A Videshi Tourist visits Pashupattinath August 2019

I myself don’t depart Nepal until the early morning hours of  August 5th, 2019, but my daughter Julie left in the early morning hours today. We knew that July 31st would be her last full day here in Kathmandu. Here is how we spent the time.

Even though I get up early I have been careful to pad around and not waken her, I think I have been doing pretty well in that regard. The houses here have concrete floors which deaden sound and that makes it easier. I usually get up, brew a pot of tea, and check email and such at 0500. This has been my usual routine for years now, though it used to be Starbucks.
Yesterday was a big day in terms of tourism around here. There are seven World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley and some other must-see things such as the neighborhood of Indra Chowk. We had been to five of the seven. That left two to check off. Frankly,  I made a conscious decision to omit Kathmandu Durbar Square. I think there is too much construction going on there to make it worth the time ( I hate to say).
Tuesday at Swayambu
Swayambunath, the Monkey Temple, was also under serious reconstruction which was very sad to see. The view is unchanged but none of the monasteries seems to be there any more. Due to the hilltop location, we saw that porters needed to carry each load of sand, gravel or concrete up the back steps to get to those parts now being reconstructed. This leads to expensive construction costs.
Shantipur
On previous visits I was aware of the legends around Shantipur, so we went to see that structure. It is said that within this mysterious temple resides an 800-year-old Tantric priest. The outside seemed to still be intact thought the stucco came off. Only members of the Bajracharya caste are allowed to work at this specific site due to the nature of the temple.
We sat outside (nobody is allowed in!) and took in the emanence of the place. Julie has learned to trust the things I share as to the history of these places and the unlocking of their secrets. I don’t share all I know with just anybody!
Wednesday at Pashupattinath
The next place on the list, what proved to be the last, was/is “Pashupattinath.” This is the most venerated Hindu Temple in all of Nepal,among the most holy Hindu sites for all of South Asia and world Hinduism. It is located along a river in an unusual geological formation and has been there for millennia. Many many legends and stories go along with it, and it is a must-see place for all visitors to Kathmandu and Nepal. (Along with Boudhanath, the center of Tibetan Buddhism which we visited on one of the first days.)
You kind of have to work your way up to going to Pashupatti, in my opinion. There are many things that happen here, but the most striking feature is that it is the temple of cremation. As in, public cremation of the dead under open sky on a wooden pyre.
The bottom line for any tourist who does not understand Nepali culture: 
I guess the first caveat is that the remains of deceased persons brought there are in fact treated with the utmost love and respect and the process is not the gruesome spectacle you might conjure up when somebody casually describes it to you. Don’t treat it that way.
Preparation
I always go to Boudhanath at least once each time I come to Nepal. At the same time, I tend to skip Pashupattinath while here, just because I need to be in the right mood to contemplate mortality up close and personal. (If you are a casual reader of this blog or my other blogs, then you know that I work in health care and I am not unacquainted with death. No matter how much you are exposed to death, you never get used to it and in my case I tend to be acutely aware of the pain and suffering caused by the loss of a loved one. I have lost a few loved ones on this journey…… ).
I think I did come here last year, but that was the first time in five years. Pashupattinath escaped the earthquakes largely undamaged, though we did see the nearby old age home took a hit.
Yoga First
Anyway, the day began with a leisurely breakfast and my daughter’s trip to the nearby yoga studio. I did some errands.
Anyway, at the yoga studio Julie had gotten advice that the evening puja at Pashupatti was worthwhile, so we decided it would be a long day there and catch the performance at 7:30 PM. No hurry to arrive! We planned accordingly. Julie wore her new lime-colored hand-tailored Kurtha and we brought the new shawl. I knew we would be sitting on stone so I packed a small cloth to protect the seat of her new kurtha from dirt.
Dwarika’s
