Supernatural Power of Body Adornment: Beliefs and Practices among the Newars of Kathmandu Valley (Nepal)
Manandhar, Sushila "Fischer", Contributions to Nepalese Studies
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.
According to Newar cultural traditions and beliefs, corporal decoration helps in protection, healing and substitute for a medical treatment. It can be mediator between the human beings and various spirits and planets. A person can even possess divine power or become a deity oneself through corporal adornment. This article concentrates only on the utilisation of the body adornment and ornamentation which people believe that they have healing, treating, protecting power.
Corporal decorations: means of healing
Newars believe that their ornaments and corporal decorations consist of such material and supernatural power which enhances physical and mental vigour and strength in an individual. Hence they use them to improve and strengthen their health. Newars, along with other Nepalese, believe that an angry spirit whether divine or demon, as well as personal jealousy on a person can provoke sickness. When an individual suffers from sickness and does not recover from medical treatment, many Nepalese think that the problem (sickness) is created by a dissatisfied spirit (divine or demon), called punahaygu in Nepal Bhasa and bayulagnu in Nepali (2). They try to cure such sickness through offerings, called phayke and panchaune (nep.) rituals which sometimes consist of body adornments or use of ornaments.
Goddess Bijayaswari (Kathmandu) is considered a baleful spirit because of her angry nature. She can provoke ache at any part of the body particularly leg paralysis in an individual, if she is angry. If some one has such problem he/she will worship along with an ornament related to part of his/her body. For example, one has some problem in his/her legs, he/she will worship the goddess to pacify her anger. The offering is composed of a single piece or pair of silver or copper anklet, with the expectations for a quick recovery. A Newar healer prescribes a whole procedure of the ritual and the items to be offered, according to the health problem of the sick person. If the patient suffers in one leg, the prescription may be for one anklet, right or left corresponding to the sufferer's leg. One pair of anklets are needed to please the goddess if the patient has problem in both legs. Such offerings can also be made to pacify the anger of the goddess (phaykegu), before undergoing any modern medical treatment or hospitalisation. New generations usually neglect such traditional practices and go directly to a hospital. In case of failures in recovering through modern treatments, the family of a sick or affected person makes such offerings to Bijayaswari to pacify her anger, even in modern time (3).
In case of sufferings from bleedings or other sicknesses related with blood, or blood cancer, are thought to be the curses provoked by the anger of the goddess Kumari. Newars, on such occasions make offerings consisting a complete set of objects of female body adornment (saubhagya jwalan), either to the living goddess or at the shrine of Kumari, pith. The saubhagya jwalan set should be composed with head decoration (sacika, swan, kakica), forehead decoration (sinhah), bangles, clothes, shoes, a comb and a mirror (Manandhar 2000: 235-238). All these objects should be in red colour. It is believed that such offerings pacify the deity and bring relief from such diseases. Buddhist as well as the Hindu Newars worship this deity, prior to any life cycle ritual, such as the feeding ceremony (maca janko), pre-puberty rites of a boy (bratabandha, barechuygu) or a girl (ihi), marriage (ihipa), old age consecration (bura janko, thakulin-luygu, achah luygu) etc. This worship is made to invite the goddess as the honorary guest for that occasion as she is a protector deity, who can assure a successful completion of the celebration (Manandhar 2007: 85-87).
At Kupondol, in Lalitpur city, there is a shrine called nhaypansyah dyah or kandevata than (nep), meaning the deity of suffering from ear ache. The people of Kathmandu valley believe that the deity will provide relief from the ear ache and sickness by absorbing the sickness and pains of the sufferer upon himself. In such case, the affected person offers a kisali, composed of a bowl of rice along with some puffed rice, a little vermilion, a betel-nut and a coin, to the deity. Some times, a pair of earrings made of silver or of copper is also added in the offering. Such earrings offerings are made through two methods. In one method, at first a pair of new earrings are offered to the goddess and then taken back and worn by the suffering person as prashad, to perceive the deity's benediction and recover as soon as possible. In another method, the earring is at first worn by the suffering person and then taken out and offered to the deity later on as disposal of the pain, phayke or panchaune (nep) to pacify the angry spirit.
