Bahra: Marking the Coming-of-Age

BAHRA: Marking the Coming-of-Age

“Bahra or Bahra Tayegu” in Newar language literally means “to mark the age of puberty.” Sometimes it is referred to as “to make menstruation come out.” This custom is carried out after Ihi – a ritual follow through when a girl turns the odd age of 5, 7, 9, or 11. In Ihi, the girl is being married to a Bel (Aegle Marmelcs) which is considered as a sacred nut. The custom of this marriage of the girl with a nut symbolizes the girl’s marriage to Hindu god Vishnu. It has great significance into practice as well, since it is believed that the girl can never be widow as she has been married to god. Because of this belief, the practice of Sati – widows burn themselves on the funeral pyre of their earthly husbands – has no more existence in Newar community.

Bahra is a ritual confinement period of 12 days and nights before the oncoming of menstruation. During Bahra, the girl is restricted within a room in absence of sunlight where she is given formal sex education in absence of male members by her female relatives and friends. During this period, she is forbidden to see any males including father and brothers. The girl stays inside the room through the period. Her friends and relatives keep visiting her. It makes lot easier and entertaining for her to spend time in dim light in the room. She has to offer her food to Khya, a malevolent souls before eating.

On the 13th day, the girl dresses up like a bride. She will be taken out of the room to see the sunlight for the first time after ritual confinement. She ought to see the sun before she sees any male and pay homage to sun. Then, she visits every temple and shrine for worshiping them. Her parents receive their daughter in their house. Later on, there will be a feast for all relatives where she will get many presents on Marking the Coming-of-Age.

In the case of menstruation before Bahra, she has to be confined to Bahra straightaway. No man is allowed to have sight on her until she is confined and purified. Now, these little girls are stepping into marking of coming-of-ages which teaches them to know the distinction between their opposite sexes. Onward, mothers teach household job to their daughters as a further preparation to make them modest bride.

In Newar custom, it is a must for a girl to go through Ihi or Bahra before puberty. Unless a girl goes across Bahra, she is not considered eligible for getting married in the society. During Bahra, she is introduced with another important aspect of the ritual by letting her offer beetle nuts to every shrine she visits. She becomes familiar about “taking beetle nuts” (Gwaye kayegu) which in terms is a symbol of freedom and power attributed to her in society. The Newar girl has freedom to choose her bridegroom of her will. Having said this, the decision to get married is up to the girl, not her parents. But many times, parents intervene in her judgment, hence she becomes subject to them. And the ideology of her freedom and power is in jeopardy.

When she becomes mature to be married, the “taking beetle nuts” is ingeminate as her acceptance of the marriage proposal from the groom’s side. Otherwise stated, once she accepts the beetle nut (Gwaye kayegu), it is confirmed that she has accepted the bridegroom.

In traditional way, the girls are empowered and encouraged to make their own decision for thier lives. In light of this statement, she can simply leave the groom even after marriage. By giving the beetle nuts back to her husband, she can end up ralationship. Simply, beetle nuts have to be put below the pillow of her husband. Apparently, it is not necessarily to be when her husband is sleeping. She is now free to leave him and get going to choose another person at her will for remarriage or stay single. This custom is still existing in many urban Newar community in Nepal.

Note: Click the link to watch video: Marking the Coming-of-Age (Part One)
Marking the Coming-of-Age (Part Two)

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