I’d been meaning to show her Dwarika’s Hotel which is close by Pashupatti. Dwarika’s is a very interesting boutique hotel and probably among the top two or three hotels in this city. It has an interesting history.  For the last forty years, the owner was a leader in the movement for historic preservation of Newari architecture, and for example there is a wooden carved door to one of the buildings that was salvaged from a building being torn down, that dates to the 12th century ( it’s nice carving!). You may not picture me as the type of person who owns coffee table books, but I do have a coffee table in my small apartment and one of my coffee table books shows nice pictures of Newari architecture. Dwarika’s is prominently featured. It’s the place where Prince Charles stays when he is here. My sister Betsy took a spa day there when she visited me a month prior to the 2015 earthquake.
Anyway, we went there for a leisurely lunch. By Nepali standards it was expensive, but it was modest by USA standards, and the food was very very nice. Julie had a cup of green tea with browned rice, I’d never heard of such a thing before but it was deelicious. Then we got a tour of the place. It’s the kind of hotel that hosts an evening folkloric dance program to live music every evening, for the guests. The architecture creates an oasis and they have little high-end shops so that the pampered foreign guests can be in Kathmandu and stay in a “bubble.”
Pashupattinath
Now on to the main event. The grounds at Pashupatti are well maintained and the walkways are designed to handle the tens of thousands of people they get at peak times, but this day there were maybe more monkeys on the path than people. I have learned my lesson and did not bring bananas. (Never make eye contact with a wild monkey. Never provoke them. They will attack). We paid the entrance fee and decided not to spend additional dough on hiring a guide. There were the usual hawkers and beggars. We could hear a lot of music and singing. It turns out that this was some sort of festival day for all the “sadhus” of the place, and they were in the main temple (no non-Hindus allowed) all day long. For those who do not know, a sadhu is a man who has renounced earthly possessions and taken up an ascetic life as a beggar. At Pashupatti when they are not chanting all day, you can get a picture with them ( though they charge money) and watch them smoke huge quantities of marijuana all day long.
Hey, it’s a sacrament!
Pashupattinath is a large sprawling complex of temples and shrines, and we compared it to a five-ring circus. They now have an electric crematorium, but many people cremate their loved ones the old-fashioned way, and there are two dozen ghats available for the purpose. Some ghats are more expensive than others, and in fact there is a board with the prices for various cremation services, prominently displayed. Near the ghats is a small indoor hospice-like place where they bring dying people who have not quite died yet. A bit further away is an old age home built in the 1930s which was run by the order of Mother Teresa for awhile ( we did stop in there to see eldercare).
It’s customary to wash the dead person before cremation, at the riverside in one specific spot with a stone slab, before shifting to a ghat. Also, there is a series of terraces on the opposite bank of the river from the ghats, where anybody who wishes to watch the process may do so. The tourists sit on the terraces, often with long telephoto camera lenses, an incongruity given the voyeuristic nature of it. This day there was a queue of stretchers carrying the bodies as more and more families arrived with their loved one’s body.  Sort of a traffic jam. The washing slab and ghats are cleaned between use. Formerly the clothes of the deceased were thrown in the river after being discreetly removed, but they don’t do it that way any more.
The most gripping part of the day was to see a very large extended family attending to the funeral rites of a woman who seemed to be the matriarch of the family. You didn’t need to know the exact details to see and hear the drama of the grief being expressed, along with the support of friends and other family members. There are specific tasks the close family members need to do at various stages of the ritual, and there was a lot of raw emotion and wailing. This particular family paid for one of the better ghats and also to have the pyre of wood decorated with beautiful marigolds. When the time comes the eldest son actually lights the fire. Then the attendees sit under shade nearby and wait til the fire is done.
Julie and I sat on the far bank and meditated and prayed, contemplating mortality, both ours and that of our loved ones. I pointed out to her some of the subtle rituals being followed. Not everyone receiving this knows that my former wife was a hospice nurse, but naturally the conversation turned toward death and hospice and suffering, etc.
As an aside, a number of years ago while I was still going to Tansen, I’d met a Christian Missionary nursing faculty member from Kalamazoo Michigan who told me that one of her goals in coming to Nepal was to teach a hospice course. When I learned this, my reply was
“Oh. What do you teach them regarding cremation?”