Similarly, to get relief from any dental problem, the people of Kathmandu Valley pierce a coin with an iron nail around the wasyah dyah, "tooth ache deity". The number of nails that will be pierced, is according to the number of suffering teeth.
Problem with a kind of pimple jananagan nyahgu, "mystic snake bites", or 'Herpes pic' (in medical terms) is believed to be caused by the anger of a mystic "snake" spirit, jananaga. Such pimples have an expanding nature, making a circle around certain part of body, such as, neck, arm, wrist, waist or chest, etc. It is believed that the suffering person will die if this cluster of pimples makes a complete circle around the part of the body, where it appears. Newars paint pictures of two lions on the extreme points of such expanded pimples to halt their expansion and cure them. The painting is done by an experienced heriditery painter, pun along with a ritual offering of kisali. It is believed that after this ritual the pimples will dry within four days and slowly the disease will disappear.
There is a type of fungus button or scabies called khaye in Nepal Bhasa, and 'Warts' (in English medical term) which sometimes appears on the skin at any part of the body. It is not a disease, but, it makes skin unfair, dirty and gives an ugly appearance. To treat and eliminate it, the sufferer has to rub a finger ring made of gold upon the infected area, and then donate the ring to a priest.
A person suffering from 'Styo', (aukai), rubs a gold (finger) ring over it, then he/she knocks at the door of a neighbour by using the finger ring. When the neighbour asks "who is knocking?" or "who is there?" the sufferer replies "that's your beloved, aukai". By doing so, the sick person is supposed to recover by transferring the disease to the questioning person.
Body adornment as precaution, protection and treatment
The newly born child is physically very tender and weak. It does not have enough resistance power against illness. Its physical condition is so sensitive that it cannot tolerate strong sunlight and natural air. Newars think that as the child is weak, it can be easily haunted by the evil spirits. Even a jealous eye sight can make him/her sick. So, the Newar parents provide the child with various preventives, measures realistic as well as supernatural to protect him/her.
From the day the child is born, he/she is given rape seed oil massage. It is done twice a day for two years, and after that it's time range slowly reduced to once a day, once a week, once a month and once when needed. The massage is applied to fortify the infant's body and strengthen its bones and make its skin fair and healthy. It helps to keep it safe from insect bites. Fat in the oil provides protection against sun burn. Thus, Newars use rape seed oil as a substance for massage as well as for a medicine. Moreover, it also has a great cultural significance as a substance for corporal decoration leading to the purification of the body and mind. Newars express their joy of life through the use of oil as a symbol of happiness and livelihood, on the others, they deprive themselves from its use during the time of mourning.
Newars (like many other Nepalese) decor their children's eyes with a kind of black paste, ajah and put a black mark on their forehead as a precaution against evil spirits and jealous eye sights. In tantric cult (4), the carbon powder called mohani sinhah, prepared during a special ritual offer and associated with the mother goddess, Mohini. During such tantric ritual, the priests apply mohani sinhah and ajah on their forhead and eyelids. The senior priest (guru) then explains that the evil spirits (bhut-pret) will henceforth be unable to see them; and thus, they will be free from any eye disease (Gellner 1992: 276-277).
Five sensitive parts of a child's body (anklets, waist and wrists) are decorated with a thread bands made of blue or black thread called karka. Newars believe that these thread bands contain power of Mother Goddess, Cwasa Ajima along with her conjoint, Bhairava who protects the infant against the evil eyes, spirits by concealing him/her from those spirits. And also, the adornment helps to strengthen the child. It functions as a remedy to suppress nervousness and improve the child's digestive system.
