Nov 30, 2012

wedding jewelyof nepal

Jewelry has been used by human beings since ancient ages to decorate themselves. The earliest jewelry used to be of stones, gems, ivory, leather, and other such naturally found materials. Prof. Dilliraj Sharma mentions a small axe shaped artifact that he found in Palpa, which has been identified as Neolithic jewelry. Since then, jewelry has evolved to incorporate many different materials and designs. Hannelore Gabriel writes in her book “Jewelry of Nepal” that wearing jewelry is traditionally thought to enhance a woman’s beauty. In no occasion does a women’s beauty shine as in weddings, and for that reason, bridal jewelry has been very special in many cultures.
loon swaan

The Newa: ornament LoonSwan is one such special article. Loon means gold, and swan means flower, and just as the name suggests, LoonSwan is a big headpiece that covers much of the head. Its specialty is tiny, separate pieces of gold ornaments in the shapes of flowers, insects, and peacocks, which are tethered to the headpiece. These ornaments are often attached with springs, which gives the impression of live insects. This piece is the mark of a bride, and is worn only by the bride. Alternately, brides may also wear Nyapu Shikha, which means five chains. Nyapu Shikha can also be worn in other occasions.

Helina Bajracharya wearing Nhyapu Shikha:

Actually, the use of wedding jewelry begins even before weddings in Newa: culture. Kallya is a bangle which is sent to the bride from the groom's family a couple days before the wedding. Wearing the kallya symbolizes the finalizing of the wedding. During the wedding, the groom gives the bride a ring (Angu) and a chain (Shikha). After the wedding, when the bride is ready to depart from her maternal home, her father in law puts a par of anklets on her feet, which is the first and last time that a father-in-law touches the bride's feet. This anklet called tutibaggi is flat, and is usually plain. The bride's family gifts her a set of ritual beautifying objects, which includes a comb (natubhatuca or kakica), porcupine quill, and several other things. After the marriage, these objects are used to ritually comb the bride's hair. These objects symbolize her status as a married woman.

Women in several other cultures wear a particular item to symbolize their married status. For example, women in Brahmin and Chhetri community wear Tilahari, a set of seven golden beads used as a pendant to a pote necklace. Four beads are of one kind, and three of another. This Tilahari is given to the bride by the groom during the wedding ceremony. 


Along with the Tilahari come several other pieces like chains, phuli (nose ornament), bangles, bindi (worn in the parting of hair), pauju (anklets), bicchiya (rings worn on the toes), and earrings. It is a matter of curiosity for the bride's relatives to find out what pieces groom has brought for the bride. During the wedding, the bride changes clothes and puts on the clothes and jewels given to her by the groom, and it is in these ornaments that she bids goodbye to her natal home. Among these jewels, Tilahari  has transcended the boundaries of caste and is used by many communities as a symbol of marriage. The Tamang community is one of them.

Tamangs also wear Naugedi, which was previously worn by Brahmins and Chhetris, but is now more popular among other communities. As the name suggests, Naugedi is a set of nine gold beads which are spaced equally between thick strands of pote
woman wearing tilahari and naugedi together

Traditionally, Tamangs also wore earrings called cheptisun. The word itself means flat gold, and this earring is a large flat gold disk, up to ten cms in diameter, but the thickness is just 0.15 mm. Because of its thinness, it needs a rim to be stable, which gives the required structural support. 
chepti sun, now almost obsolete

Because the entire rim is inserted into the ear, the hole in the ear becomes quite big. The goldsmith usually does this task, and most women never take it off after putting it on in their wedding. As pure gold is too soft, it is made of alloys. Hannelore Gabriel has documented the decoration on cheptisun as usually having a vertical band of flowers. 
woman wearing chepti sun

Dhungri, also worn during weddings, is a large golden flower which sits in front of the earlobe. It is often quite heavy, and leans forward after long usage. On their head, Tamangs wore Sirphul, a large golden flower that covers almost all of the back of the head. Because of its weight and cost, Sirphul has almost gone out of fashion.  

This is the ONLY picture of sir phul that I could find online. Yes, the lady in front is wearing it

Some communities of Tamangs also used to set the bride price by gold. Though the practice of setting bride price is going out of favor, wedding jewelry is still an investment in many ways. Since women could not inherit land, often their wedding jewelry was the only wealth that they owned. Since gold gave the most value among metals, it was the material of choice for jewelry. Even till today, the association of gold with weddings is very strong in Nepal. "It is true that gold has a beauty, but so does every other metal" says Preeti Agarwal, a young jewelry designer. "Gold is so popular because of its value!"