and her response was
“Hmmm… do they cremate people here?”
which I thought was a bit uninformed at the time.
Back to Pashupatti.
The list of activities was:
– Terminally ill persons in their last throes being delivered to the waiting area;
– Recently deceased bodies lying under the orange cloth on stretchers waiting to be washed by attending loved ones, a queue at times;
– The actual cremations taking place, which involved stages of assembling the fuelwood, kindling, ghee, and straw; cleaning the ghat, then stacking the pyre, etc
– Vendors strolling through the crowd selling cotton candy;
– Cows. At one point during the day, somebody allowed the herd of local cows kept nearby, to wander through ( and on our way out, we had to also pass the bull, a real live bull not in a cage and who still had horns) as if this was not already a sensory overload.
– Vendors selling rakshya beads and Buddhists amulets;
– Monkeys skittering around;
– Woodsmoke, lots of.
– Industrial quantities of incense.
– Ecstatic music from the sadhus at the main temple;
– Impoverished beggars asking for donations;
– and …. ( I am missing  something but I can’t recall what right now…)
– There were no elephants but it would not have surprised me if a few had shown up.
(They say that in the Terai if an elephant dies it is cremated, out of respect. This is not undertaken lightly. think about it)
We walked around to view more than one cremation, including going over to the less expensive ghats. Just because the ghat was less expensive does not mean that the person was less valued, this is the nature of funerals.
As darkness approached, we got some good seats on the stone terrace as the Hindu priests set up for the evening riverside puja (prayer offering). I had witnessed this ceremony in both Janakpur ( where they do it at a lakeside since there are no real rivers…) and Bharatpur (where the river is a hundred meters across). At the stairsteps and on the terraces, all the seats got filled up.
They had a three piece live band with virtuoso musicians on a terrific sound system. They set up some intricate supplies to be used in the actual puja, and three priests did the performance like a coordinated drill team, involving brandishing of fire in various ways ( its a ceremony to the setting sun in a way, along with clouds and clouds of billowing incense). Just one terrace below a half dozen women were doing interpretive Hindu dance along to the music like you would see in a Bollywood movie.
The amazing thing about this was how it took place in full view of the grieving families across the way. The crowd clapped along at times. BUT – while this was going on, cremations were continuing, more bodies were being delivered by grieving families, monkeys were still cavorting, and there was the added distraction of people taking selfies or videoing the proceedings. I thought it was kind of tacky for one Hindu guy to get a grinning selfie with a blazing pyre in the distant background.
This is not my own video, but here is a link to a sixteen minute YouTube showing part of the evening puja: https://youtu.be/evsopMMp5is
For those who need a visual on cremation, here is a four minute capsule  as well: https://youtu.be/j1V5RCUibR0
It’s not about the mechanics, its about the grief and the respect and the humanity.
Might as well link to a video about sadhus: https://youtu.be/j12nb-gVzTY
We left at 8:30 PM when it was over. It was easy to get a taxi and this time Julie negotiated the price, she has learned to argue firmly with the driver. As always, lots of thoughts about the whole shebang. We were both drained by the experience. I am glad we waited for Julie to get more oriented to other aspects of cultural life here. I know that many tourists just spend a few days in KTM on their way to and from trekking. When they think this way, Pashupattinath becomes one more location on the list to be checked off, which I dislike.
For me, I wanted to be respectful to the cultural process and put it in context. At one point during the day, I gave Julie some space to meditate on issues of mortality and our purpose on earth. Any tourist who goes straight from the t-shirt store to Pashupattinath without preparing in this is missing a major opportunity to learn about the humanity we all share. Yes, it was a spectacle; but how can we make a trip to Pashupatti more than just a fancy rollercoaster ride?
As an aside, in the market the other day Julie bought a t-shirt that said “keep calm and let karma do the rest.” On this day, she left it at home.
The next day
Julie slept late and attended one more yoga session.
Marco Polo would be envious.
We visited the Garden of Dreams, and the Tibetan Book Store ( my favorite bookstore in this town).
I accompanied her to the departure area of the airport at 11 PM, as I promised, then came “home” to an empty flat. ( boo hoo).
love to all. Keep calm and let karma take care of the rest!

