Welcome to the theme
Culture is a lot of things and we have decided not to make limitations in advance. Anything can turn up culture-wise out in the districts and villages. Go to a remote area and there can be lots of surprises. Last November, as a case in point, we had several exciting encounters down in the Janakpur area, including a “Shaman Night” at full moon and a local brother-sister festival not previously caught on film. It’s culture without limits. Get the updates here!
Khokana village: medieval heritage in ruins
Chaath festival: moments of deep prayer (video).
Burning dolls for brother’s protection: Sama Chakeva (video).
“Shaman Night”: women shamans in action (video).
Dearest Bagmati: symbol of many other rivers.
Khokana village: medieval heritage in ruinsKokhana village – dating back to the Malla period – remains deserted and lifeless. Located eight kilometres south of Kathmandu, it has become a ghost town. The houses that didn’t collapse in the earthquake are kept erect only by heavy timber beams, and most are so cracked that nobody from the so recently busy Newari community dares entering them. There used to be 700 households tilling the surrounding fields like the Kokhanis have done for centuries. It used to be a busy village full of life. Indeed, it’s been called a “living museum” of Medieval times too. But now it is no more. We hope the locals will be able to return and rebuild, making Khokana once again fasten it’s old roots and continue its long existence. More…
Chaath festival: moments of deep prayer (video)
The prayers at the Chaath festival are full of concentration and spiritual presence. Visit rivers in the Terai in October/November – or more precisely, from the 6th day of the month of Kartik – and you’ll immediately see and feel the ambience. After a short period of fasting and traditional rituals, Hindus travel to their river of worship, just like their forefathers have done for millenia, devoting themselves to full days of prayer. Indeed, no-one knows for sure how long back the Chaath festival goes, but many date it to pre-Vedic ages. Originating in the Janakpur area, it is a tradition of worshipping the Sun – the giver of all life – thanking for health and prosperity and praying for fortune and happiness in the year to come. It’s prayers of deep meaning. Watch it above (click the image).
Burning dolls for brother’s protection: Sama Chakeva (video)
The brother-sister festival at Tihar is only one of several of its kind. In Maithili communities across the Terai, love between brothers and sisters is also celebrated at Sama Chakeva in commemoration of heroic acts of two sieblings ages ago. Sama, a young daughter of the god Krishna, was once falsely accused of wrongdoings and punished by being turned into a bird. Her brother, out of love to his sister, took fearless action which finally brought Sama back to human form. This video captures one night’s rituals from a village outside Janakpur: watch as sisters gather to sing in worship of their brothers and burn clay dolls symbolising earthly enemies and evil spirits – all to protect their brothers in the year to come. It’s a happy and fun ritual – but also one of respect and love, and centuries old.
Shaman Night: Women Shamans in action
This video is from a remote village East of Janakpur – at night on the last full moon of November – capturing moments of ancient Shaman rituals. Most of them women, the local Shamans are performing rituals celebrating the slaying of a demon ages ago. The nature of the rituals? Well, they are highly physical, imprinting a mix of fear and awe in the eyes of the locals. Watch the video below and it’ll be clear why: these women shamans are powerful! Also known as Kartik Poornima, the deeper meaning of the rituals is complex. We hope to find out next time!
Moving Stars: Local Beliefs about Satellites
We were sitting around the campfire one night in December, ten years ago, just two hours outside Kathmandu. Location: Saathi-ghar. It was a chill evening – there were no clouds – and the sky was glittering with stars. But more that that: a few satellites also crossed over.
Two boys had joined us at the campfire and pointed to one of the moving dots above: “Look, it’s here – a moving star!” The wife of the owner of the guesthouse came out to see it too. It was known that moving stars mostly crossed over before midnight and early in the morning. This one was early. More…
The Pahari defeat: a local history from Saathi-gharOnce upon a time, some present-day VDCs were kingdoms of their own. In Saathi-ghar in Kavre, a two hour drive outside Kathmandu, the Paharis once ruled. Locals tell how these people of Terai origin had migrated up along the rivers long ago and finally settled in the forests on the ridge. Down below lay the fertile river valley – the one they had followed – and up on the higher ground, the Pahari king built his palace. Next to it, of course, his tribal priests built a temple. The only problem from the outset was that farther away, on the other side of a gorge that created a natural boundary on the ridge, lived the Chhetris – and the Chhetri king was not happy with the arrival of his new neighbours. Nor were his priests – and so hostility soon broke out. The actual cause, though, is not clear. Maybe the Chhetri king was used to hunting the forests where the Pahari tribe had settled. Or perhaps he owned that part of the ridge and now strangers of a different culture had imposed. In any case, conflict intensified and one day it came to war.
The war began down at the gorge. The Chhetri king brought his men to the border between the two kingdoms and they began taking shots with bow and arrow at the Paharis. It could also be that the Paharis had started the battle. Nobody alive today knows for sure. But the outcome of the war between the two tribes is well-known by the elders in Saathi-ghar who were told this local history by their elders – many years ago. The Paharis suffered great defeat. Casualty numbers are long since forgotten but how the war culminated is not. More…
Newari folklore: Glimpse of the “Kack”
Have you ever seen a short man-like creature, about two feet tall and furry in a big way – either black or white – and mostly active at night? Well, only few have. But ask older people around Kathmandu Valley, especially among the Newars, and someone will tell you they have. It’s a friendly creature but a shy one as well: the “kack”.Kacks are to Newari folklore what trolls and elves are to the European heritage. They move about in forests and villages by stealth – shy as they are – and stay hidden most of the time. But sometimes they might approach you: they can hide in a heartbeat but they can also appear out of nowhere. So you might be lucky to see one – or unlucky, depending on what colour it has. If you encounter a black kack, better close your eyes. See a white one, on the other hand, and you’re in luck!
A white kack only means well – and seeing one brings good luck and happiness. We spoke to an elderly woman in Kathmandu who saw several kacks – all white ones. The closest encounter was with a quiet, furry fellow who came and sat on her lap! Many of those who’ve seen a kack will tell you how these “little people” would come and sit on the edge of their bed for a while, keeping them half amazed, half in shock the rest of the night. A white kack is friendly – but it can still be a bit scary. More…
Colourful local road
If warm colours delight the soul, take a ride along Nepal’s local roads. In fact, even better, go for a walk and let it in! The view along many local roads can leave deep impressions, even if you’ve already been there. Go during the low afternoon sun and the colours can stand out golden and sharp. Deep red dresses can make women seem ablaze as they stroll by on their way to the next village; sweaty rickshaw drivers reveal another corner of the road-side colour palette as they pedal along zig-zag’ing to avoid the next pothole, their relaxed passengers leaning back in their decorated three-wheelers. Or take the occasional long-distance truck which is usually painted too – with symbols and ornamentations holy to the highway men. In other words, here’s to the colourful local road!