to a caste, e.g., the Acharya guthi of the Vajracharya caste. This guthi was, until a conflict with the Urya and the Bare, the main organ of social control among Kathmandu Gubhajus. It was ruled by a council of eighteen thakalis, and its strength rested on two factors: i) “all Gubhaju males above initiation belonged to this association and accepted the exercise of supreme authority by the council”; and ii) “through its ability to control the performance of the initiation rite in the eighteen viharas it could decide the essential question on recruitment to the community of priests.” (Rosser 1966:117-18) However, since 1926, the Acharya guthi’s powers have declined, probably as a result of the conflicts with both the Bare and the Urya. The conflict concerned the Vajracharyas’ refusal to eat boiled rice from the Urya and the Vajracharyas’ refusal to initiate Bare boys by the Acha luigu ritual, which entitles the initiated to officiate as a priest.[3] Other guthis are tied to subgroups and may include, for instance, the heads of all households bearing the name Kansakar. The purpose of such a guthi, bound to a subgroup, is to maintain cohesion within the subgroup and to organize worship of certain deities.[4]

The guthis in which membership is generally acquired through agnatic descent may also, in some instances, according to Fürer-Haimendorf, admit new members: “Persons lacking hereditary membership rights must be proposed at a full meeting of the guthi and must be elected by unanimous vote, even one dissenting vote being sufficient to bar admittance.”(1956:32) This occurs particularly when migrants join the guthis of their new abode and when socially ambitious families try to gain acceptance into a higher caste. Admittance to a Si or Sana guthi of the higher caste is crucial to mark that one is accepted as a member of the higher caste.[5]

All Newars are affiliated to at least one type of guthi which is associated with death and generally known as Si guthi. The Si guthi is a society which handles funerals and other matters related to death. (See, also, chapter IV) In some castes one will refer to the Si guthi (lit., death guthi) as Sana guthi (lit., mourning guthi), whereas other castes may have both.[6] In Sunakothi all households are also members of three guthis which are devoted to the worship of Bala-Kumari. One of these is called Sana guthi, though it also has other functions than mourning the deceased.

Less important guthis[7] have no incomes, and their only property may be a few ritual items. However, the large and important guthis commonly hold land, and the income from this land is used to maintain the guthi’s activities, which often involve ritual feasting.[8] The guthyars are rarely the same persons as those who work the guthi’s land, although the guthyars, too, (in Sunakothi) may be farmers. Instead, they receive a share of the produce. This share is known as bali.[9] Some guthis also receive bali directly from the village’s households. The latter are generally guthis which lack land endowments and perform their activities for the benefit of all the villagers. For instance, in Sunakothi, each “kitchen” gives the Kha guthi one pathi of either baji (flattened rice) or wa (paddy). The Kha guthi plays the kha-horns (which have given the guthi its name) at all funeral processions, regardless of the time of the day, at the Bala-Kumari yatras, and at Mohani.

The guthyars generally take turns in managing the guthi’s affairs, in receiving the bali, and in planning and arranging the guthi’s rituals and feasts. The man who is in charge is known as pala. Normally the office is rotated annually, i.e., at a certain day of the year the guthi will change pala. Then, the ritual paraphernalia of the guthi may be stored in his home, which may also become the centre of the guthi’s activities. In most guthis membership is restricted to only a few households. Then the households who belong to the guthi may have the “palaship” with only a few years interval. But, in the guthis of Bala-Kumari the offices rotate through the village in order that every household may hold them for some time. Thus the current incumbents are all called palas. The eldest, the thakali of the pala, is the most respected and sits at the place of honour at the head of the line at the guthi’s feasts.

The internal organization of the guthis and their official status vary. Some guthis may have a chairman and a secretary who are quite young in comparison to the guthi’s elders, who are the formal heads of the guthi, whereas others consist only of a few pala. Some guthis have their lands registered with HMG’s guthi office, the Guthi Sasthan, whereas others do not.

The importance of the guthi institutions in Newari society has been noted by several scholars. Oldfield remarked upon the guthi-system’s jurisdictional, social, and festive functions:

The social practices and observances of the Buddhists in Nipal, as distinguished from their religious doctrines and duties, are regulated by an institution peculiar to the Niwars, and which has existed among them from time immemorial. It is called “Gatti”, and, being founded entirely upon the system of caste, its laws are binding upon the Hindu as well as upon the Buddhist Niwar. By the rules of this Gatti, the relative position and social duties of each class of the community are strictly defined, their privileges are protected, and the maintenance of their national customs and festivities are ensured. The laws of their Gatti have assigned to every family in each class certain hereditary duties connected with the national festivals, and with the celebration of public ceremonies of a religious character. On these occasion every household has its peculiar duty, which it owes to the public, and which it is bound to perform under penalty of fine or loss of caste. The system works very well, and it is for the general advantage of the community, as by its means the gratuitous attendance is provided for of all those whose presence is required, and without whose assistance in many cases the religious ceremonies and national festivals could not be properly performed. According to the rules of the Gatti, the head of each family is expected, at certain times, to give a feast to all the members of his own class or caste. The different families fulfil this duty by turns, A. giving a feast in one year, B. in another, C. in a third, and so on, according to certain local rules in force among themselves. These feasts are often very expensive, a wealthy man sometimes spending on one of them, which may last perhaps for several consecutive days, not less than one thousand rupees, or even more. The fulfilment of this duty is often a very heavy tax upon a poor man; but it is not optional with him to comply with it, as, were he to neglect it, he would be disowned by the rest of his own class and would thus practically be outcasted. ... In the majority of cases violation of any of the laws of Gatti subjects the offender to punishment by fine, the amount of which is determined by a jury of his own class, and varies according to the nature of his offence. But if a Niwar — Buddhist or Hindu — wilfully omit to fufil his duties of a serious and important kind, so that the community suffers from his neglect, he is sentenced by a general convocation to loss of caste. Loss of caste is the severest punishment society can inflict upon a respectable man, and it is as much dreaded by the Buddhist as by the Hindu Niwars.(Oldfield 1881 vol II 152-155)

This general account of the guthi-system, based on Oldfield’s observations in the 1850’s when Oldfield was the British Resident Surgeon, is still largely valid, although certain points are debatable. There are guthis in which membership is not based on caste but on residence, for instance, in the great bahals, while other guthis are based on confession of faith, e.g., the Hinayana (Buddhist) oriented guthi at Svayambhu. And, does every household really have a role to fulfill at the national festivals? To me this seems somewhat exaggerated, although I do not dispute the fact that the guthis do involve a large proportion of the households in various religious festivities, some of which have, if not a national, at least a valley-wide import, as for example the worship of Karunamaya. Furthermore, according to my informants, the obligation to hold sometimes ruinously expensive feasts has been lightened somewhat through internal reform and legislation.[10] Nevertheless, a wedding or a funeral, accompanied by all the traditional feasts, may bring some households heavily into debt.

M.C.Regmi points out that the guthi is an institution which has evolved within Newari society. Although the term guthi is of Sanskrit origin[11] and, borrowed from the Newars, is today used in modern Nepal, the guthi system of the Newars may be regarded as a unique Newari institution.