Guthamaga Festival in Three Parts, July 30, 2019

I have spent a fair amount of time in Nepal over the last twelve years but this was the first time that one of  my daughters visited me here. This one does a lot of international travel in her job that focuses on mitigation of mosquito-borne illnesses, so she is seasoned, but Kathmandu was going to be her “first Asian city,”with all that entails.

king kong

At Swayambunath. King Kong has nothing over this guy!

Julie is here from July 20th to August 2nd, not an ideal time for such things as trekking, but – no matter. There are lots of cultural things to do here.

I really wanted her to attend one of the festivals for which the Newari community of Kathmandu is so famous. I asked around and got the same reply from three different places: everything stops during monsoon.

There was going to be only one festival in our window. Guthamaga.

guthamaga

Flyer for Guthamaga in Laltipur, Nepal August 30, 2019. The top is in Newari and the bottom is in Nepali.

I did some reading up.

There was an excellent description of the rituals associated with this festival.

Gathamuga, a unique festival of Newars in the Kathmandu Valley

One of the most ancient festivals of the Newa community is ‘Gathamuga’ or ‘Gathemangal’. It is celebrated on the fourteenth day of the dark fortnight of the month Shrawan. This year it will be celebrated on 30th July 2019.It also marks the beginning of celebration of other festivals.

There are many myths attached to this festival. One of them is that in ancient times the people in the Kathmandu valley faced shortage of labour during the monsoon season to work in the vast farmlands. So as a solution to this, with the help of tantric ceremonies, they invoked supernatural spirits in themselves that gave them superhuman physical strength and that helped them to work hard in the fields, solving the shortage of labour. At the end of the plantation season, the demons had to be chased away from homes, which had to be cleansed.

Another belief connected to this festival is that there was a demon named ‘Ghantakarna’ who wore a pair of bells on his ears, hence his name, wherein Ghanta means ‘bell’ and Karna means ‘ears’. People were terrified and tired of him as he used to steal children and women and demanded money from the villagers. They wanted to get rid of him so one day a large number of frogs came to rescue them. They started to croak together. This made the demon agitated and he ran after them. The frogs all jumped in the swamp and the demon jumped along with them. They came out of the swamp, but the demon drowned. Some say Gathamuga and Ghantakarna are two separate stories and what we celebrate on this day is only Gathamuga.

Yet another belief is that when people frequently suffered from gastrointestinal diseases during the summer and monsoon seasons, it was believed that these were caused by a demon. Hence, at the end of the season these demons were to be chased away.

Giant sculptures with paper masks, representing Gatha Muga or Ghantakarna, made of wheat straw are put up at crossroads of the main streets which are burnt in the evening. It is believed that crossroads are where the evil spirits rendezvous. Handmade dolls are hung up on these figures to burn the evil spirits. In the evening, a person who acts as Ghantakarna called ‘Aaju Jaya Ha’, applies paint all over his body till he looks monstrous. He is then served with beaten rice with curd under the sculpture. He roams around the streets with a burning torch of husk in his hands begging for donation. The man moves around the sculpture three times. Everyone drags the sculpture to the nearby river. n this process, Aaju Jaya Ha escapes on the way. Also from this very day, the Lakhe dance begins.

The women clean their homes to remove any traces of evil spirits left behind. In the evening ‘Bou Wayegu’ is performed. The eldest man of the house carries out a tantric ritual by driving three iron nails on top of the main door of the house chanting mantras. Then white and black mustard seeds sprinkled on coal fire in a small clay pot is taken in all rooms of the home which fills them with thick smoke which is believed to drive away any lingering evil spirit from the house. However, looking at it from a scientific point of view the mustard smoke actually acts as an insecticide to drive away any insects that roam around during the monsoon season. An offering of cooked rice or beaten rice, husk and pieces of raw buffalo lungs along with Gathamuga Swan which is a type of flower, known as ‘Dronapuspa’ is placed at the crossroads for the spirits thanking them for their services and assuring that it will be asked for again next year. Once these rituals are over, people close all doors and windows and no member of the family is allowed to go out that night. It is believed that sorcerers are very active that night and they visit funeral grounds and other places of worship to become more powerful.

Farmers on this day also offer rice and lentil soup to frogs in gratitude for a good rain and for killing Ghantakarna. This ceremony is known as Byan (frog) Ja (rice) Nakegu (feed) literally meaning feeding rice to the frog.

People wear wrought iron metal rings on this day which is believed to have the power to safeguard people from ills and evil spirits.

Beyond legends and significance, the people of Kathmandu Valley are going through a difficult period to give continuity to this festival these days. It is not a holiday. People do not have time to spend one entire day in the courtyard. It is also difficult to find reed and painted masks. The growing traffic flow does not allow locals to erect effigies in the crossroads. And the mass of immigrant population do not like this festival and raise unnecessary objections. It is difficult to find a boy who is ready to act as a beggar and then perform the final rituals. In all these circumstances, it is highly probable that this festival will turn into a mere story in future.

