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Mohani: The Newa complement to Dashain

Mohani: The Newa complement to Dashain

The Newa community celebrates Mohani, which coincides with Dashain, as one of their most important festivals. The festival marked for 15 days by worshiping the Astamatrika goddesses has many parallels with Dashain.

Dashain, as it falls after the end of Indra Jatra, also marks the end of the plantation season and the start of autumn. It is free time for the Newa community and they take this time to worship.

According to cultural expert Om Prasad Dhaubhadel, the name ‘Mohani’ refers to a black tika made by the Newa people that is believed to have the power of putting others under one’s control.

The celebration of Mohani dates back to the Licchhavi period (400-750 CE) when the Valley was still divided into many kingdoms. Statues and sculptures of the nine deities of goddess Durga and Astamatrika were put up around the kingdoms to protect people from enemies and intruders. They worshiped the goddesses to get the power to fight and take control during an enemy attack.

Mohani begins with the planting of barley seeds in the Agam Chhen, the room where the deities are worshipped, in every household. The barley grows into jamara in the next nine days. “We dedicate a day each to worship an Astramatrika goddess throughout Mohini,” says Dhaubadel.

On the first day, devotees visit the Bramhayeni temple to worship the goddess. On the second day, the goddess Maheshwari is worshipped. Goddess Kumari and Bhadrakali are worshipped on the third and fourth days respectively. On the fifth and sixth days of Mohani, Barahi and Indrayani are worshipped. On the seventh day, Mahakali is the one worshipped.

On the eighth day, goddess Mahalaxmi is worshiped and the entire family comes together to celebrate and observe a grand feast. This day is called ‘Kuchhi Bhwey’ in Newari where ‘Kuchhi’ refers to mana, a traditional Newari measuring instrument and ‘Bhwey’ refers to a feast. In the old days, it used to be a challenge for a normal family to afford beaten rice. So this day ensures that everyone has at least one or two mana of beaten rice once a year.

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“In the earlier times, there was a practice of eating the feast on turmeric leaves and we used to hear stories of how turmeric leaves would turn into plates of gold the next day,” says 49-year-old Bhubaneshwori Dangol, a resident of Sanepa, Lalitpur. “But now we only add a piece of turmeric leaf on the plate to honor our ancestors.

On the ninth day, the Tripura Sundari goddess is worshiped. This day is called ‘Syakwa Tyakwa’ and the Newa people perform Tampujaya (worship of their possessions and vehicles).

On the tenth day, also called Chala, the elders of the family put Mohani, the black tika, over red tika on the forehead and jamara on the ears of the younger members of the family to give blessings.

“During Mohani, we prepare all kinds of dishes for the feasts from different kinds of meat, beaten rice, a large variety of vegetables, achaar, choila, dhyakla, wa, and many more,” says Dangol.

Until the 15th day, people go for Nakhatya (feast) at their familys’ and friends’ homes to put on Mohini and tika, and to feast together.

“I think what makes Dashain special and stand out is how people of different communities have found a way to celebrate and present their art, culture, and traditions in their own unique way,” says 26-year-old Shreyashka Maharjan, student of Sociology and Cultural Photographer. “It's the same with Mohani, but what is different is that different Newa communities have their own way of celebrating,” he adds.

In Patan, the centuries-old Astamarika dance called Ga Pyakkan, one of the most artistic dances of the Valley, is performed during Mohini.

In Kathmandu, Pachali Bhairabh Jatra is organized on the sixth day of Mohani by the Jyapu community. In Bhaktapur, the Khadga Jatra begins on Biyaja Dashami whereby every family uses a khagda (scimitar with a thick long blade) to slice vegetables as sacrifice.

“For Newars, Mohani is a huge affair for showcasing their culture, and various aspects of their histo