Coming to the “diversity among the Newars” section, in general, Newars have been saying that the diversity is what makes Newars unique and special. In my opinion, together with such perception, we should also be able to turn this diversity into a “strength” that will bind the Newars together. If we see or find misconceptions or erroneous concepts, mistreatments, and discriminating traditions in the name of diversity, we should be able to correct them and also be able to clarify why the correction is needed. For that to happen, we must be able to view the diversity from various angles and perceptions.
Last week, when I started to think about today’s topic the “Diversity among the Newars,” I realized that there is no such area that does not have diversity within the Newar societies (mind you, Newar’s is not just one society), be it their language Nepal Bhasha (Newah Bhāy), cultures, festivals, traditional occupations, religions, lifestyles, socioeconomic conditions, and so on. The more I tried to explore the more diversities I discovered. That reminded me of a speech by Professor Dr. David Gellner of Oxford University, England, where he said “Newar societies is like an ocean of knowledge for me, which will never dry out.” One should remember the fact that the diversity of the Newars has spread beyond the Valley of Kathmandu – as Newars have reached in every District of 75 Districts of Nepal. Although it is our language Newah Bhāy that unite us together as Newars, even this language has more than ten dialects spoken within and outside of Kathmandu Valley. Caste variation also exists, with as many as 35 or more castes. One should note that women’s status and autonomy also vary by each caste. It is fascinating to note the fact that the women from the so-called lower castes have higher autonomy and freedom of speech; in fact I find, the lower the caste status the higher the autonomy of women. Another side of notable diversity is that today we see a Newah girl participating and winning talent medals in Miss World pageant while we still have our Newah girls as the Living Goddess Kumari. Within the Kumari system again we see yet additional diversity: while the main Kumari of Lāyekoo (Basantapur) is viewed as an incarnation of Taleju Bhawani, a Hindu Goddess, the girl must come from a Shakya (Buddhist) family. If we go deeper into Living Kumaris in and around the Kathmandu Valley, we find not only Kumaris from Shakya families but also from Vajracharya families and Jyapu families.
Most of us are familiar with the cultural diversity of the Newars. I will give a few examples. Among the Sesyo Newars, married sisters go to their natal home or brothers’ homes to perform Kija-Puja(as we call it “Brother Worship-Day” or even “Brother’s Day) while among other Newar castes, it is the brothers who go to their sisters’ homes for Kija-Puja. Also many of you may not know that among the Gubhaju (Vajracharya) and Bare (Shakya) families, Kija-Puja is performed only to “kija” (younger brother) never to an elder brother; if a girl have no younger brother(s), then a younger cousin brother or even a nephew could be worshipped. One should also be aware of the fact that the cultural diversity exists by areas of residence as well. There are some rural areas in the Kathmandu Valley where Newars do not perform Kija-Puja, Ihi, and Bārhā rituals.
Newah Organization of America July 14th, 2015