Mha Puja: Worshiping inner self

8th Nov, 2018 | Tourism Mail Crew

Mha Puja is an annual ritual performed by the Newar community of Nepal. It is the most important festival in Newar community as it is considered as "New Year" or the ‘"worshipping of the self " in Newari culture. During Mha puja people are said to be worshiped as god. This ritual is done for the purification and empowerment of the soul as a part of New Year celebration. It is performed on the time of Tihar a day after Laxmi puja and a day before Bhaitika. It is celebrated on the 3rd day of Tihar. As Mah Puja is celebrated only in Newar community, in this day people of other community celebrate Goru puja and GovardhanPuja.

In Newari language ‘Mha’ means our body .So, basically Mha puja is a day when we actually worship our body or inner self .Mha puja is the purification, strengthening and understanding of oneself.

Mha puja carries all the grandeur that a typical Newa festival or ritual possesses. Mha puja is conducted mostly in evening or in the afternoon to make sure that Mha puja of Aagandya (the family goddess) and Mha Puja of goddess Talejubhabani at the three place khwopa (Bhaktapur), Yen (Kathmandu), and Yala (lalitpur) have been conducted by the high Newar priests. These Mha puja ceremonies of the goddesses are not accessible to the general public. It is said that at the time of Newari regime, the king, the priests and some high ranking Newars were able to verbally communicate with the goddesses through tantraism.

The regular Mha puja found in every Newar household is usually performed in the floor in the dining area .Newars residing outside Nepal miss the this grand event very much and the details seem increasingly interesting. Basic elements of Mha Puja are the same for all Newars. Some procedural details may vary or differ from family to family. Also it is celebrated for the good health and long lives of the soul.

 The day is also celebrated as a Nepal Sambat or the Newari New Year. The celebrations invoke prosperity and longevity for the worshipper. Mha puja and Nepal Sambat are also celebrated in abroad where Nepali people are settled.

The element is also recognized as the symbol of the world .The mandala is symbolized as the world, fruits and sagun as the offering made by the earth. Moreover, the celebration and feasting by the family members with the lights around the mandala help to strengthen the family relationships.

The married daughters are not allowed to perform puja in their material home in some of the Newari culture. Also there are many Newars who celebrate this culture but there are only few Newars who doesn’t celebrate this festival. Hence, there is no other Newari festival is solely devoted to enriching oneself both physically and spiritually. Mha Puja is celebrated with as much vigor as any other important festival. According to Hindu religion, soul or the inner self never dies. There is a belief that in our inner self there is god in us. Also everybody worships his /her own mandala. Also the mandala is lighten up by itaa and red color .Each Mandalas is carefully prepared on the floor by the following a procedure. A set of closely spaced concentric circles are first drawn in each Mandala area by employing a mustard oil soaked cloth piece wrapped around a flower plant steam or a pencil. It may be worth mentioning here that Mha Puja stresses in strong, long lasting, bright, healthy ,fragrant and such other thing with positive connotations and only materials that are considered clean. The circled signify completeness .On the top of the oil rings a beautiful artistic geometrical shape which constitutes the core of the mandala is created. The markings are done in the yellow potaye. On the outside is a large ring enclosing a smaller one with the abhir is spread along the various potaye lines with the respect to the worshipper and at the center of the mandala.

Everybody is concern about the long itaa which is believed that if the itaa is burn for a long time then the person's life is long live but if the light is burnt fast then the life is short .Also A priest or a eldest female in the family in the home does this rituals and worship the house god to the Yamaraj. Also the lights are lightening up from the house gods to mandala to the Yamaraj.

Manda (Mandala) is an essential part of Mha Puja celebration. First the floor (usually tiled or plastered) is purified by sprinkling holy water collected from a sacred stream. Next Mandalas are created on the floor in the front of the row of the seats for the family members and elsewhere. The told number of the mandals exceeds the number of people in the household by three.

While the ceremony set up we place flower as a symbol of new broom, bamboo tray, and water pot as is the house god. At the last as the crow is drawn as a symbol of ever watching Yamaraj, the ambassadors of the death who is always ready to rake sinners to hell.

The Mha Puja is done in a special mandap (decorated by flowers, garlands, sweets, meat, lentil and fruits) for each, by being offered a Shagun (which consists of fried eggs, fish, fruits and local alcohol) by the female family member. 

Even today, people are very enthusiastic to welcome the New Year. Every year, the day starts with a rally and the greeting of “NhuDayaBhintuna!” which means “Happy New Year”. Different program and functions are also organized in the Kathmandu Valley every year on this day. Offering of a variety of fruits, nuts and sweets is for a fruitful and resourceful life. The walnut is tough outside but carries tasty nut inside. 'Tahsi' fruit has thin skin and provides tasty sweet and sour fruit.

Nepal Sambat was founded on October 20, 879 A.D. during the reign of Thakuri King, Raghavadeva. According to a mid-fourteenth-century Sanskrit chronicle an epoch-era was dedicated to Lord Pasupati (Pasupatibhattarakesamvatsarapravartkritah) during his reign. The arrangement of the food on the plate also represents a mandala, with a mound of beaten rice at the center surrounded by portions of eight side dishes. In addition, other food items are served to make a sumptuous feast.

After dinner, the plates and leftover food are left as they are overnight. The floor is swept clean the next day. So, Mha Puja is the most important and auspicious culture of the Newari people's .It is the finest culture of the Newari. Mha Puja is the most unique festival of Newars as it is done at night and mainly done for the worship of the inner body and soul.

It is mainly done at night and at the same time it lies in the Nepal Sambat, New Year of Newar. The arrangement of the food on the plate also represents a mandala, with a mound of beaten rice at the center surrounded by portions of eight side dishes. In addition, other food items are served to make a sumptuous feast.

This has led some historians to surmise that the foundation of the era was due to some religious event connected with the national shrine of Pasupatinath.

 Text/Photo: Grishma Rajkarnikar