In Nepal it is customary to invite family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues to important events. Recently we were invited to a Newari celebration, were the twelve year old daughter of a work colleague had finished the 12 days of the barah ceremony, which in effect is her second marriage. As with most of these occasions there is a religious element and then a big feast. We headed off to the Bal Kumari temple.
This Newari custom is the second marriage for the young girl. The first, which occurs when the child is about 2 years old, involves being dressed up and traditional rites and rituals being performed to marry her to the Bael fruit (an actual fruit). The Bael fruit is one of the manifestations of Shiva, so the girl is symbolically married to this Hindu deity. The belief is that since men can be unfaithful, the girl’s first marriage should be one in which unfaithfulness cannot occur. (No Bael fruit is going to run off with someone else!)
During the second marriage, the young girl is kept in a darkened room for 12 days. This is an improvement as in the past it would have been a cave near the family home. The girl must not see any males, must eat specially prepared food (generally food without salt) and complete a series of rituals. On the final day she is brought out of the darkened room and then worships Ganesh and the sun god. She is now considered a women and not as a child.
When we arrived family members and friends were congratulating and presenting gifts to her. The whole evening was then concluded with a feast.
These customs may seem peculiar to us but by marrying a little girl to a bael fruit and then to the sun god, Newari traditions ensure that even in the unfortunate death of the girl’s husband in later life, because of her prior marriages, the girl will not be deemed a widow. This is a title to be avoided as marriage gives women great prestige, whereas widows have no property rights and no right to remain in their mother -in-law’s home any longer. There is also an element of blame upon the widow, who is judged not to have prayed hard enough for her husband’s long life and is in some way to blame for his early demise. Widows (not widowers) are looked upon with great disdain and intolerance in Nepali society. These traditions may therefore have been designed by the Newars to save their little girls from scornful treatment by the community. From what we have heard, most Newari girls do not complain about these marriage ceremonies, even today!