Article by : Reshu Pradhan
Source: “PAU” – Newa Literary Magazine by SNGYA, 1st issue as cited by: https://www.facebook.com/SNG.YOUTHAFFAIRS/posts/gathamuga-a-unique-festival-of-newars-in-the-kathmandu-valleyone-of-the-most-anc/2130838617206239/

There were some videos. Here is one that shows a local celebration, during the daytime. Listen to the children laugh and squeal with delight.

 

also this one from a couple of years ago:

You will note that the male demon is, ahem, anatomically correct.

Here’s the translated time table:

12 pm- making GathaMuga

2 pm – begin demonstrating for all

4 pm – closing ceremony

7:30 pm – wrapping off GathaMuga by putting fire! Mayor will be presented to observe the event but no specific time given.

Now, the “directions” – this was all we had to go by, which is the first part of our adventure tale.

Location: Go to Bhimsen temple first in mangal bazaar. Take the road to North towards Swotha where quite few newly opened restaurants and homestay types there… Take right turn and follow the road you will get Pillachhen where the events happening!! It about 10 min or less walk to Pillachhen from Bhimsen temple. You can ask shop keepers for the direction to Pillachhen when you get Swotha. You won’t miss it!!

Part One

Our day was divided into three parts.

First, we took our time in Indra Chowk picking up the Kurtha Jangrawal we ordered last week, so we knew we were missing the afternoon programme in Pilachhen where they made the effigy and decorated it. ( see video above to get the idea, these were taken by others at other locations but you get the idea).

kurtha jangrawal

Julie showing off her finery. I previously wrote a blog about where to get Haku Patasi in Kathmandu, and this was at that same place. The cloth is conservative and very traditional, it also has a lining which is red in this case. You can’t really see the pantaloons in this picture.

But with the flyer on my smartphone, we set out from Bimsen temple. This is not a part of Lalitpur I visit much.

It  was an odd pathfinding adventure, because the directions turned out to be wildly inaccurate and most people did not seem to know where Pilachhen was. I had the flyer on my smartphone. We were wending our way through a series of narrow streets with twists and turns and every few blocks we would show the flyer to somebody for directions. This was a sort of urban navigation like “blindman’s buff” in USA. Some people helped us using their English, others knew nothing, and at least two people sent us off in the wrong direction.

Newari ladies

At Pillachhen. These ladies were taking it all in, but on a pleasant evening there are many people who sit on the stoop of their house and enjoy the goings-on.

At one point I said “we are walking to Gwarko!” which was actually not so farfetched.

We eventually found the place, partly because the last guy walked a few blocks with us. Now, it turns out that it was a short distance from the main road that goes from Gwarko to Mangal Durbar, and if we had just taken that road and known where to turn, we would have gotten there in half the time.

But no matter.

So that was the first part.

Part Two!

We arrived to see a group of guys posing for a group photo and hanging out. Here it was an older crowd and they had already burned the effigy there in the afternoon when the mayor was present. They were pleasant to us and we were the only bideshis in the crowd of maybe a hundred people. well, next thing you know we were given some rice wine, then they invited us up into their community hall for supper.

The community hall at Pilachhen

The community hall in a building that is relatively new and up to code for earthquake-proof. Men in one row, ladies in another.

The menu was a very traditional Newari feast with chiura and various dishes including a meat dish that featured reconstituted dried buff that was simply delicious.

newari meat dish

Buff. I don’t know what it was called but it was very tasty. I think it was previously dried meat that got rehydrated.

Along with the white beans etc.

newari food porn

Newari “food porn” – everything was dee lish, and served on a thapari plate, along with rice wine.

 

And people talked with us. nearby was a location where they had rebuilt after the earthquake, constructing a small “home stay hotel” with traditional decor yet up to international building codes. so we got the tour of that place. After the meal, there was a concert of Newari devotional hymns and people sang along and danced and clapped. so that was part two.

Part Three

Now for part three of the experience, we decided to walk home and originally somebody was trying to send us down the convoluted way we had arrived. ( no way in hell I muttered under my breath). But I knew there had to be an easier way because the Gwarko road simply had to be nearby; and a guy sent us off in that direction. One block and there we were. I don’t go on the Gwarko road a lot, but – enough to recognize it. So, we walked confidently toward Mangal Durbar from there. There was a huge traffic snarl at one point and when we got the other side we could see why. A torchlight procession! With drums and cymbals! With a person in the fantastical costume of the Gathamuga demon, complete with mask and wildly shaggy hair! Dancing!

the demon

“Our” demon, the one in the parade near Mangal Durbar. very impressive, and the small boys were dealing with their reactions to this fellow!