For non-Newari communities, Guthi is simply a system used to finance religious and charitable institutions. For the Newars, on the other hand, the system is an organic part of their social and cultural life. The assimilation of such a system into the social and cultural attitudes and practices of a community is possible only in the context of an ancient and mature civilization such as that of the Newars of Kathmandu Valley. The ... Gorkhali borrowed this system to propitiate their gods and add religious significance to their military glories. But socially and culturally, the Guthi system has had no organic connection with the Gorkhali way of life. [Whereas] ... [a]mong the Newars of Kathmandu Valley, the term Guthi is used to denote an organization based on caste or kinship, or occasionally on geographical propinquity, which insures the continued observance of social and religious customs and ceremonies of the community.(Regmi 1978a:630)[12]

Sharma also points out the guthi system’s antiquity and argues that the guthis represent a “remarkable continuity of tradition, from the Licchavi period right down to the present time.”(1983:52)

Fürer-Haimendorf has also noted the significance of the guthis in maintaining social control. Here he is referring particularly to the Digu puja guthi, which is tied to the phuki’s deity (See chapter VI). According to him “[t]he digu puja guthi is the primary instrument for the exercise of social controls.”(1956:30) He describes the “shi” guthi as an “inner core” of the “digu puja guthi,” and he says that the “shi guthi” “...consists of neither more nor less than seven members ... Usually it is the seven senior members of a digu puja guthi who constitute the shiguthi. But membership is not compulsory; a man eligible on grounds of seniority can refuse to accept this obligation and members of a shi guthi are free to resign at all times.”(Ibid.). Here, I have obtained contradictory information. Firstly, the Si guthi, the Digudyo cult, and the phuki need not be overlapping. On the contrary a Si guthi will generally have members belonging to several phukis. Secondly, according to my informants, the preferred numbers of guthyars is eight, which corresponds to the Astha Matrika, the eight mother Goddesses. Although the Si guthis on which I have been able to obtain information have had twenty and eighteen guthyars respectively, half of which serve on the guthi each year. That means nine or ten active guthyars, respectively. Thirdly, as Fürer-Haimendorf says, membership is not strictly compulsory in the sense that a punishment is meted out if a household would withdraw from the Si guthi. Indeed, according to Sharma, membership in “...a sii guthi, is obtained through a subjectively made choice.”(1983:52) However, socially it is necessary to belong to a Si guthi. The Si guthi is regarded as a means to divide or share the burdens of death. The household which did not belong to a Si guthi would face great difficulties when a household member died. However, certain wealthy castes (e.g., the Kansakar branch of the Urya caste) do not have a Si guthi. Instead, one pays for and utilizes the services of a Jyapu Si guthi. In this case, one has a Sana guthi, instead, to which all Kansakar households are affiliated. The Sana guthi will join the procession to mourn at the cremation ground, whereas the Jyapu Si guthi handles the menial matters. However, other Urya groups who had a similar system in the past have instituted their own Si guthis, arguing that they handle the corpse better.

Furthermore, according to Fürer-Haimendorf, a Gubhaju priest is required at all sacrificial rites held in temples. The Gubhaju “can be dispensed with only if the puja takes place in the house of one of the guthiar, in which case the oldest man of the host’s household acts as priest.”(Fürer-Haimendorf 1956:32) I cannot corroborate this observation, which may be valid for certain guthis, particularly in the cities of Kathmandu and Patan, but in Sunakothi the worship is generally led by the thakali, the eldest male of the guthi, at home as well as at the shrines. However, Gubhajus officiate as priests at life cycle rituals.

During the last decades, the guthi system has apparently somewhat loosened its grip on Newari society. Unorthodox marriages and other unorthodox practices are, though largely unsanctioned, gaining ground. The significance of the guthis as organs for maintaining social control has declined, although it would be erroneous to say that they do not have any influence on social behaviour. Apart from the changed political climate and the abolition of untouchability and the sanctions on infringements on the caste rules, economic factors have, I believe, also played a significant role. In the past the guthis controlled large tracts of land, and the income accruing from it was largely spent on feasts for the guthyars and their families. This still occurs, but the yield accruing to the guthis has diminished drastically due to the land reforms and their emphasis on the rights of the tillers. Approximately 23% of the land in Sunakothi was under guthi tenure, according to a survey I conducted.[13] However, there may have been more, but the respondents were reluctant to say so, as some of it may have been subject to litigation. The practices of the government’s courts seemed to be to invest the tillers with the same rights vis-à-vis the landlords on guthi lands as on other lands (Birtha, Jagir and Raikar), i.e., the farmers can not easily be evicted. Furthermore, a significant part of the farmers who tilled guthi lands said that they had not given the guthis the customary dues for several years. Although the data I have collected in this regard does not suffice to provide the basis for any firm conclusions, one may assume that it is very likely that the guthis have found their incomes declining and that subsequently their activities have slowed down for lack of funds. Meanwhile, the decline in the guthis’ incomes have left the households with a larger share of the produce.

 

 

The Bala-Kumari Guthi

Below I will give a brief account of some of the more important guthis in the Jyapu village Sunakothi and the importance of food in their rites.

The most important guthi is the Bala-Kumari guthi, which, in fact, is three guthis who together are referred to as Bala-Kumari guthi. These are Ya guthi, Sana guthi, and Bica guthi. The guthi is quite wealthy. It holds eighty-four ropanis[14] (one ropani corresponds approximately to 500 m2 of paddy fields and has a yearly income of 96 muri and l2 pathi paddy. The income is shared between the three guthis.[15] The Sana guthi is the most central of the three guthis. Through it the funds (grain), the bali, are channelled to the other two, and it also provides the bali for the Yethakali, the village elders.

The Sana guthi has four palas. These offices rotate every year, in order that every household may hold a palaship for one year. Presently, there are some four hundred eighty households. Thus, the interval within which a household will hold the office twice will be, at the minimum, a century. The Sana guthi is responsible for the Bala-Kumari temple and organizes a system wherein eight village men sleep in the temple every night. The people who sleep in the temple are changed every night, and, hence every household is obligated to send one man to sleep there approximately every sixtieth night to guard the Goddess against theft. Another of the Sana guthi’s obligations is to attend funerals. At every death in the village one of the pala goes to “mourn” (“sana dhjasan”) at the cremation ground. He then makes an account of who joined the funeral procession. A written record is produced. If he is illiterate he will ask someone else to do the writing for him later. This is done in order to monitor the Si (“siu”) guthyars, and, if anyone of them has failed his duty to attend, he will be fined when the palas collect the bali in connection with the Mangsir yatra. Every household gives three mana of baji to the guthi. During the yatras the palas are also in charge of Bala-Kumari’s khat (palanquin). They see it to that there are people to carry the khat. The records of the participation in the funeral processions are later also used when one invites people to the feasts that follow a demise. Then all who “went to the river” are invited.[16]

There are nearly one hundred goats which are devoted to the Bala-Kumari Goddess. These goats are allowed to walk freely around the village and its fields. At the annual yatra, which is held in the Nepali month Mangsir, some of the billy goats are slaughtered. The responsibility for the goats falls upon the Sana guthi. The palas let the goats in and out of the temple morning and evening, and each pala keeps one of the goats in his house. A number of them are slaughtered at the Mangsir yatra, and the blood is given to Bala-Kumari. The meat is later eaten by the villagers at a feast which is arranged by the Sana guthi in the Bala-Kumari temple in the village. There are, in fact, two feasts held on two subsequent days to which all “kitchens” (lit., hearths) of the village have to send one representative. I think that it is not too much to say that this expresses the village unity. The meal the first day will be quite plain, consisting of baji, takha, ghalaphala, beans, and achar. The six eldest men of the village will be the honourary guests, sitting in a separate line. Only the thakalis sit in strict seniority order, and only they are given curd and sugar and sisapusa (fruit), which customarily concludes a Newari feast. The second day another feast is held to which all kitchens also must send one representative. The meal will consist of meat from the village Goddess’s goats, both from the sacrifices to her image in the village temple and to her mother in the sacred grove. There will also be takha from buffalo, flattened rice, and other common feast dishes. At the feast the sixteen eldest males sit in a line, and at the end of the feast they are served si from the goats sacrificed to Bala-Kumari and her mother. In this si there will be sixteen pieces, which are ranked in the same order as accounted for previously. The two right eyes go to the eldest and the second eldest, and so forth. Further down the lines seniority is not observed in the seating order. After this feast the pala of the preceding year leave the ritual objects to those of the coming year, in a ceremony presided over by the thakalis. The ritual objects are first given to the thakalis, who then hand them over to the new palas.