When gold was out of reach, silver the second most desired metal. Among several communities that primarily use silver, the Dhimals of eastern Nepal are one. 

Intricate details ona  silver tilahari

Although only Pote is considered absolutely essential for weddings, the bride is usually decked out in a host of jewellery. For example, their Chandrahar, the necklace most often worn by brides, is a striking piece with interlinked silver flowers and a pendant in the center. These flowers have a flat base, so they rest easy on the chest. Their front is raised, and each flower has three hooks to link with the next flower. 
me wearing chandrahar

Dhimals also wear Gosmala, a chain of interlinked silver rings. Though these rings are plain, they are quite thick, giving the necklace an elegant look. Their Reji is a necklace of coins, where the joints may have designs, usually of flowers. If the Reji is long, then it might have up to 35 coins, and such a necklace may weigh up to a kilo.

young dhimal woman in reji

Dhimals also use gold for some of their smaller jewelry. Kanaila, their traditional ear jewelry, sits on top of the ear helix. Though it used to be just plain gold hoops, now Kanaila of various designs can be found. Kundal also used to be plain gold hoops that hang from the earlobes, sometimes weighing up to a couple tola each. But the modern Kundal is smaller, and also incorporates stones and other materials. Their nose jewelry is a golden phuli called Paanch Dhiki, which is a set of five little spheres. The groom’s side is expected to provide these pieces to the bride during the wedding, but the quantitity depends on the financial status of the groom. Anything jewelry the bride’s family gives her are considered extra gifts for the bride.
The traditional Kalli worn by dhimals is a hollow silver anklet with arrowheads on both ends. (Even in other communities, Pauju is always made of silver, because gold is respected for its auspiciousness, and is not supposed to be worn on feet). But nowadays it is being replaced by pauju, which is more decorative. This is a part of a pattern where increasingly, jewelry of many communities is beginning to look similar, and it is getting harder to identify a person by the jewelry they wear. For example, rings are used in almost every community to symbolize weddings. Pote and sindoor (vermillion) are used by many communities as a symbol of marital status. Most jewelry still contains designs of flowers, which are a symbol of femininity and fertility. Besides its value, gold is also appreciated for its auspicious nature, and most wedding jewelry is still made of gold. But it is interesting to note that just a couple generations ago, each community had its own special jewelry, and that from one end of Nepal to another, one could identify as many unique jewelry designs as the castes that inhabit Nepal. 
sindur, the ultimate symbol of marriage

Researched for and published in the November issue of Spaces magazine

Nov 18, 2012

Living out of a suitcase

Most people who have a house to live in, I think, take it for granted. Before I went to US, I too took it for granted that I always had a space to store my quilts in summer, and they would be right there when I needed them in winter. I was rudely jolted awake of this grantedness in my very first summer in the US.

Suddenly, at the end of the  spring, we were faced with the American phenomenon called “summer” that we were completely unprepared for. Nobody had told us that every May, students pack their bags and go somewhere else to earn money for the rest of the year. So there we were, at the beginning of May with house lease expiring in a week, and nowhere to go. On the spur of the moment we decided on a location, but we knew it would not accommodate our three big suitcases each. Since we were going to a famous beach area, we decided to pack our winter clothes and leave them at a friend’s place. However, we did not realize that even beaches get cold in the night. Since we had left our thick Nepali siraks we had left behind with our friends, we spent the entire summer pretending that two bed sheets together were as warm as a blanket.

That was also the time when we shared an apartment with a disproportionate number of people, and had little space for our stuff. One of our suitcases had to be shoved on top of the shoe compartment. I did not think much of it, until a month later when the suitcase emerged smelling like several hundred shoes. Of course, we tried the Nepali remedy of hanging it out in the sun to dry, which worked perfectly, but we never again shoved it in the shoe compartment.

The next summer, we were better prepared. We looked for jobs in our own neighborhood, and stayed put for the summer. However, we forgot about the rest of our friends, many of whom were still unprepared. The result was that we became their “friends” who they left their stuff behind with. Piles of oddly shaped luggage sat in different corners of the living room for months. As a result, we were unable to maneuver in and out of our house without making the famous three fold pose of Lord Shiva. 

Besides, that was when bed bugs entered our house. Though we were unable to find out exactly where they came from, the pile of suitcases left more than one bad connotation!