Two hundred people in this group, mostly teenagers and young families, walked along. I suppose you would say they were more “hip” than the group we had just eaten with. Small boys underfoot acting afraid of the demon (!) who danced and spun.

Not my video but this gives you the idea:

To accompany them we backtracked in the direction from which we had just come, for a few blocks. the procession  stopped at a platform outside a temple and did some sort of trick where the demon threw something  (what I don’t know) at the torches, creating a small fireball into the air, very impressive though I was worried the guy in the costume would catch fire (the festival is about burning the demon after all). Then the ringleaders of this procession brought the demon through the gates into the courtyard of this temple and it was over.

Once again we walked to Mangal Durbar and took in the scene. I don’t usually go there after dark, it was hopping with lots of people and the Bimsen temple was all lit up. Then we returned “home.”

the bottom line is, it was every bit as fun as I had hoped, total strangers in the Newari community were completely friendly to us ( as I have come to expect) and my daughter got some insight as to the culture. There was one other videshi present, from Germany, but one of the fun parts was how local this was.

We did see evidence on our way back, that many other groups had done the ritual with the burning straw and this morning I could see that a similar ceremony took place two hundred meters from our flat. But this was fine. I enjoy exploring the alley ways of Lalitpur and this was a fine excuse to go ghum-gam. I live one kilometer from Mangal Durbar and my favorite way to go from Shalom to Mangal Durbar is to go through Kumaripati anyway, another neighborhood with twisting alleyways.

I plan to add some of the photos and videos Julie took, so that future people looking for this festival will have a better idea. On one hand, these things are more fun when you just come across them….

On the map

Finally, looking for Pilachhen on Google maps, it seems we were just about *in* Gwarko. ( I confess, i wish I looked it up before we started…) We used the directions we were given, but as I suspected we would have saved time with sticking to the main road. Part One was a sort of crazy fun though, like urban orienteering… When we started out I had no idea that it was as far from Mangal Durbar as it was.

Postscript Aug 1st 2019

Two days later, At supper. The clanging and banging in our neighborhood took a moment to register, then we realized it was more than just the guys in the metalworking shop nearby, so we rushed out. And, a terrible demon with bells in his ears tried to steal Julie away and do terrible horrible things.

IMG_20190801_183023

This guy was probably in the crowd the other night.

But then, a frog came by and saved her by pushing the demon into the water! So Julie was wondering maybe she should kiss the frog and find out if he would turn into a – prince! But then somebody quietly whispered in Julie’s ear: “wrong folk tale.”

Hiring a Hindu Brass Band for a wedding in Kathmandu?

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Everest Band Baja January 2015 at Mangal Durbar. Booking for winter 2076! call: 9808174645/015536077 

Enjoy this:

UPDATE: I linked to this on a FaceBook group named “Kathmandu Expats” and the first few replies came from Nepali guys who said they didn’t like this style, panch baja was better. I am writing for the videshi audience, not the Nepali guys. Also, if somebody wants a blog on panch baja music, they should write one. I am not stopping anybody.

This blog is mainly to focus on my second book, The Sacrament of the Goddess. It’s a novel, written to bring to life the issues and challenges of medical care in a Low Income Country. The medical side of the novel  directly reflects the medical reality of Nepal. For narrative purposes, it is set in a small hospital run by Missionaries in the rural Hill Country, which is why so many other blog entries here are devoted to Beni, Nepal.

But today let’s look at a different side of Nepali culture. Brass bands.

embouchure 3

I didn’t get the name of this band, and the photo omits the percussion section. At the wedding of a friend. The guy in the middle exhibits “Gillespie’s Pouches.

Everyone wants a wedding to go like this:

The song is a sentimental one that covers the feelings of the dad as he watches his daughter grow; any father who has ever given a daughter in marriage is guaranteed to get teary-eyed. But the band in the video? Everest Band Baja. Of course.

Processions

The above is one I took in 2011 at the wedding of a Nepali friend, featuring the Nepali Police Band. They are more “military” than the usual band in my opinion; most of their members have degrees in music.

