Newar - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Buddhism, Hinduism, and indigenous beliefs coexist and are mixed among the Newars. The main form of Buddhism practiced here is Mahayana or Great Vehicle "Way," in which the Tantricized and esoteric Vajrayana, Diamond, or Thunderbolt "Way" is considered the highest. Theravada Buddhism is not as popular but there has been a moderate resurgence in recent years. Hinduism has benefited from stronger backing for several centuries. Shiva, Vishnu, and related Brahmanical deities are revered, but more characteristic is the worship of various goddesses called by blanket terms such as mātrikā, devī, ajimā, and mā. Indigenous elements are seen in the rituals of digu dya, byāncā nakegu ("feeding frogs" after transplanting rice), beliefs about supernaturals, and many other customs. The Newars believe in the existence of demons ( lākhe ), malevolent souls of the dead ( pret, agati), ghosts (bhut, kickanni), evil spirits ( khyā), and witches ( boksi). Cremation grounds, crossroads, places related to water or disposal, and huge stones are their favorite haunting places. Mantras and offerings are used by priests and other practitioners to control and propitiate them.

Religious Practitioners. Gubhāju and Brahman are Buddhist and Hindu priests, respectively; they are married Householders, as only Theravada monks are celibate. Buddhist and Hindu priests officiate at household rituals, festivals, and other rites. Tantric priests or Acāju (Karmācārya), funeral priests or Tini (Sivacārya), and Bhā are graded lower. Astrologers are also connected with funerals in some places. In Certain localities, Khusah (Tandukār) serve the Nāy caste as their household priests.

Ceremonies. Main life-cycle rituals are: rituals at and after birth ( macā bu benkegu, jankwa, etc.); two stages of initiation ( bwaskhā and bare chuyegu or kaytā pūjū for boys; ihi and bārā tayegu for girls); wedding ceremonies; old-age celebrations ( budhā jankwa ) ; funeral and postmortuary rites. There are forty or more calendrical rituals and festivals practiced in a single locality. Some, such as gathāmuga (ghantakarna ), mohani dasāī, swanti, and tihār, are common to all localities, but many other festivals are localized. Offering alms is an important religious act, of which the Buddhist samyak is the most festive. There are rituals repeated within a year. Nitya pūjā (daily worship of deities), sãlhu bhway (feast on the first day of each month), and mangalbār vrata (Tuesday fasting) are examples. There are also rituals of which the date is not fixed, which are performed only when necessary or proposed.

Arts. Newar artistic talent is displayed in architecture and sculpture. Inspired by Indian tradition, unique styles of palaces, temples, monasteries, stupas, fountains, and residential buildings developed. They are often decorated with wood carvings and equipped with stone or metal sculptures. Religious paintings are found on the walls, scrolls, and manuscripts. Music with drums, cymbals, wind instruments, and sometimes songs is indispensable in many festivals and Rituals. Most arts are practiced by males.

Medicine. Disease is attributed to evil objects, the ill will of mother goddesses, witchcraft, attack, possession or other influence of supernaturals, misalignment of planets, evil spells, and social and other disharmony, as well as natural causes such as bad food, water, and climate. People resort to both modern facilities and traditional medical practitioners. Among the latter are the jhār phuk (or phu phā ) yāyemha (exorcist), vaidya (medicine man), kavirāj (Ayurvedic doctor), midwives, bone setters of the barber caste, Buddhist and Hindu priests, and dyah waikimha (a kind of shaman). Popular treatment methods include brushing off and blowing away ill objects in the body ( phu phā yāye ), reading or attaching mantras (spells), making offerings to supernaturals or deities, and using local herbal and other medicines.

Death and Afterlife. It is believed that the soul of the deceased must be sent to its proper abode through a series of postmortuary rites performed by male descendants. Otherwise, it remains in this world as a harmful pret. Two ideas about afterlife, that of Heaven and Hell and that of rebirth, coexist. Attainment of a good or bad afterlife depends upon the person's merit accumulated while alive and upon the proper performance of the rituals. The deceased are also worshiped and propitiated as ancestors.

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