I was really glad when the summer ended and we were able to dance in our living room again after everyone took away their stuffs. Well, except for one. One of our friends decided to transfer somewhere else, and did not come back for her stuff either. We kept trying to call her to find out when we could post her luggage, but she always said her apartment was too small. As a result, we periodically took out her cute happy birthday poster and used it for our own birthdays, periodically glanced through the dictionary she left behind, and more or less made her suitcase the part of our living room décor. Finally, we had no option but to throw them away when we ourselves decided to move from that apartment.

I guess we could never be prepared enough for moving. At home, we never give a thought to pots and pans, which are always lying around for us to use. Not so abroad. When we had already moved our stuff to a new apartment, but stayed back to clean the old apartment (our landlord would fine us if we left the apartment dirty), we were really famished after three hours of scrubbing and brushing. We had nothing left in the fridge but a lone packet of frozen fries, and and absolutely nothing to cook it in. Finally, we were forced to dig into the trash can and fish out a blackened and rusty baking tray that we had just thrown away. Rusty though it was, right then the fries baked in that pan tasted like manna from heaven to us.

We thought the situation would improve when we quit our student lives and starting working. But far from it! When a friend of mine had to change jobs every few months, she also had to move to a different location each time. In every new place she bought some clothes, some kitchen things, and some odds and ends. Consequently, with every job change, she ended up having to shed some old stuff (At first, I was happy because I got what she left behind. But the next time, when she donated to the thrift store someplace far away, I was not so happy). Since she was constantly moving, she took only one suitcase with her, and the other backup suitcase was often mailed to her from place to place at preposterous expenses.

I guess the pains of living in a suitcase can only be understood by those who have been through it. So many of my friends have had their stuff unceremoniously thrown out from where they had left them as backup. Several others end up buying the same generic plain tops and jeans at every place they go because they are too emotionally drained to choose clothes that they will have to throw away soon (you guessed right, these were girls.) I have met countless friends who prefer to sleep on blankets on the ground, because they cannot carry their mattresses, let alone beds, everywhere. In fact, apart from laptops and pictures of gods, there is very little that gets carried to two places in a row. When your favorite cup, curtain, or carpet doesn’t fit in the suitcase, you don’t just lose some items of convenience. The familiarity and reassurance of everything that you take for granted at home also gets left behind. That’s what made me realize that a house is not just a place to sleep in. A suitcase, though undoubtedly useful on many occasions, is no comparison for a place to live in!

Nov 12, 2012

बाबु, छोरी र जिन्दगि: पार्ट 2

हामी भान्सा मा ब्यस्त आमालाई किच किच गर्दै: आमा गुडिया को लुगा बनाउन सिकाइदिनु न !
बुवा: आमालाई दुख नदेउ, आओ म सिकाइदिन्छु
म: हजुरलाई आउँछ र?
बुवा: तिमेर्की आमालाई के आउँछ र? मैले त बनारस मा सिलाई बुनाई को  ट्रेनिंग लेको छु!


अर्को दिन बुवा पाहुना संग ब्यस्त हुँदा 
म: बुवा, गुडिया को लुगा बनाउन सिकाइदिनु
पाहुना: नानी, आमालाई सोध न, बुवालाई के आउला र!
म: अँ, आमालाई त केहि आउँदैन, बुवाले त बनारस मा ट्रेनिंग लिनुभको छ!
बुवा: evil laugh
पाहुना: अवाक 


आमा र सानिमा मास्टर्स पढ्न जाँदा 
हामीलाई यत्ति थाहा थियो - बुवा मास्टर्स पढाउनु हुन्थ्यो र आमा पढ्नुहुन्थ्यो 
म: बुवा बुवा, आमाले त हामीलाई मात्रै कत्ति होमवर्क गर भन्नु हुन्छ, आफु चैं कहिले होमवर्क गर्नु हुन्न 
बुवा: हो त, हिजो पनि  होमवर्क नै गरेका रैनछन् 
म: अनि हजुरले पनिश्मेंट दिनु भएन त?
बुवा: अगाडी बसेका थे, पुक्क एक एक मुड्की दिएँ नि मैले। 


धेरै वर्ष पछी:
ऋचा: आज क्लास मा टिचर स्टुडेन्ट को लभ स्टोरी को कुरा हुँदै थियो, अनि मैले हजुरहरुको पनि कुरा सुनाइ दिएँ 
आमा: कल्ले भन्यो हाम्रो लभ म्यारिज हो भनेर?
ऋचा: होइन र?
आमा: होइन, बुवाले मलाई कैले पढाउनु भाको छैन आज सम्म जिन्दगी मा, कल्ले यस्तो हल्ला फैलाउँछ?
म: बुवाले त आफैं भन्नुभको , होमवर्क नगर्दा एक मुड्की हानें भनेर !
आमा (voice rising) : हाम्रो पियोर मागी बिहे हो !!
ऋचा: हो, हामीले बुझ्यौं आमा, calm down
आमा: mutters for hours about rumor mongers


टिभी मा बिज्ञापन: मेरी छोरीको लामो कपाल नै त उनको गहना हो 
बुवा: भुस हुन् सबै, भुस! शिक्षा पो मान्छेको गहना हुन्छ त, कपाल पनि कतै गहना हुन्छ?