Bala-Kumari Yatra

The Sana guthi also distribute food at an other occasion in connection with the Mangsir yatra. Catamari (“cattimalli” in the local dialect) is distributed at the Bala-Kumari temple. It is given to everyone present. The catamari is a flat bread made of rice flour, and on it are placed takha, ginger, wa, and black beans. No plates are given. Instead the breads are held in the hands, and the other items are put on top of them. This is the prasad of Bala-Kumari, food that has been offered to the deity, and the villagers will stand in a long curved line in front of the temple in order to receive it.

At Ghate mangal the Sana guthi is in charge of the cleaning of the Mahadev temple and its yard. Every household is obliged to send one person to help with the cleaning, and those who fail to send someone are fined one mohar (0.5 rupee). On this day the palas of the Sana guthi have a feast which is eaten at the eldest’s house in the early afternoon. To this feast every household has to contribute four pieces of choyala (roasted meat) which are collected by the palas, who go around the village. Usually, I was told, they also collect fifteen to twenty rupees in fines from the houses that failed to help with the temple cleaning, although most households will have no problem sending someone, as anyone can go including girls and small children.

The Ya guthi has six palas. The offices rotate in order that every household may hold one for one year. The guthi is in charge of the Joshi thanegu (lit., raise penis), the raising of a feast pole which marks the beginning of the Bala-Kumari yatra (festival). It is identified by the villagers as Mahadev’s penis.[17] The pala are also in charge of the khats of Mahadev, Kumar, and Ganesh at the Chaitra yatra. They organize the khat carrying, and take the Gods out from and put them into their dyochey (which is separate from Bala-Kumari’s). There are three khats and thus six carrying poles for the khats. The poles are kept in the pala’s houses; each of them has a pole in his household.

The Ya guthi, too, gives an annual feast, though it is not eaten communally at one place, but in the households. On the second day of the Mangsir yatra, after having fed the village thakalis (the five oldest men in the village), a feast with the same food that has been given to the thakalis is distributed to all the households of the village. This feast is known as Yabhoye (Lit., ya feast). It consists of flattened rice, beans, vegetables, and a piece of meat. The food is placed in a large cauldron and is distributed by the pala at the Chaphaphal (a square in front of the Mahadev temple). Every household sends one man to fetch the Yabhoye on a plate. It is eaten at home as a prasad. No beer is given along with it.

The Bica guthi also receives bali from all households in the village; each gives one and a half mana of baji. The guthi has four palas, and these offices rotate annually through the village, so that every household may hold one of them. The change of pala occurs annually. The guthi’s main responsibilities are to sacrifice a goat to Bala-Kumari during the Mangsir yatra and to arrange a feast for the thakali (here the five oldest men in the village), and, when the thakalis have completed their food, a feast to which every household sends one member. The households may send anyone they wish, and, if one cannot attend (e.g., a sick or infirm person who lives alone), a plate will be sent; it is filled with food and then returned. At this feast one counts the participants in order to find out how many “hearths” (households) there are in the village.

It is noteworthy how these three guthis, of which all village households are members, distribute food to all the households in the village in connection with their worship of the village’s most important deities. Indeed, the point is made that every household should take part in the sacred food.

 

The Yethakali

In Sunakothi there is a special cult of the aged. The eldest man of the village is known as Yethakali. The Yethakali is responsible for the worship of the Bala-Kumari image in the dyochey. This worship is performed in the early morning hours, 7-8 A.M. If the Yethakali is fit enough to go himself to worship the Goddess, he will do it in person. Otherwise he will send a member of his family. Anyone, a man or a woman who is not menstruating, will do. As the Yethakali tend to be old and feeble men (three expired during my stay in the village), the puja to Bala-Kumari is often delegated to other members of his household.

Worshipping the Goddess, her face is first cleaned with pure water (nila), which is sprinkled on her. Then, the Yethakali or his surrogate makes gestures of grooming the Goddess' hair with a comb. Incense is also lit. In the evening anyone from the Yethakali’s family goes to light wicks for her and to scatter sinha (vermilion) and jaki (uncooked rice) over her. The room where the Goddess is kept is always locked, and the key is kept with the Yethakali. If any other person wants to worship her, he or she has to get the key from him. The Yethakali receives fifty pathi of wa (paddy) as bali from the Sana guthi. When a Yethakali dies, the second eldest man in the village, the noku, will replace him, taking over the bali, the key to the temple, and the responsibility for the daily worship of the Goddess. At the demise the kalaha, ritual vessel, and the key to the temple, which are the marks of the office, have to be given to the succeeding thakali before the corpse is brought to the ghat to be cremated.

At certain rites the five eldest men of the village may be invited. This is known as Nyam thakali ye bonegu. The Yethakali and his four fellow thakalis are then present. This occurs at life cycle rites, such as Kyetapujas and marriages. The thakalis then assemble at the dyochey of Bala-Kumari. They are invited in advance, but on the morning of the same day as they are going to attend the rite, they are formally invited. At the temple the inviting people meet them and bring them to the site of the rites, playing music (bhajan).[18] Here any music will do. Before going, the thakalis approach the image of Bala-Kumari and worship her with ayela, same baji, thon, etc. Afterwards, they go to the site of the domestic rite, walking on cloth laid out in their path. The musicians go first in the procession, heralding the coming of the thakali. Arriving at the feast the kuchima (chief-lady) of the house cleans the legs and the feet of the thakalis. This is done in front of the door, before they enter the house. When their feet have been cleansed the thakalis proceed upstairs, where they are seated, in order of seniority, in a line. Now, they are given pure water (nila) and are served plates known as dyebhu (lit., God plate) and thabhu (lit., great plate). The foods on the dyebhu and the thabhu are not eaten. The dyebhu is put first in the line for the Gods, as at Mhapuja and Kijapuja (see chapters IV & V). Then, they are served a regular feast meal, i.e., baji, choyala, dayekula, thon, etc. The thakali wash their hands first and then eat. Afterwards they are each given a piece of betel nut before they return to their homes. The Yethakali, the very oldest, brings the plate dedicated to the Gods (dyebhu) home with him, and its contents are later eaten by him and his family, as prasad. It is not necessary to invite the thakalis to the life cycle rites. Whether it is done, or not, depends on the wish of the people who perform the rites. Inviting the thakalis enhances the standing of the rites.

