Brahman and Chhetri of Nepal - Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. All Brahmans and Chhetris are Hindus and subscribe to most of the basic Hindu beliefs. At a minimum these include three notions. One is dharma—the idea that each person has a specific duty, moral code, and set of behaviors which are entailed by virtue of membership in a group (such as a caste group). Another idea is that of karma—sometimes likened to "cause and effect," because it explains whatever present state of affairs exists in terms of the events in previous lives that produced it. The third is moksha (salvation)—release from the round of rebirths that reincarnation involves.
Religious Practitioners. Brahmans may act as family priests (for Brahman and Chhetri households, but not for other castes and ethnic groups), as well as officiate at shrines and temples and at rituals associated with major festivals. They also handle all the rituals performed during marriage. They are generally present on religious occasions and read excerpts from the Vedas or other Sanskrit texts. They also recite from the Puranas and from the two great Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
Ceremonies. All Brahmans and Chhetris are Hindus and observe festivals, perform rituals, and worship deities associated with Hinduism. One of the more important annual festivals is Dasein (or Durga Puja), in which the goddess Durga (Kali) is worshiped over a fortnight in the month of October. Many ritual offerings and animal sacrifices are made at this time, and there is much feasting and visiting among immediate family and extended kin. On the tenth day of the fortnight each individual male and female pays respect to senior relatives, who then reciprocate by placing a colored tika on the forehead of the junior person. Also observed is Phagu (called Holi in India), the spring rite of Hindu culture related to fecundity and the god Krishna. It comes in the month of Phagun (February-March) and is a riotous time when men, women, and children sing, dance, and throw colored powder and water at each other. Other annual festivals include Tihar (Dipavali, the festival of lights), Janai Purnima (changing of the sacred thread), and Tij-panchami (a purificatory rite for women). Rituals in addition to those mentioned above (under Socialization and Marriage) include worship of the household god ( kuldevta ), worship of brothers by sisters ( bhai tika, celebrated during Tihar), and daily (morning and sometimes evening) worship of various of the Hindu deities, including Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, Ram, Krishna, Saraswati, Durga, Parvati, Narayan, Bhairab, and many others. Some Chhetris of west Nepal worship Mashta through shamans ( dhamis or jhankris ) and know little or nothing about traditional Hindu deities and festivals.
Arts. Brahmans and Chhetris are not known for their artistic interests or abilities. Music, dance, and visual and plastic arts are traditionally the domain of other, generally lower castes, and except among educated urban people Brahmans and Chhetris do not indulge themselves in these activities. Their simple, mostly undecorated houses reflect this lack of artistic bent.
Medicine. Brahmans and Chhetris will accept medical help from any available source, whether it is an Ayurvedic doctor (a specialist in herbal medicine), a passing Buddhist lama with a reputation for effective medicines, a shaman who prescribes treatment after going into a trance, or a practitioner trained in modern scientific medicine.
Death and Afterlife. Someone whose death appears to be imminent is taken to a riverbank to die, as all rivers are considered sacred. Even if death occurs elsewhere, within hours the corpse is cremated beside the river, into which the ashes are finally cast. Mourning restrictions (including elimination of salt and other items from the diet) for the death of a close relative are observed for thirteen days. Men shave their heads and are considered polluting during this time. At the end of the mourning period a big feast takes place. Food and other items for the deceased in the next life are given as gifts to the officiating priest. For one year a monthly shraddha ceremony is performed. Thereafter an annual shraddha ceremony commemorates the person who has died. Without funeral rites—which must be performed by a son—the deceased cannot proceed to either Heaven or Hell and instead will plague survivors as an evil spirit.