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HomeArt & CultureMha Puja: The Unique Newa Celebration of Self-Worship and Renewal

Mha Puja: The Unique Newa Celebration of Self-Worship and Renewal

In a world where New Year’s resolutions often revolve around self-improvement, the Newa community in Nepal has a truly distinctive way of embracing the concept of self-worship. Their New Year, known as ‘Nepal Sambat,’ is ushered in with grandeur, and one of its highlights is the Nhu Dan celebration in Basantapur.

At the heart of Nhu Dan lies ‘Mha Puja,’ an annual ritual that translates to ‘worshipping oneself’ – a seemingly unusual but deeply meaningful practice. It stems from the belief that divinity resides not only in the heavens but also within us. The primary purpose of this celebration during the New Year is to cleanse the self of past transgressions, welcoming the upcoming year with hope, optimism, and aspirations for prosperity and good health. Mha Puja aligns with the fourth day of Tihar, just before Bhaitika.

The Mha Puja ceremony is a breathtaking spectacle, set in the twilight with shimmering oil lamps illuminating the background. Some families meticulously calculate the auspicious time for this worship by consulting astrologers and priests. For some Newa communities, the ritual includes a rigorous fast.

The symbolic stage of Mha Puja is both intricate and metaphorical, often portrayed in a mandala format featuring three, seven, or nine elements. Ideally, a mandala should comprise nine pictorial depictions: the reflection of a serpent, a lotus, a silk flag, Amrit (the elixir of life), a pair of fish, an umbrella, and a left-sided conch shell (shankha). While these symbols might seem obscure to many, they hold profound significance.

The reflection of a serpent, for example, is considered more precious than a diamond and serves as a protective symbol to ward off diseases. Similarly, the lotus, which blossoms amid the mud, represents the idea of rising above adversity, and it is believed that merely looking at it can bring good fortune.

Even the traditional ‘sagun’ distributed at the end of the puja is profoundly symbolic. It typically includes a basket with boiled fried eggs and fish, two seemingly opposing elements. Fish, creatures of the water, and eggs, the origin of birds, represent elements of water and sky. By offering this Sagun, the eldest woman in the family expresses a desire for the acquisition of wisdom.

While the priest acknowledges that Mha Puja has evolved and changed, even in minor ways such as using red mud instead of cow dung for the mandala, the essence of the tradition remains intact. The original practice included all nine symbols and seven elements, but in contemporary urban settings, many now use only three: brown rice, paddy, and fried paddy (lava), signifying the pursuit of longevity, contentment in daily life, and knowledge.

In a playful tone, the priest notes the shift from the traditional aflame panas (symbolizing an individual’s lifeline) to artificial wax candles during Mha Puja. Despite these adaptations, the spirit of the tradition endures. Mha Puja is typically celebrated the evening after Laxmi Puja, merging seamlessly with the previous day’s festivities. This blend of customs showcases a beautiful cultural fusion, where Mha Puja pays homage to the lingering presence of Laxmi, seen in the reverence for everyday items like a broom, a jar of water, and a Nanglo, symbolizing Laxmi’s blessings.

The people of the Newa community eagerly await Nhu Dan, a time for reflection on their lives, their achievements, and their shortcomings. It’s a time of hope, growth, and renewal, celebrating the essence of self-worship and a fresh start.

Also Read: Janakpurdham Hosts International Ayurveda Conference: Harnessing the Healing Power of Ayurveda for Global Well-being



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