The Kahaguthi and the Si guthis may be similarly invited to attend a feast. However, instead of worshipping Bala-Kumari before coming, they worship their own Gods. The Kaha-guthyars will worship their own instruments (kaha-horns), the si guthyars worship the Siudyo. Neither do they arrive walking on cloth, though their feet are washed by the kuchima at the door. One may also thus call on the Nayemha. The Nayemha worship the Bala-Kumari, though not in the dyochey, but at her pith in the sacred grove outside the village before they come.

The village has a different number of thakalis at various rites. At the Naym thakali ye bonegu only five are called, whereas on other occasions, e.g., at the transfer of pala in the Bala-Kumari guthis, six thakali will come. The sixth is then the sixth eldest man in the village. On the following day the sixteen eldest men will attend a feast arranged by the Sana guthi. The thakali fill an important role. They are not only respected because of their seniority, but also because they are in control of various ritual prerogatives which give them extraordinary power, a power which increases with age. It is, for instance, notable that the Yethakali are in charge of the worship of Bala-Kumari, by far the most important Goddess in the village, and that the thakalis preside over the switching of pala in the guthis devoted to this Goddess. Their treatment of her resemble in many regards the way a human being may be treated, e.g., she is bathed, combed, and fed daily.

 

The Nayemha

The Nayemha guthi is one of the most important guthis in Sunakothi. The Nayemha are the village’s traditional leaders. (Naye = head, mha = man) To the villagers they represent the “leaders of justice.” The head of the Nayemha is known as Dwara. In the past, up to the introduction of the Panchayat Democracy in the sixties, the Nayemha had jurisdictional powers.[19] They executed government orders in the village, helped the government — and absentee Rana landlords — to localize villagers who had defaulted on grain deliveries,[20] and also exercized jurisdiction in matters involving local disputes and minor offences. The Nayemha constitute an ancient institution, which was thus used by the Rana Government and possibly also earlier governments as their representative in the village. The Nayemha could interfere if a villager married a person of “unclean” caste status, etc., and, according to the villagers, the Nayemha could also exercise some control over people’s spending habits. Thus, in times of famine the Nayemha could command that no expensive rites could be held. If a child was born, the Macabu benke and Janakegu rites would be observed only by those who lived in the same household, and, if the child’s maternal uncle, and others, who are expected to pay a woman who has delivered a visit, were caught carrying the unmistakable cloth-covered baskets with food brought on such occasions, the food stuffs were confiscated and the malefactors fined. The Nayemha guthi does not hold land, but it is entitled to various grants from the Guthi Sasthan, the Government’s guthi office.

There are twelve Nayemha and two Baya macha (bonnie) attendants. Thus the guthi comprises fourteen people. All offices except the Dware’s are inherited from father to son; lacking a son it will go to the eldest in the phuki. The Dware’s office circulates within his phuki and is always held by its eldest living male.[21]

The Nayemha have several important functions in the village’s ritual life. The Nayemha apparently constitute an ancient institution, and they are pivotal in the village’s ritual life.[22] At the Bala-Kumari yatras, which are held in Chaitra and in Mangsir,[23] the Nayemha perform the major rituals. They also perform important rituals at Mohani[24] and at Sivaratri. Together with the Yethakali they are the ones who are ritually closest to the Bala-Kumari Goddess. Below I will give an account of these ritual activities and the ritual use of food in them.

The first day of Mohani they set a nolcha,[25] barley seeds which sprout in a bed of sand, in Kwachey, a dharmsala by the square where the Ganadyo will dance ten days later. The little square is known as Lachi. Doing this they first assemble at the Dwara’s[26] house; they go to set the nolcha and then return to the Dwara’s house. There they have some ayela, if the Dwara’s wife is in the mood for it. Here, as well as on other occasions when the Nayemha move as a group in the village, they are accompanied by two Jugi musicians who play horns.[27] Nolcha are set at two places; one is set inside the Bala-Kumari temple (the dyochey) and one at the Lachi.

At the Nawami day (the ninth of Mohani) the Nayemha again assemble at the Dwara’s house. They return to the nolcha where they worship the ritual paraphernalia of Bala-Kumari: items such as the Goddess' clothes, dumuri (drum), jol nhyakhan (bright mirror), combs, etc. The ritual paraphernalia of Bala-Kumari is kept at all times in the dyochey. Now they are placed by the nolcha, and one duck egg is sacrificed to it. This puja is observed in the morning.[28]

The following day the Nayemha again assemble at the Dwara’s household, and then they proceed to worship Ganesh, Mahankali, and Bala-Kumari at the dyochey. At the nolcha in the dyochey they worship and decorate themselves with khokha (sacrificial thread) and tika. The former is tied around the neck, and the latter is smeared on the forehead. Afterwards they partake of same baji accompanied by ayela and thon in the adjacent room. When they have eaten the same baji they return in procession to the Dwara’s home, whereafter they disperse. The following day they go to collect uncooked rice and flattened rice for the Ganadyo. This is known as Ganadyota jaki chamna. Going two by two they scatter to different toles (localities) in the village. Every house has to contribute either one mana of jaki or of baji. Every second house gives baji, and the others give jaki. The houses contribute the same item every year and those households which have chickens and ducks also give eggs. The collected foods are offered to the Ganadyo on the thirteenth day, when they come to the village.

Next day the Ganadyo come early in the morning from Patan. The Gods of the Ganadyo are Bare, Ganesh, Kumar, Bhairav, Dakshinkali, Singa, Benga, Mahadev, Kaumari, Mhasukhwa, Wamkwa (“Wåmkwa”), Naudurga (represented by an idol), Nhaymukwa, and Jeyn choma dyo (carried in the belt of a guthyar). The Gods are personified by members of the Gathu (Nep., Mali) caste.[29] Arriving in the village they first place their masks and other ritual items at a dharmsala. Then they go to rest in various people’s houses. Around midday, they reassemble and form a procession to go around the village clockwise. By now they are obviously intoxicated, except the one who represents Mahadev (who is a teetotaller), and some of them are quivering in possession. When the Ganadyo circle the village people come out of the houses all along the way, offering the Gods grains, beer (though Mahadev is given milk only), vermilion, etc. The rounding of the village is completed at the lachi, a little centrally situated square. Here, they first dance. Then, after a rest, the Nayemha appear on the scene to propitiate the Gods. The Nayemha have first assembled at the Dwara’s home. When they arrive in procession accompanied by the Jugi musicians, they bring various pujas, same baji, and a large earthen jar of kharthon for the Ganadyo and Naudurga. They also bring a chicken for Kumari and milk for Mahadev. Now commences a ritual in which Bhairav serves the thon to the other Gods. It is given to him by one of the guthyars of the Ganadyo pyakhan guthi, who accompany the Gods as attendants and musicians. Again, Mahadev is given milk. The chicken is slaughtered by one of the Ganadyo pyakhan guthyars. Its throat is slit in front of the Naudurga image, and the gushing blood is drunk by Kaumari, who swigs the blood directly from the chicken’s neck. Later the Ganadyo pyakhan guthyars prepare si from it.[30]

After having accepted the offerings from the Nayemha, the Ganadyo go to eat the same baji given to them by the Nayemha in the sacred grove of the Bala-Kumari temple. No one but the guthyars are allowed to attend. I observed the parts of the rites which are performed in the village, but was advised not to follow the deities out to the temple, as it is believed that those who do not belong to the guthi should not attend their feast and hear the guthyars and the deities gossip (gap yaye). The one who tried would put himself in grave danger, faint, and fall into such a state that worship would be needed to revive him, I was told.

