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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Mha Puja—New You


Today is the New Year for the Newar people of Nepal, a time to revel in the sacred self.


image

Mandala for the New Year, Nepal

Photo: jwajalapa

Here’s to you.

With the November New Moon, it’s New Year’s Day in Nepal, 1126 years since a benevolent man named Saakhwal paid off all the debts of the poor.

The one million Newar people, concentrated in Kathmandu, celebrate the occasion with a beautiful custom called Mha puja, paying tribute to the higher self.

imageMha puja in Kathmandu

Photo: Festes

Dr. Manoranjan N. Dhaubhadel calls this rite “unique…. Newars believe that one needs to understand and respect oneself before he/she can understand others.”

In the evening, all members of the family will be seated on the floor, with a circular mandala made of flour, beans, flowers and fruits before each person. “It is believed that the Mandala represents human self and one should pay homage to the body, which is alive by the grace of God or Nature.” Three additional mandalas are made, a smaller one for “the House-God” and one apiece for “the ever-watching Yamaraj and Jamaraj, the ambassadors of Death.”

imageA Nepali woman receives sprinkling of flowers in the New Year parade, Kathmandu

Photo:  Gopal Chitrakar, for Reuters

A woman of the family initiates the complex ceremony of self-blessing, which, of course, involves flowers: principally “a garland of ‘Gweswaan’… worn around the neck. Gweswaan is sturdy, is not easily worn and torn like some other flowers and signifies blessings of long lasting and successful life.” The finale of Mha puja is a fragrant, purifying shower, called “Nakin or Purohit,”  when each person’s head gets a sprinkling of Nepalese potpourri—flower petals, bits of fruit, vermilion powder (abhir), and rice.  All-natural, Newar confetti.

For those of us who grew up in Christian sects, a religious festival of “self-worship” sounds embarrassing, even dangerous, the kind of thing that could attract lightning bolts. Dr. Dhaubhadel explains: “Mha puja exposes the relationship of a person with the surrounding nature and the cosmos. Understanding of one’s role in life makes him/her more knowledgeable and unselfish.” The purpose of “worshipping and blessing oneself (is) to achieve unselfishness and generosity….” Indeed, “Mha puja is also for prosperity and physical well being,” but in this spiritual logic there’s a connection between sitting pretty and doing good.

It’s not that a rich man has a tougher time getting into heaven (like a camel wriggling through a needle’s eye) but that somebody who’s well off, who sees clearly his or her place in the bigger design, will naturally be generous.

The hard-working Saakhwal had been going about his construction business 1126 years ago when suddenly a load of sand turned into gold, a sparkling windfall he used to bail his people out of bondage.



Posted by Julie on 11/02 at 11:23 AM
Culture & SocietyReligious RitualsSecular CustomsPermalink

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

With a Little Help from My Famiglia


One of the biggest floral holidays in Italy is Ognissanti (All Saints, Nov. 1) and the following day, All Souls (Nov. 2), when families come together to give departed relatives a heavenly boost.


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Decorating the cemetery in Quarona, Italy

Photo: Cimitero di Quarona

Where we live, guys along the highway hold out cardboard signs reading, “Could Use a Little Help.”—It’s a refrain suited to everyone and all time.

In the Catholic faith, early November is when the living extend themselves to the dead, especially those less-than-saintly relatives who preceded us and “could use a little help.” For them, there’s All Souls Day, observed November 2, known as El Dia de los Muertos in Mexico and Aller Seelen in Germany. In Italy, this is one of the biggest floral holidays of the year.

Half of all Italians will visit the family graveyard between October 29 and November 5. “Cities where the tradition is strongest are Naples and Bari with 70% of the population” taking part. That means decorating the cemetery with fresh flowers, about 100m euros worth. White chrysanthemums are especially favored; they’re in season, and Italians consider white flowers funereal.

This looks like an excellent article for those who read Italian.

image

A cemetery in Rome, Italy

Photo: La Vergogna

While the tradition is surely pre-Christian, its Catholic roots trace back to St. Odilo, Abbot of Cluny, (994-1042). It seems a pilgrim to the Holy Land had washed up on a “desolate island. A hermit living there told him that amid the rocks was a chasm communicating with purgatory, from which perpetually rose the groans of tortured souls.” The hermit had managed to discern in all those wails what the ghosts were saying: that the prayers of believers,  “especially the monks of Cluny,” could rescue tortured spirits.

Returning to France, the pilgrim told his story to Odilo “who then set the 2nd of November as a day of intercession on the part of his community for all the souls in purgatory.”

This good article by Stefano Rossini describes the lighter side of Ognissanti.

“Until a few decades ago and especially in the South of Italy, this was in fact the only celebration of the year when children received presents, usually sweets and toys…. Parents tell their children that if they behave correctly, the good souls of the dead might bring them presents. On the 1st of November, children go to bed in the hope to be remembered by dead members of the family while parents prepare the presents and hide them around the house.

imagePhoto: Society of Saint Paul

“In Sicily one of the traditional sayings for the children to ask for many presents is this:

“Armi santi, armi santi,

Io sugnu unu e vuatri siti tanti

Mentri sugnu ‘ntra stu munnu di guai

Cosi di morti mittitiminni assai.”

“Holy souls, holy souls,

I am one, and you are many,

While I am in this world of troubles,

Bring me lots of presents.”

“Help” comes in many forms: bicolored, meditative, ruffled, sugary….With the act of memory, it flows in two directions through the family.



Posted by Julie on 11/01 at 01:46 PM
Culture & SocietyFloristsReligious RitualsSecular CustomsPermalink
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