Sunday, November 11, 2001

Controversy puts Mhapuja in limbo

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Nov 10 - Mhapuja, one of the most significant festivals among the Newar community of Nepal is facing a problem since over a decade due to controversy in dates a group of astrologers bring about almost every year, says the community leaders.

The controversy of dates has put the people in a difficult situation as they find it extremely difficult to make time for Mhapuja, which is traditionally celebrated on the evening after Laxmipuja and a day before Bhaitika.

"Mhapuja is the day when the indigenous people of the Kathmandu Valley worship their own body as a platform to exercise the spiritual power but over a few years due to the controversy in dates people tend not to celebrate the festival at all", they say.

Tihar generally a five-day-long festival of lights contains days for worshipping crow, dog, Laxmi or the Goddess of wealth, cow-dung (Goverdhan) and brothers. According to tradition, the evening of the fourth day of Tihar or the day to worship Goverdhan is celebrated as the Mhapuja.

According to chancellor of Nepalbhasa Academy Satya Mohan Joshi, this festival binds the diverse nature found among the Newars.

"This festival embodies the ethnical unity and hereditary common original culture of the Newars," said Joshi, quoting the Birtamod Declaration of 1995 recognised by the second national conference of the Newars.

However, General Secretary of Newaa Dey Daboo (Newar National Forum) Naresh Bir Shakya said that since a decade or so, the chain of festive events has not been regular except once or twice.

Shakya said "A handful of astrologers want to distort the spirit of Tihar to please some high profile people."

Prem Man Chitrakar, the chairman of Nepal Traditional Artists’ Association, who has been publishing the lunar calendars since the last 11 years said that though different social organisations publish calendars for the following year - from Tihar to Tihar, a Calendar Decision-making Committee (CDC) dispatches a notice through state-owned media a week before the festival and most of the time they change the five-day series of the festival.

"They (CDC members) turn it into either four-day or six-day long, saying it is decided according to the lunar movement", Citrakar said.

He added, "A number of astrologers want to please the Royal Palace by setting the appropriate time of Bhaitika as per the Royal Authority’s demand. As a result, the former day, that is the day of Mhapuja, keeps shifting," he said.

Chitrakar further added that the date of this year’s Mhapuja had been set a year ago when his association, including other two dozen bodies published calendars according to the Nepal Era, which follows the lunar movement. "But CDC, as usual, published a notice on November 5 which claimed that what we set a year ago is wrong and warned that unwanted hazards would follow if CDC’s new timing is not followed."

Most of the astrologers had fixed this year’s Laxmipuja for November 15 and Mhapuja on November 16, leaving November 17 for Bhaitika following the lunar calendar a year ago. But last week, CDC issued a notice that Bhaitika must be carried out on November 16 Friday and carrying out Bhaitika on 17 would not be appropriate.

Chairman of CDC Dr Mangal Raj Joshi said that it is the committee’s duty to find out auspicious time of Bhaitika for the Palace and the general public also follows it.

"We issue the notice for interest of the general public saying that they should follow the dates issued by us. Bhaitika is the festival of all the people whereas Mhapuja is only celebrated by the Newars. In this context we have to give priority to Bhaitika rather than Mhapuja," he admitted.

On the other hand, cultural scholar Maheshwor Juju Rajopadhyay charged Dr Joshi for working under other people’s pressure and that even he himself cannot follow what he prescribes through the fabricated notice of CDC.

"Last year he said that the date of the festival should be determined with the lunar date of the time of the sunrise but this year he contradicted his own philosophy and followed the clock," Rajopadhyaya said.

Dr Joshi has prescribed us to first "invite" Laxmi in homes and then go to worship dogs — which is just against the tradition.

He warned, "In many cases a group has been quite active in suggesting people to celebrate religious festivals on wrong dates. This is why serious ominous events are taking place in the country. And even bigger catastrophe will follow if not checked in time."
[Kathmandu Sunday November 11, 2001 Kartik 26, 2058.]