I made several attempts to obtain information on the underlying beliefs and conceptions. Here, I found that the Ganadyo represent some of the most important deities in the Newar pantheon. When they come to the village they are feasted as guests with beer and same baji, and then they retire to the Bala-Kumari temple in the same way that a Newar withdraws to his or her eating room or kitchen, to eat unseen by outsiders. It is also notable that the beer the Gods consume when seated in the square, as for a feast, is not served by a man. A man pours it up into a vessel, then Bhairav serves it to the other Gods. However, when they circle the village beer is accepted directly from the villagers.

The following day the Nayemha gather to eat a feast of same baji at the Dwara’s house. For this feast they get a contribution of thirty-one rupees from the Guthi Sasthan (the Goverment’s guthi office) in Kathmandu.

At the Mangsir yatra the Nayemha also have important functions. On the first day of the yatra days proper, the puja is prepared at the home of the Dwara. At 2-3 P.M. the Nayemha go to the dyochey of Bala-Kumari, where they worship the deities and take them down and place them in the khats (palanquins for the deities). Later the same day the Nayemha again go to worship the Gods. In the evening they follow the khats, which are carried by village men to the Bala-Kumari temple ground, where the Gods are taken to “see their mothers.” At the temple the Nayemha lift the Gods from the khat and place them in the pith. The Gods are left a couple of hours to see their mothers in a way analogous to the visits of married Newar women to their parental homes to see their parents.[31] Later, close to midnight, the Nayemha return bringing fresh puja items and one goat. Going to the temple they meet the Hitti guthyars[32] in “the middle of the jungle” on the way to the temple. The hitti guthyars have been at the temple to worship the Gods, and care is taken that one meets in the prescribed spot in the middle of the “jungle.”[33] The goat is sacrificed to Bala-Kumari by the Nayemha. The head and the meat are given to the Sana guthi, which prepares and takes si from the goat head. They also sacrifice one and a half catamari (“cattimalli”). At last the Gods are placed in the khats again. Now the khats are carried to the village, and the Nayemha follow them. The khats are set down in Chasal, and then the Nayemha, as well as the accompanying Jugi bhajan (tailor musicians) and Naye bhajan (butcher musicians), go to drink in various households to which they are invited. The Naye and the Jugi, however, generally do not go upstairs, as they are prevented from so doing by the rules of caste.

The following day the Gods are taken around the village twice. In the morning the Gods are taken to Lachey. When they are positioned there, many people will come with offerings: coins, vermilion, etc. Then they are taken around the village back to Chaphal (in front of the Bala-Kumari temple). The young men who have led the procession and the Nayemha go to Lachey, where the young men dance and people offer them money. When the Gods are carried around the village the first time, they are set down in front of houses along the route, whilst the people who carry them are entertained in the houses. They are then, generally, served thon, ayela, baji, and choyala (Paha Yaye), though there are no prescribed contents with the exception of some alcoholic beverage. The Gods are set down at Lachey for one or two hours. Later, after noon, the Gods are again carried around the village and up to Chakymelkhel (between the school and the Panchayat building). Now, their progress is rather wild, as everyone seems to be pulling the khats in different directions. Every able bodied man who is not in mourning tries to take part in the carrying, at least a little. The khats swerve wildly here and there, forwards, backwards, and sideways, and people rush out of their way. Along the way women come out and give grains, vermilion and other offerings to the Gods and beer to the men who carry them, which makes them even rowdier. Although the scene is somewhat chaotic, one rule is observed, namely that the khats must never touch the ground. On the last part of the circuit around the village, the bearers race with the deities as fast as possible up to the temple. The Gods are set down there and are showered by the women with water from pots and pans. Lastly, they are carried back to the temple, whereafter the Nayemha takes them off the khat and place them back into the dyochey. Inquiring about why one took the Gods on such a wild round-about, I was told that the Gods “liked” it. The water is scattered over the Gods in order to purify them after their ride around the village.

The Gods are returned to the temple in the evening by nightfall. The Nayemha set the Gods back in their places in the dyochey. Afterwards the Nayemha hold a feast in the Dwara’s house. At this feast the Nayemha sit in a special order according to who carried the different Gods in and out of the temple: 1) Ganesh Maharjan, the Dwara, who carries Bala-Kumari, 2) Haras Maharjan who assists Ganesh Maharjan, in case he becomes polluted, etc., 3) Krishan Ram Maharjan who carries Barahi, 4) Gopal Maharjan who carries Ganesh, 5) Radha Maharjan who carries Bhairav, 6) Ram Bahadur Maharjan, 7) Tushi Maharjan, 8) Kashi Lal Maharjan, 9) Jagat Lal Maharjan, who are assistants, 10) Surya Maharjan who is responsible for the worship of Ganesh, 11) Brahmucha Maharjan who is in charge of the patakhola, a small jar with sacred water (jol), 12) Jaga Bahadur Maharjan who is a general assistant, 13) Mangal(cha) Maharjan who is also a general assistant, and 14) Naraya(cha) Maharjan who is the cook for the Nayemha. Membership in the guthi and the privilege of carrying the Gods or of assisting are inherited from father to son, except that of the Dwara (see above).

For this feast the Nayemha receive a contribution of thirty-one rupees from the Guthi Sasthan[34] and one muri of wa (unhusked paddy) from the Sana guthi (one of the Bala-Kumari guthis, see above). The Nayemha have a simple feast consisting of baji, choyala, dayekula, etc.[35] Si is taken last, and consists of a chicken which has been sacrificed to Bala-Kumari. The chicken is sacrificed when the Gods have been brought back into the temple. However, due to shortage of funds, an egg has sometimes been used lately. Then si is not taken. The seating order of this feast is particularly interesting. At this feast the principle of seniority is over-ruled by the respective statuses of the Gods. The Nayemha are regarded as hierarchically above the other villagers, as they are the ones who are trusted to take the deities out of and into the dyochey. Subsequently some of the deities powers are thought to remain with the Nayemha when they have let go of the deities. Consequently, a “divine” seating order based on the powers of the Gods they have touched is observed. This is also linked to a previous political order in the village. The Dwara’s and the Nayemha’s political and jurisdictive powers have declined (by political I here mean the ability to make authoritative decisions), as it has de jure been transferred to the local elected Panchayat. In the past, however, before the advent of Panchayat democracy, the Nayemha also constituted the village’s highest political authority.

Later in the year, four days before the “Depcha” (the Digu dyo puja) they perform Duwa puja. For this feast the Nayemha is given ten pathi of jaki, ten pathi of baji, two cocks, one hundred and twenty rupees, two eggs, and one goat from the Guthi Sasthan. The puja is prepared at the Dwara’s home. Then one proceeds to hold the puja and the subsequent feast at the Bala-Kumari temple ground. One cock and one egg are first sacrificed to Ganesh. Then one egg, one cock, and the goat are sacrificed to Bala-Kumari’s mother (oftentimes equated with Bala-Kumari). The meat is prepared at the spot. When the meat is cooked one has a large feast. The Jugi and the Naye are also invited to the feast, though they will sit in two separate lines of their own. The Jugi pay fourteen rupees and one mohar (O.5 rupee) for their share of the feast, and the Naye give one dharni (2.5 kg) of buffalo meat.

One official, sent by the Guthi Sasthan office to see that the office’s contribution is appropriately spent, is also present. He participates in the feast, too. If he is a non-Newar he will eat only curd, baji, and goat meat, i.e., no buffalo meat. That is the case if he is a Brahman or a Chetri, and if so, he will also sit separately. The Nayemha will sit in their own line in the order accounted for above, i.e., in accordance to the importance and power of the God they carry.