बुवा 4 बजे तिर फोन गर्दै : रात परिसको, छिटै घर आइज !
म: बुवा म बिहे मा छु 
बुवा: बिहे मा भए के भो त, न तँ बेहुला, न तँ बेहुली, छिट्टो आइहाल!


भर्खर डायल अप बाट वाई फाई मा सरेको बेलामा 
बुवा: मेरा मेलहरु झिकिदे 
म: हेरिसकें मैले, केहि छैन 
बुवा: जान्ने हुन्छेस, त्याँ टुँई ख्याट गरेकै छैन 


मोबाइलमा अपरिचित नम्बर बाट फोन आएपछि
बुवा: यो मेरो फोन मा मान्छे को नाम किन आउँदैन?
म: त्यो आफुले सेभ गरेपछि मात्रै आउँछ 
बुवा: अनि इमेल मा त आउँछ त फलानाले गरेको भनेर !
म: अँ त्यो त अर्कै हो नि!
बुवा: ए हो? लु त फोन पनि तेस्तै बनाइदे, सबै नयाँ मान्छे को नाम आउने 


बुवा: सेवा काम नलाग्ने भैसकी, पढाई गुनाइ साढे बाइस 
ऋचा: अब मास्टर्स गरेपछि भै हाल्यो नि, याँ भन्दा कति पढ्नु 
बुवा: तँ चै किन एम फिल पढेकी त? आजै छोड्दे !!

म: मलाई पाल्पा जान झोला चाहियो 
बुवा: ला मेरो झोला लैजा 
एयरपोर्टमा बस्दा फोन मा:
बुवा (आत्तिंदै ): सेवा!! सेवा!!!! मेरो ब्याग मा पैसा थियो काँ गयो???????
म: सिराने मुनि राखिदिएँ 
बुवा: उफ्फ्फ़, धन्न, म त छोरी पैसा लिएर भागी कि भनेर सारै पीर लाग्यो!!!

हाम्रो घर बनिसकेको थियेन. छतमा पिलर बाट रड निस्किरहेका थिए, त्यस्तैमा एकदिन छतबाट टिंग टिंग आवाज निकै बेर आइरख्यो. 

बुवा: हेर त माथि के भएछ 
खगेन्द्र काका: काग रछन. रडमा बस्दा र छोड्दा ठोक्कर आवाज आउँदो रछ
बुवा: बजिया स्यालहरु! आफु यत्रो दुख गरेर घर बनायो, उनीहरुलाई पिङ्ग खेल्न पो भएछ!


र यसरी नै uber dramatic जिन्दगी चलिरहन्छ, 

पार्ट 1: यहाँ भेटिन्छ 
पार्ट 3: यहाँ भेटिन्छ

P.S. सबै घटना हरु शत प्रतिशत सत्य हुन् !! 

Nov 2, 2012

Alternate Sexuality in Mahabharata

Much has been written about the strange marriage of Draupadi to five men in Mahabharata. But actually, this is not the only sexual anomaly in Mahabharata, which is full of stories of strange attachments. For example, let us look at this sorrowful dialogue dripping with love.
“Alas, reft of Govinda, what have I to live for, dragging my life in sorrow? As soon as I heard that Vishnu had left the Earth, my eyes became dim and all things disappeared from my vision. I dare not live, reft of the heroic Janardana.” (Maushal Parva, Section 8) Guess who utters these words of utmost grief at the death of Krishna? His lover Radha? His wife Rukmini? His girlfriends the Gopinis? Actually, none of them. It is his dear cousin and pupil Arjun who feels that his life is over after Krishna is dead.
Why is Arjun ready to die once Krishna is dead? Is there more to the story than meets the eye? Actually, these words are just an example of an immeasurably deep attachment between Krishna and Arjun.  For example, after Krishna’s death, Arjun is asked to go to Krishna’s city and fetch his wives safely. On the way back, he is attacked by robbers. Arjun, who defeated major Kaurava warriors singlehandedly, is unable to combat a few petty robbers. The robbers kidnap many women as Arjun watched helplessly. That was when Arjun realized that without Krishna, he is nothing. All his prowess came from Krishna.

