Bahra Tayegu: A Step Towards Womanhood
In Newar community, girls are believed to be married thrice in their lives. The first one is in the Ehee ceremony, where the girls are married to Suvarna Kumar, form of Lord Vishnu. Bahra Tayegu is the second marriage ceremony where they are wedded to the Sun. And the third one is with their real husband.
Bahra Tayegu or ‘Gufa rakhane’ or ‘Surya Darshan’ in Nepali is done when the girls are on verge of puberty. When they are of 9 to 13 years of age, this ceremony is held for them.Bahra Tayegu, simply put is a coming of age ceremony for the girls in both Buddhist and Hindu Newar communities. It’s an age old Nepali culture and tradition that has continued till this day in Newar communities.
The family consults with a priest on when to have this ceremony for their daughter and the date is fixed accordingly. But if a girl has her first period before the ceremonial date, she is immediately put into a dark room, away from the sunlight and from the view of any man, even from her own father and brothers. She is kept like this for 11 days and on the 12th day the ceremony of her coming out as a young adult is performed.
In her room, a white doll made out of cotton or a cloth known as a white ‘Bahra Khayak’ (a white Bahra Khayak is supposed to be a good ghost whereas a black Bahra Khayak is considered to be a bad one) is placed. Once it’s placed she will have to worship and offer it a portion of her meal first before starting herself. If she doesn’t do this, it’s said that the ghost will scare her at night.
During this time, she isn’t allowed to clean herself or eat salty food for the first five days. Besides her mother, she will also have her female companions and relatives visiting her and playing and keeping her company from the sixth day onward. She will be given a natural product (it’s like a facial mask/cream) called ‘Kaoo’ which she has to put on her face to make her more beautiful.
On the 12th day, the marriage ceremony with the Sun will be held. On that day, she has to wake up before the sunrise and has to bathe and be purified and get ready for the ceremony wearing bridal sari and jewelries, just like an actual bride. The priest performs the intricate wedding ceremony where the girl would be kept in a veil or blindfolded the whole time. Only after Surya Darshan where she first sees the reflection of the sun in the water and then through her fingers in a unique posture that she is allowed to show her face. After finishing the entire marriage rite, the ceremony ends and the family prepares a celebratory party ‘Bhoj’ with relatives and friends for their daughter’s coming of age.
Bahra Tayegu plays an important role in girls’ education on womanhood. During the time she is kept in isolation, she will not be completely alone. She will be taken care of by her mother and taught about why she is being kept separated from everyone, the reasons for doing the ritual and the changes her body will go through in coming days. All in all, she will be taught what it means to be a woman.
But this wasn’t always the case back in the day, when mothers were hesitant and strict to follow the rules. Most of the time, they themselves didn’t know why they were doing this ritual for and even if they knew the answers, they didn’t know how to explain it to their young inexperienced daughters. So, there have been many instances in the past where girls have gotten sick and even worse died from not being taken good care of during the days she had to be kept in a dark locked room.
Not all girls are keen on living in dark scary room, separated from rest of her family and friends. Naturally, they must have tried to get out at one point or another and were reprimanded for their behavior. They could have felt very lonely and thought their parents didn’t love them to treat them so harshly. So, when they fell sick, they didn’t have any will to recover leading to their untimely demise. In such cases, after the death of the girls their lifeless bodies were supposed to be buried in the very room they had died.
In recent days, it has become a little less hard for the girls who will be going through this age old Nepali culture and tradition as there are more ways to keep one entertained when alone. Plus, having support of understanding family members help lessens the stress caused by living in a cave like environment. Times have changed and how girls are kept in the room has also changed from candle lit room to electric lamps. Being in isolation and away from the Sun and opposite sex doesn’t mean the girls have to be kept in total darkness. These days rules are less strict depending on the family and changes are made taking in due consideration of the girl’s temperament who will have to go through this ritual.
Bahra Tayegu, the ceremony provides the girls safety from the evil spirits and protection of their husband, the Sun. This further cements the belief that the girls will not be considered as widows even after their real husband’s death because they are now married to the Sun which is considered to be an immortal being. The girls in Newarcommunity are, thus protected from the social injustices and malpractices that have to be faced by widows in Hindureligion.