Supernatural Power of Body Adornment: Beliefs and Practices among the Newars of Kathmandu Valley (Nepal)

Article excerpt

As a result of development in science and technology, people are enjoying a comfortable life. Progress in medical science; provides quick relief from diseases and people entertain longevity, but, most of the people these days are fed-up with the medical side effects of modern medicines and mental stress. In several countries, traditionally people used to achieve their good health and strength without facing such side effects (Personal observations in certain Asian and European countries). People in modern societies are stepping towards the ancient methods of therapy, meditation, yoga, herbals, ayurvedic medicine, etc.

In this article, I try to deal with the practice of the utilisation of body adornment as a means of prevention against certain illness, precaution for mental and physical strength and increasing the resistance power through natural healing among the Newars of the Kathmandu valley. Though, this system of therapy still popular in the society, the young generations have less faith on the supernatural healing power through corporal decoration. Hence, the aim of this article is to reveal the facts concerning such beliefs and their merits. This article is based on the field observation among the Newar society of Kathmandu valley. It is neither an analytical article is an attempt nor to relate with any philosophical and anthropological theories existing in the accademic world. The article is a part of my Ph.D. Dissertation, Bijoux et Parures traditionnels des Newar au Nepal: Une approche anthropologique et historique (Universite Paris X, France, 1998).

In Newar society, body adornment and use of ornaments have a great significance. It reveals an individual's age, personality, personal beliefs, physical and mental situations as well as the socio-economic status. It could even be the silent narrator of the different aspects of the society and a witness to the Newar civilisation.

According to Jean Gabas (1982: 11), 'the jewelleries talk about the origins, the history, the long routes of the cultural influences and the migration. They also talk about the economy, the social class. They even talk about the religion and magic provided by the amulets of silver or copper which contain the favourable numbers and letters, provide good conjugal accords, develop intelligence through benedictions, and protect against evil eyes. They tell us about precaution and create a certain sense of fear. In fact, they talk about the link between the man, the earth and the heaven.'

In Newar society, an adorned body is considered a symbol of laksna (auspiciousness). People, who appear in good and presentable look are blessed with good fortune and happiness by Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. One who does not care for one's appearance and does not pay attention to adorn properly is considered a lazy, disordered and inauspicious, alaksna with whom the goddess Lakshmi will not stay.

Newars believe that, if, in an early morning, one meets a woman who has not dressed her hair properly or a man without clothes, it is a sign of bad luck, alaksna. The person who sees such woman or man will face obstacles through out the whole day. To avoid such misfortunes, Newars comb and dress their hair properly or at least makes up their proper appearance early in the morning.

Newars adorn with various objects in different parts of their body. They use permanent corporal decorations such as piercing (lobes, helix, pavilion of ears) and tattoos. They also decorate their body temporarily through different methods, such as application of oil (massages), perfume, colour/paint (skin, lips, foreheads, eyes). Both poor or prosperous Newars adorn themselves with natural flowers, ornaments made of simple cotton threads or feather or fruit seeds or expensive precious gems and metals. Whatever they may be, these objects are considered ornaments and recognised as precious and valuable gems, ratnas, (1) for their utility and the power which they contain. …