You see these wedding parades in Kathmandu, especially in winter during the auspicious season for weddings. It is customary to hire a brass band to serenade the groom at the house the morning of the wedding, then to lead a parade from there to the venue for the wedding ceremony, playing background music while the puja takes place, and finally to play at the feast.

Click here to see a playlist of available videos I made, on YouTube.

Traffic? Hah!

Traffic in Kathmandu is chaotic even on a good day, but there is a rule that not even the King could stop a wedding parade (they still follow the rule even though the last king abdicated a few years back).

Everest Band Baja

There are dozens of bands, but I want to focus on The Everest Band Baja, based in Patan, possibly the grand-daddy of all such bands. They have been in business for about fifty years. They run two 16-person groups to handle the demand.

This tells how to hire the band and a bit about the history.

Playlist

I have put together a playlist of bands. Everest Brass Baja is well represented but the list includes others. I was told by Everest Band Baja they prefer not to be video’d because then the other bands steal their arrangements.

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You can get a sticker for your laptop.

Here is a tease:

About six years ago I worked with Everest Band Baja to make a FaceBook page. They were the very first Kathmandu wedding band to have one. I am not a fan of FaceBook these days, but we all found out one thing: FaceBook seems to have helped them get gigs.

If you think about it, the young people getting married are the generation that uses FaceBook every day in Nepal (everyone has it) so it is natural for them to search for a band there.

Musical analysis

There are many styles of music in South Asia, and in Nepal there is also such a thing as a “paunch baja” which features the Shennai. The Everest Band Baja guys always ascertain whether the employer wants Nepali, Newari or Bollywood tunes.

The key to the clarinet? it is always mimicking a woman’s voice, and the better players are able to add the melisma the way Shreya Ghoshal would do. ( on that link, be sure to focus on the last fifteen luscious seconds!)

Other Brass Bands

You would think that FaceBook would never intrude on such a traditional activity. But though Everest Band Baja was the first to get their own FaceBook page for purposes of publicity ( and is still the best band, in my opinion), it seems that everybody else has now followed suit:

https://www.facebook.com/Bandbaja-Budhanilkantha-206409220225167/

https://www.facebook.com/Mahankal-Brass-Band-135426770576470/

https://www.facebook.com/Annapurna-Band-Baja-670039573188099/  https://youtu.be/JwZDmAlmy4s

https://www.facebook.com/bandbajaservice/

https://www.facebook.com/MountainBrassBand/

https://www.facebook.com/Bindhabashni-band-Baja-1146467745493396/

https://www.facebook.com/pg/Band-Baja-Jhankar-1507382515985209/

https://www.facebook.com/Gauri-Sankar-brass-band-narayantar-942558862570224/ featuring shennai: https://youtu.be/nC0baY9_HZk

https://www.facebook.com/Band-Baja-Golfutar-402186263582275/ here is video of them playing “Chumma Chumma

https://www.facebook.com/MiliJuli-Band-Baja-1905118413060929/

https://www.facebook.com/yubakbrassbandbaja/ Chaubahil https://youtu.be/8DjhzTXAzyY

 

https://www.facebook.com/laxmi.bandbaja/ https://youtu.be/2wGBZIfGyso

https://www.facebook.com/Fortunebandbajanepal/  https://youtu.be/Fz8tC45KAMI

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1812173069018117/

https://www.facebook.com/ShreeJugambarBrassBand/    https://www.facebook.com/ShreeJugambarBrassBand/videos/2270142316365966/https://youtu.be/cAai4_Addjc

 

I will add more

The above list was easy to gather. I’m sure there are more out there and when I get them I will add them. Some of these guys are new at this – their FB pages do not always give actual contact information as to how to hire them!

Directory of Brass Baja in Nepal

I was delighted to see that somebody else began a directory. Click here.

In Western consciousness

This is a genre that remains on the edges of western consciousness. I suppose two items need to be mentioned. The first is the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band of India, which put out a CD of Hindu wedding music in 1997, Fanfare Du Rajasthan This was an enlightenment for many interested in world music. The second is a bit older and more obscure: Frozen Brass, a musical anthology released in 1993. At the time, Smithsonian Magazine ran a feature on the musical anthropologist who collected the tunes.

 

 

 

About Amanita Phalloides poisoning

This will be brief.