The Nayemha also worship Mahadev at Sivaratri. At Sivaratri the Nayemha assemble at the Dwara’s home where they prepare a puja. Then, they go to worship Mahadev, offering him puja consisting of vermilion, burning wicks (oil lamps), jaki, baji, flowers, and milk. Mahadev is not offered meat, thon, or ayela, as he is regarded as a vegetarian, non-drinking deity. Afterwards they return to the Dwara’s house, where they first take prasad and tika from the offering. Then they eat a regular Newari feast with baji, choyala, dayekula, thon, etc. It is notable that one does not abstain from buffalo meat even at Sivaratri, although the worshipped deity is regarded as vegetarian. The feast is financed by whatever is left over of the Guthi Sasthan’s contribution to the Dware puja. The feast is held only a few days before the Digudyo worship, and is intimately connected to this, as it heralds the coming worship of the lineage Gods (See chapter VII).

At the Chaitra yatra, the spring’s greatest ritual and social event in Sunakothi, the Nayemha also bring the deities out of the dyochey and place them in the khat. At first they meet at the Dwara’s house to prepare the puja. Arriving at the dyochey they worship and decorate the Gods with their kikipa (crown), etc. Then, they carry the Gods down to the square outside and place them in the khats. Now, they worship the Gods again, and no one is allowed to worship them before the Nayemha. When the Nayemha’s worshipping of the Gods has been completed, the villagers crowd around the Gods to worship. Then the Nayemha go home to eat rice (ja) at their own houses. They have not been allowed to eat before that. (The same applies to the Mangsir yatra.)

At night they follow the khats to the Bala-Kumari temple ground and place the Gods in the pith, so they may see their mothers. Returning they meet the Hittiguthi on its way to the temple to sacrifice a ram. At midnight the Nayemha return and put the Gods back into the khats. Then they follow the Gods back to the village.

On the second day of the yatra the Nayemha direct the khats around the village. As at the Mangsir yatra, they attend dances at the Lachey where the dancers are offered coins by the villagers. Around one P.M. the Nayemha go to have a feast which is prepared for them by the Hittiguthi. At this feast the seating order is as described above, according to the importance of the Gods carried by the palas. Later, the Nayemha supervise the khat carrying again, going in front of the khats, requesting people to get out of the way.

After the conclusion of the khat yatra they bring the Gods back to the dyochey and enjoy a feast afterwards. The seating order is again, as described above. This feast is also subsidized by the Guthi Sasthan, from which they receive thirty-one rupees, and the Sana guthi which contributes one muri of paddy. The feast is held at the Dwara’s home. The Jugi and the Naye are invited to attend, although they sit in their own lines on the ground floor, and for this the Jugi contribute fourteen rupees and one mohar. The Naye give one dharni of buffalo meat.[36]

 

The Si Guthis

In Sunakothi there are two Si guthis which handle a large part of the practical details in connection with a demise. As soon as anyone has died, they are called and come to swath the body in a red cloth which they keep for that purpose. They get wood for the cremation and collect the bones afterwards, if the household of the deceased so wishes. The Si guthis also observe various feasts which are subject to certain rules. When the si guthyars go to their feasts people look away, as it is considered inauspicious to even see them. If any one of the guthyars cannot attend and sends a substitute from his household, this person may not join the line. The same applies to a guthyar who is late. In both cases, the person will have to sit on his own, though in the same room. Once a year the guthis also eat boiled rice (ja) in a ritual feast connected with the annual worship of the Siudyo. The following day the villagers come en masse to worship the Siudyo. The worshippers bring food, which is first offered to the God, then given to the guthyars who sit lined up in seniority order. They eat a little, and as prasad, keep the rest, take it home, and first have a feast on their own, whereafter they invite the people who came with offerings to a feast of the standard Newari feast dishes: baji, choyala, takha, and various beans. Later, in the evening, the Siu dyo is moved to the pala for the next year.

 

Guthis in Bahals and Other Residential units

I will here also give an account of the guthi system in the great bahals in Patan. A bahal is a clearly defined residential unit. According to local lore the bahals were once flourishing monasteries inhabited by Buddhist monks. Nowadays, the bahals are occupied by three Buddhist castes, the Gubhaju, the Bare, and the Uray and “[a]s will all Newar communities the rhythm of life in the sangha (roll of members) of a baha is governed by a series of guthis.”(Locke 1980:55) In the bahals the most important guthi is the sanga, which includes all initiated males and is devoted to worship the Kwapadyo and the Agamdyos. As a large bahal may have several hundred members, a committee handles the daily affairs.[37] The committee consists of the ten eldest men, regardless of caste, though, traditionally, only Vajracharya, Bare, and Uray live in bahals. The elders on the committee are popularly referred to as Dasa paramrita. They pass through a ceremony known as Naya luyegu (lit., making of leaders) when acquiring their offices. They are also given the title Adju (grandfather) and are entitled to have an umbrella over their heads at festivals. “All of the business of the baha and its sangha is referred to this committee of ten.”(Locke 1980:56). If they cannot agree, the forty eldest are summoned to consider the matter, and if one is still unable to agree, the entire sangha is summoned, i.e., all the initiated males.[38]

The elders on the committee organize and attend three kinds of religious observances: i) the daily service of the Kwapadyo, ii) the monthly worship of the Agamdyo, and iii) the annual gathering of the whole sangha. The daily service of the Kwapadyo is rotated. Two systems are encountered. Firstly, the duty may be passed through the whole roster of initiated members from the eldest to the youngest. When the youngest has fulfilled his obligation one begins anew with the eldest. Secondly, the duty may rotate among the families in the bahal, who thus select one of the household’s members to attend it. The monthly worship of the Agamdyo is performed by the elders themselves, and “[a]fter this puja, they have a feast.” (Locke 1980:58) Once a year all members of the sangha assemble to worship the Kwapadyo and enjoy a feast.[39] Here again one can note the significance of food and shared feasting as markers of communality. The elders eat together after worshipping the Agamdyos, and the whole bahal eats together on a certain day each year.

The Saymi caste has a kind of residential units known as sah. The caste’s main occupation in the past was pressing oil, and the sah were the oil presses around which one lived. According to Fürer-Haimendorf, each sah had its leader Kaji (“koji”), the eldest male of a lineage which traditionally furnished the kaji. The kajis of the individual sahs constitute a caste council, which is known as Shingu guthi. According to Fürer-Haimendorf, the Shingu guthi exercised “ultimate authority” over all Saymi. It assembled whenever caste-affairs had to be discussed and decisions made. Once a year it arranged a communal feast at Svayambhu, in which the Shingu guthi and many Saymi householders “join in a common act of worship and a communal feast.”(1956:27) One particularly interesting feature of this feast is that the preparations are divided among the sah, so each contributes a certain part of the feast:

[T]he men of Dai sah look after finance and accounting, those of Phukdhyan sah arrange for drink, those of the Tanlachi sah are responsible for the cooking of the food, those of the Lak sah for the serving of the meal and the procurement of curd, those of Nhu sah for the purchase and cutting up of the meat, those of the Otu sah for the provision of beaten rice, and those of Chosan sah for the purchase of vegetables.(Ibid.)