It  is clear from these two scenes that Krishna is the central figure in Arjun’s life, and the relationship went much beyond a normal friendship, or even brotherhood. When we dig deeper, we find even stranger little nuggets about their intense attachment. For example, when Arjun and Krishna help Lord Agni to devour the forest of Khandav, he is pleased and grants them a boon each. Krishna asks that his affection (preeti is the exact word) for Arjun may remain forever (Adi Parva, chapter 225).  It is also notable that when this incident takes place, Arjun and Krishna were on a solo vacation together.
Together, they are called Nara and Narayana, and also Vishnu and Jishnu. They are often called the two Krishnas (Arjun, being very dark, was also called Krishna), especially when they are on a chariot. The tendency to give names to couples together is usually found for heterosexual couples. In fact, most of the times that Krishna is mentioned, Arjun is mentioned alongside as his “complementary” or something like that. Actually, their relationship is so hyped in Mahabharata that I was surprised that one of them never rose from a demigod status, while the other went on to become a central deity. But that is a different discussion altogether. To get back to Arjun and Krishna’s relationship, it is often idealized as teacher and pupil’s (based on Bhagawat Geeta), but teacher-student relationship does not cover these statements: “Vasudev and Dhananjaya were highly pleased after they won the war, and they deported themselves with great satisfaction, like Indra and his consort (wife)” (Ashwamedha Parva, section 15). Why are Krishna and Arjun being compared to a married couple? Elsewhere, Krishna is found commenting that Arjun is dearer to him than his life, and that everything he owns, including his wealth, kingdom, and wives, are for Arjun. It is certainly not normal for a man to offer to share his wives with another. And actually, their closeness is not hidden from the world, as Yudhishthira, who never lies, is found commenting time and again that Krishna and Arjun cannot live without each other.
Taken individually, none of these incidents are enough to prove homosexuality. But all the incidents together, combined with Arjun and Krishna’s extremely loving endearments to each other, put this relationship firmly within the bounds of homo-erotica. We will never know the complete picture, because Ved-vyas Mahabharata speaks no more about the nature of their relationship. But folklore is rife with stories of Arjun’s transformation to a woman so that he can enjoy Krishna’s love as a woman for a day. (And it is not wise to dismiss folktales, because folktales have often provided key details not found in original scriptures. For example, Lakshman Rekha is not found in Valmiki Ramayan, but developed later from folktales.)
(Disclaimer: I want to make it clear that I am not reducing Krishna and Arjuna's relationship to homo-erotica. This relationship is a vast and complicated one with many aspects. I just want to highlight that homo-erotica is also one of the aspects, and an oft-neglected one. I do believe it is very important to their overall relationship and closeness.)
In Mahabharata, there are plenty of other incidents which suggest homosexuality. There are many eminent offspring born of a couple of males: rishi Agastya is the child of Mitra and Varuna (now forgotten deities). Urvashi is born from the thighs of Nara and Narayana. Whether they were born from test tubes, or some other alternate methods, is not known. But what is known is that two men are the parents of a child, possibly suggesting a romantic relationship therein.
Alternate sexuality does not stop at homosexuality. In the story of Pandu who shoots a deer, the common perception of this story is that a Rishi and his wife have transformed into deer. The original text, however, is different. “I was engaged in sexual intercourse with this deer, because my feelings of modesty did not permit me to indulge in such an act in human society. In the form of a deer I rove in the deep woods in the company of other deer” (Adi Parva, Chapter 118) says the muni Kindama clearly to Pandu. This act of bestiality was probably not accepted in society, as the muni himself laments. But then, it suggests that such phenomena has existed in our culture since time immemorial, and is not a byproduct of western culture.
                It is also notable that in Mahabharata, while there is this abundance of subtle references to alternate male sexuality, there is little expression of female sexuality. This may have various interpretations (alternate female sexuality did not exist), but it is more likely that this happened because Mahabharata was not written by females. The male writers were probably just ignorant of entirely female phenomena.
                Many of us assume that any kind of sexual perversity is the result of western influence, but our literature says otherwise. Sexual diversity has always existed, and the question is only of how well it is integrated into mainstream society (or not!) And Mahabharata is just a sample of our vast mythological corpus, I have heard of other, more graphic references in other texts. Anyone who thinks that western influence is corrupting our youths and leading them to perversity, needs to pay more attention to our myths! 
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