As described in The Sacrament of the Goddess, Amanita Phalloides is a mushroom that is found in damp forests of Nepal, and I had the experience of meeting victims of this poison – all of whom died.

(If you must know: it was a family of five. Three boys, their mom and their grandfather. It was lingering and unsettling.)

The incident is described in detail in the book.

In The Atlantic magazine, a well-written piece describes mushroom ecology.

Click Here: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/02/deadly-mushroom-arrives-canada/581602/

Very well done.

Here is a picture of Amanita:

Amanita_phalloides(mgw-22)

Amanita Phalloides. My personal advice? stay away from all wild mushrooms.

These exist in Maine, my adopted home state: https://bangordailynews.com/2012/10/03/outdoors/foraging-for-fungi-from-maine-to-mario-land-2/

There is no antidote.

 

 

Where to get Saree-style #applique in #Kathmandu

Here is an unusual gift idea. Especially if you like to sew.

A friend in USA asked me to buy a saree that had those sewn-on decorative brocades. You know the ones I mean. She said she was thinking of displaying it in her home as a form of wall art, but maybe cannibalizing it by cutting out the medallions and using them as accents on some other clothes she wore.

Ooooo Nooooooo!

I told her don’t cut such a beautiful thing into pieces. I have got just the thing!

Indra Chowk of course!

Go to Indra Chowk, and to the right of the temple, is a small street with a dozen or so shops that sell these. I learned a new textile term today – “applique” – for this sort of ornament.

IMG_20180725_145642

to the right of the Indra Mandir. About a dozen specialty shops catering to the fashion trade.

 

Here is a photo collage of the sort of piece they sell:

Tourist tip: When you get to Kathmandu, take time to explore this area general known as “Ason Tole”, it’s just as amazing as the monuments and heritage sites.

 

Why are we surprised when Buddhists are violent?

April 18th update: The stats tell me of a sudden surge of readers from – (drum roll please)  – Canada. Yes, Canada.

Would somebody from there please let me in as to why such a burst of interest from there? send email to joeniemczura@gmail.com

On March 5th 2018 the New York Times published a piece exploring the issue of violence in Myanmar, where the Buddhist majority has committed genocide against the Muslim minority, the Rohingya.

Most adherents of the world’s religions claim that their traditions place a premium on virtues like love, compassion and forgiveness, and that the state toward which they aim is one of universal peace. History has shown us, however, that religious traditions are human affairs, and that no matter how noble they may be in their aspirations, they display a full range of both human virtues and human failings.

While few sophisticated observers are shocked, then, by the occurrence of religious violence, there is one notable exception in this regard; there remains a persistent and widespread belief that Buddhist societies really are peaceful and harmonious. This presumption is evident in the reactions of astonishment many people have to events like those taking place in Myanmar. How, many wonder, could a Buddhist society — especially Buddhist monks! — have anything to do with something so monstrously violent as the ethnic cleansing now being perpetrated on Myanmar’s long-beleaguered Rohingya minority? Aren’t Buddhists supposed to be compassionate and pacifist?

The link is: https://nyti.ms/2FUOFvF

Thich Nhat Han

It was under the bodhi tree in India twenty-five centuries ago that Buddha achieved the insight that three states of mind were the source of all our unhappiness: wrong knowing, obsessive desire, and anger. All are difficult, but in one instant of anger—one of the most powerful emotions—lives can be ruined, and health and spiritual development can be destroyed. With exquisite simplicity, Buddhist monk and Vietnam refugee Thich Nhat Hanh gives tools and advice for transforming relationships, focusing energy, and rejuvenating those parts of ourselves that have been laid waste by anger. His extraordinary wisdom can transform your life and the lives of the people you love, and in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, can give each reader the power to “change everything.” ( from the book blurb to “Anger” by Thich Nhat Han

One wonders whether the people in Myanmar have read Thich Nhat Han’s book. I tend to think they did not.  I have, it’s a good read, and it does address the community response to anger expressed by individuals.

The Sacrament of the Goddess

This issue is central to my second book, The Sacrament of the Goddess.  I wrote the book to explore the issue of anger and injustice in Buddhist culture. Buddhist philosophy devotes attention to calming the anger within each person, but it is not enough for a Buddhist to reject anger and violence and stop at the personal level.

 

My book is my humble offering to those wishing to look at this issue as it affects communal violence. You can order it on Amazon.