Here, it is the Saymi residents of Kathmandu who “express their solidarity.”(Ibid.) Other residential units do similarly, e.g., the Urya arrange the Samyaka feast, every twelfth year, within the framework of a guthi. Then, different subgroups (distinguished by different surnames) of the Uray procure different food items and carry out different organizing functions, their combined efforts creating the ceremonial feasts in which all Gubhaju, Bare, and Uray participate (See also Chapter IV).

 

Food in the Guthi System

Food is important in the guthi associations in that all guthis arrange common meals for their members at least once a year. The food is then the usual Newari feast food: flattened rice, various beans, vegetables, buffalo meat, and beer. The social significance of these feasts, in my analysis, does not depend on the food items, but on the fact that these feasts generally are closed to non-guthyars. They announce, on one hand, the exclusivity of the guthi in relation to non-members and, on the other, the guthi’s unity. Indeed, in some guthis, for instance, the Jyapu Si guthi, this is further emphasized in that the guthyars who are late for a common meal are punished. In the Jyapu Si guthi the late-comer may not join the line the guthyar’s sit in while eating. Instead, he has to sit on his own. In other guthis a fine will be charged, e.g., a bowl of curd.

The foods served and eaten in the guthi feasts are generally the same, the main course is followed by sugar and purifying curd, and the meal is concluded with sisapusa (fruit). I do not attempt to attribute any meaning to the food items per se, as I have not been able to obtain any such from the Newars themselves. However, one may note that the predetermined and formal structure of the meal reflects the formality of the occasion. Generally, one sits in lines according to seniority and one is obliged to attend.

Furthermore, when it is time for the yearly change of palas, a plate of food will be sent from the old pala’s home along with the ritual paraphernalia of the guthi. Such a plate is known as pabhu. The pabhu (compound of pala and bhu plate) will contain flattened rice, meat, vegetables, beans, etc. It is prepared by the kuchima, the mistress, of the house which has been responsible for the guthi the last year. Then it is brought, along with the ritual paraphernalia, to the new pala’s house, where it is eaten. The rule is that the preceding pala’s household provides the food (the pabhu), whereas the new pala’s household provides the beer and spirits for this feast. Thus, both households contribute to the feast.

Generally, baji (flattened rice) is served at the guthis’ feasts. However, in some instances ja (boiled rice) is served. This occurs in the most closed and most important guthis, e.g., the Si guthis. Among the si guthyars in Sunakothi, boiled rice is eaten at one annual feast. Also in Kathmandu, among the guthis tied to subgroups sharing an Agamdyo or a particular surname, boiled rice was eaten at guthi feasts. However, nowadays this practice has diminished due to conflicts of caste.[40] Intermarriages with other castes, particularly Brahman and Chetri, have occurred to such an extent that it has not been possible, or even generally regarded as desirable, to make those who have married into these castes outcastes. Nevertheless, such marriages have not been well-regarded by the elders. The result has been that one has ceased to eat boiled rice in the concerned guthis, and that those who have married outside the caste have been excluded from the guthi, although their kinsmen have not. Such marriages have, indeed, become so common, that one is now discussing making marriage to Brahman and Chetri women acceptable. However, due to resistance from the elders, no rules to that effect have been passed yet.

Regarding the guthis in Sunakothi, in which all households are members, it is noteworthy that the three guthis are tied to Bala-Kumari and that they feed both the Gods and the villagers by distributing food to all households, indeed, to all villagers, at the village’s most sacred rites, the Yatras devoted to the village’s mother Goddess Bala-Kumari. Thus, the guthis provide a link between the Gods and the humans, in which food has a central function, marking the village’s unity and relation to the Gods. The same can be said for the guthis in the Bahals and the Shingu guthi of the Saymi, as accounted for by Fürer-Haimendorf.[41]

In Newari society the Gods are highly human in their characters, which is clearly expressed through the guthi system. The very purpose of many guthis is to treat the Gods as humans. One takes the Gods out and feasts them, carries them around the village, offers them food and drink, and takes them to see their mothers. When the village or town is feasting, so are its Gods. The anthropomorphism of the Newari Gods has been well pointed out by Sunom Tuladhar, herself a Newar:

The Buddhist Newar of Kathmandu are organized as a well-knit society. Gods and goddesses are inseparable from their life. Their treatment to them is similar to their treatment of important human beings. In any formal ceremony, invitation cards are issued, and in Newar Buddhist society the invitation is given with special ritual without distinguishing the human beings from gods and goddesses.(1979/80:63)

Here she is referring to Gwaye dan tayegu, a ritual wherein the Gods are summoned by a guthi to the great Samyaka ritual, which is held one year after and is one of the most important rituals of the Kathmandu Buddhists. The Samyaka ritual is observed every twelfth year, and in it the Dipanka Buddhas are fed boiled rice.

 

 

Summary

The guthi societies play a crucial role in maintaining the customs and social order of the Newars, although these controlling functions apparently have diminished. Foods and feasts are important in the ritual life of the guthis. The guthis hold annual feasts which by prescribed participation announce guthi cohesion, village cohesion, caste cohesion, hierarchy according to seniority and other social relations.

Furthermore, the guthis provide a link between humans and Gods. The guthis organize various ritual events, wherein the Gods participate. Here, food is important and marks the anthropomorphic character of the Newari deities, as food is offered to them just as to humans. Then, the food offered to the Gods is eaten by humans, which, according to the principles of hierarchy, purity, and pollution is tantamount to accepting pollution: i.e., the hierarchical relation between Gods and humans is thus expressed.

 



[1] The guthi meeting will occasionally take a business-like ambience and function as a steering board, planning the guthi’s rituals, accounting for the economy, etc. However, even the most formal meetings do not have a strict agenda and the standard operational proceedings, with the right to reservations, etc., of a steering committee in the Occident. Instead, the guthyars talk until a consensus has been achieved by which all members can abide.

 

[2] The hereditary guthis are so closed that I had little possibility to participate in guthi’s rites, feasts, and meetings, except for those where I could be part of the audience. Hence, most of the data in this chapter is based on interviews.

 

[3] According to Rosser (1966:118) there is a group of Bare whose ancestors were Gubhajus. The reason that they have become Bare is that the Acha luigu rituals are so expensive to perform that one has not been able to afford it. These Bare were particularly bitter about the Vajracharyas’ claims to a superior position.

 

[4] To study the guthis which are tied to a subcaste would be a challenging research project, though fraught with many difficulties, as exclusion of outsiders is part of such guthis’ ideology.

 

[5] See Rosser 1966:90-104.

 

[6] Si guthi literally means death society. Sana guthi means mourning society.

 

[7] In Sunakothi there is, for instance, a guthi whose only activity is to light a fire a certain day of the year. The purpose of the guthi is stated to be to light a fire so people can bask in the warmth from it.

 

[8] In Sunakothi I only encountered one such guthi which was of recent origin and minor importance. It seems that sometimes in order to be remembered by posterity, individuals donate land and funds for a guthi. For instance, one Urya woman three generations back donated land for a guthi to perform annual Sradda (Pyan) in her name. Then she committed sati, immolating herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.

 

[9] However, during the last twenty years the bali accruing to the guthis has diminished drastically, as many farmers who work guthi lands have stopped delivering the bali. Some also claim that they cannot be evicted, although they are not paying the traditional dues; this view has been supported in the courts. Bali is from the Sanskrit and means tax or revenue.

 

[10] The government’s Social Customs Reforms Act of 1975 has, indeed, made excessive feasting illegal in an effort to curb wastage of capital.

 

[11] “The term Guthi is derived from the Sanskrit term Gosthi, meaning a society or association. Religious endowments made during the medieval period in Nepal, which are generally in Sanskrit, naturally use the term in its original form. Later endowments often use the Pali or Prakrit equivalent Gothi, which in the course of time, became corrupted into Guthi or Guth.”(Regmi 1978a:631)

 

[12] Meaning endowments to temples and charitable institutions; with the term Guthi, Regmi has noted that “...the Guthi system is virtually synonymous with the vafq system of India, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and other important muslim communities, with the Dharmada and Devottar land tenures of Hindus in India, and with the mortmain tenure of medieval Europe.”(Regmi 1978b:630). In this context he points out that the Guthi system is the result of an indigenous development; although paralleled by the development of similar institutions elsewhere, “....it would be erroneous to establish any organic or imitative link between them.”(Ibid.)

 

[13] Sixty-seven households were surveyed.

 

[14] However, recently there has been a dispute concerning the landholding of the Guthi, as one family has laid claim to the holdings. The claim is based upon the argument that it was once registered in this family’s name. I have been unable to determine the veracity of this claim. However, having studied the organizational functions of the guthi, two things are apparent: 1) that the incessant change of the palas makes it difficult to maintain continuous traditions and to inform all the palas of the rule and the lore of the guthi; 2) that these circumstances facilitate manipulation of the guthi’s assets by unscrupulous persons who by their position may know much more about the guthi and its management than the palas do.

 

[15] It seems as if the bali is expended according to the needs of each of the guthis to fulfill the ritual obligations. I was not able to obtain a precise formula for the allocation of the bali.

 

[16] The cremation ground (ghat) in Sunakothi is situated at a dry spot, though there is a trickle of water in a gully nearby. Nevertheless, following a deceased person there, is referred to as khusi wanegu, going to the river, as cremation grounds ideally are always placed at rivers.

 

[17] The important Hindu God Siva is popularly referred to as Mahadev.

 

[18] Bhajan is used to refer to any band playing music.

 

[19] According to Höfer 1979:196 the Dwara (Dware), is mentioned in the Muluki Ain of 1854 “...in connexion with the adjudication of a pollution by impure castes.” And, according to Regmi (1978a:857) a Dwara is “(a) functionary appointed by a jagirdar to collect homestead tax revenue on his jagir lands.”

 

[20] Those who defaulted on grain deliveries had their doors thrown in one of the village ponds by soldiers or policemen, who were shown the houses by the Nayemha. Having the door thrown in the pond would temporarily pollute the house, as the ponds receive various pollutions. Indeed, they are cesspools, as the water is virtually stagnant and people wash themselves, their clothes, and the dishes in them. In addition children defecate nearby.

 

[21] I suspected that the composition of the Nayemha originally included the most important patrilineages in the village. However, I could not find any villagers who would support this hypothesis; instead they refuted it.

 

[22] I have not been able to determine Sunakothi’s early history. Patan and Kathmandu Newars would often etymologize, from Nepali, the village’s name as meaning “gold(en) guthi,” implying that there must be another Newari name (There is none; I have inquired extensively for one.) or that the village is of recent (post-Gorkha conquest) origin. However, Sunakothi can also be derived from Sanskrit, giving a similar meaning. See note 11, above, on the etymology of “guthi” and Turner (1931:614) on that of “sun.” According to Slusser 1982:179, some of the remains found in the village can be dated to the Licchavi period. And, as Sanskrit was the official language of the Licchavi period, there is reason to assume the village has a history going back to the Licchavi period, ca. 300 - 879 A.D. Finds of the remains of wells and other stone structures when ploughing, laying the foundation for a new house, etc., also indicate that the site has been populated for a very long time. The earliest European source I have located is Kirkpatrick who, in his account of the route to the valley from a journey made in 1793, mentions the village as a land mark, spelling it “Sona-koate.”(1811:76) This is yet a strong indication that the name, and indeed, the village is very ancient, as it is highly unlikely that the Parbatya speakers would have established a new Newar village in the seven years between the conquest and Kirkpatrick’s visit.

 

[23] I have here followed colloquial usage in Sunakothi. Chaitra and Mangsir are, however, the Nepali names for the solar months falling in April-May and December-January, respectively.

 

[24] Mohani is the Newari name for Dussein. Mohani has taken its name from the soot acquired from the Sukunda, an oil lamp with an image of Ganesh. This soot is applied on the forehead as a tika during Mohani .

 

[25] Nola is a box with sand in which barley seeds are set to sprout on the first day of Dussein.

 

[26] The Dware is also referred to as Tarkhudhar.

 

[27] The Jugi come from “Djyalpati,” between Thecu and Chapagaon, four kilometres south from Sunakothi. They are commonly referred to as jugi bhajan. They are only allowed into the ground floor of the houses of the Dwara and others. The Jugis come to play at certain ritual occasions, e.g., the yatras, and for the Nayemha. For this they receive food and drink from every house during every festival, except at Chattanakha. The Chattanakha is held one month before Dussein, and it is said that it gives an indication of how Dussein will turn out; a good Chattanakha is followed by a good Dussein, a bad Chattanakha is followed by a bad Dussein. One does not feed the Jugi at the Chattanakha, because one is supposed to hide during this feast. According to popular lore, some people tie chilli peppers to their shirts, as it is said that one thus can become invisible and steal undetected on other days.

 

[28] Similar activities take place all over Nepal. This is the ninth day of Mohani, and in Newari it is known as Syaku tyaku; “the more one kills, the more one gains” is a translation I have often heard of his phrase. (See also Chapter V)

 

[29] The Ganadyo pyakhan is organized by a guthi of Ghatu caste in Thecu, the neighbouring village. In Sunakothi it is referred to as Ganadyo pyakhan guthi.

 

[30] I could not obtain any information on the details of the si. The villagers did not seem to know them, and they seemed to think that they were not supposed to know.

 

[31] To “see” the face of a mother or a father is a deep rooted concept: the observances which are analogous to mother’s and father’s days are called Ma khwa swayegu and Bau khwa swayegu, respectively, i.e., to “see mother face” and to “see father’s face.”

 

[32] The Hithi guthi is dedicated to setting up a cloth to shelter the deities from the sun when they are placed at Lachey.

 

[33] The spot where one meets is regarded as being situated in the middle of a jungle. Presumably there was once a jungle, but nowadays there are only a few bushes surrounded by paddy fields and houses.

 

[34] The cash contribution from the Guthi Sasthan has not increased with the inflation. Hence, its value has become severely eroded. In the past it was probably sufficient for a better feast.

 

[35] There is no detailed prescription for what the feast should contain.

 

[36] The Naye butcher always gets a piece of the throat of any animal he kills sacrificially. Generally the butcher will come and perform the sacrifice in exchange for some blood; one or two manas will do. Then, he is also invited to the subsequent feast. There, he will sit on the ground floor, or, if the feast is held at a temple, he will sit separately in his own line.

 

[37] An alternative system is found in certain bahals in Kathmandu, wherein each family has one representative. Then, the three eldest form a committee that conducts the day to day business, although one still considers the ten elders to be the ritual leaders of the sanga.(Locke 1980:57)

 

[38] Locke 1980:55-57.

 

[39] Locke 1980:58.

 

[40] In the following I have deliberately left out information on which castes I am referring to.

 

[41] Fürer-Haimendorf 1956:27.