Among Newars, there is a tradition of piercing ear lobes and top of the ear (helix) of the newly born child. Those actions are a kind of deformation of natural body which have a great significance in Newar society. Newars believe in rebirth and reincarnation. According to the belief a newly born child has neither abandoned nor forgotten his previous life and hence the child will still be actively enjoying his previous life. The child smiles, laughs, cries, expresses nervousness or weeps as a depressive person without any visible reason. These sentiments are expressed by the child whether awaken or asleep. Most of the children become sick, and in some cases the doctors or the healers cannot find out the real cause. Under such circumstances, it is believed that the child is still active in his previous life. To bring him/her to his/her present life, the newly born child's ear lobes are pierced as soon as possible. This physical shock makes him/her forget his/her previous life and make him/her conscious about the new world he is born in. Such piercing is also marked as a confirmation of his/her birth in a new family of the concerned caste or social class.
Several Newar femalies perform this ritual "nhaypanpwah khankegu" just after the baby's birth purification ceremony and before the child becomes one month old. Normally, this ritual is held on the first thursday after the purification ceremony (macaboo benkegu). It is a ritual done without any celebration. Simply, the child's (whether boy or girl) both ears lobes are pierced with the help of a needle by an experienced woman (5). Although, it seems to be a simple act, it is symbolically a great event in the life of the newly born child; because on the one hand, this ritual brings the child in the present world where he/she is born and on the other hand it provides him/her relief from the nervousness created by the memories of his/her previous life.
The parents who have lost their previous young children, pierce the ear helix of their newly born child soon, after the birth purification ritual. Such act is done on the right helix of the male child and at the left helix of a female child. The hole is called bekhapwah and is ornamented with a small gold ring. Usually, the ring is a string with a tiny white pearl and red coral. Sometimes, we can also find a small fish image made of gold (the replica of the protector deity Vishnu). The ring is referred to by different names such as bekhacah, nhatichah, jyapucah and kumahcah. It is also believed that the corporal deformation puzzles Yama (deity of death), making him incapable, to identify the child to face death. Thus, the child was supposed to be protected from Yama, or the immature death.
It is also believed that though god Yama comes to pick-up the child, Vishnu (represented in the ear ring, bekhacah) protects against Yama and save the child from imminent death. Moreover, gold itself is supposed to work as antiseptic, coral as pacifing the skin problem and the pearl protecting against the any accidental death or injuries. Thus, piercing the bekhapwah and wearing the ear ring, bekhacah provides several kinds of precautions.
When a child is about a month old, his/her maternal uncle's family offers him/her a pair of bracelets with red or rose coral, bhimpu. If the family can not afford such bracelets, they offer at least a pair of black thread bracelets with a coral bead to tie around the two wrists. This is said to be a precautional measure to protect him/her from the skin diseases. Similarly, the child's own family will offer him/her a pair of gold bracelets, pyucha. This is believed to fortify and protect the soul of the child. Gold considered to represent the protector deity Vishnu, who is supposed to be the soul, atma of a living creature (Levy 1990: 216). Bhattarai describes (2041 B. S.), 'the external parts of a human body (flesh, skin, etc.) are constituted of a woman's blood while the internal parts (bones) are made of a man's sperm'. According to a legend, once the divine couple Parvati and Shiva had a dispute between themselves on the issue of the right over their child. In the course, they took back the individual share of the substance they had contributed for formation and the birth of the child. While doing so Parvati took back blood, from which she created her own child (without Shiva's share). Her lone creation turned out to be a boneless man (Khyah). Shiva took back sperm from the child's body which he created for the child. His creation turned out to become a fleshless man or skeleton body (Kawan). This proved that the human body is constructed by the mixture of woman's blood and man's sperm. Blood creates external parts, whereas sperm creates the internal parts. Thus, the ritual gifts of coral bracelet and gold bracelets signify the mutual cooperation between two linked families to fortify and protect the body and soul of the child.
During the first solid food feeding ritual of a child (held on the age of five months for a female child and six months for a male child), Newars adorn the child with a necklace called raksamah. It is believed that the necklace protects the child, against the evil spirits and dangers existing around. According to Vajracharya (1083 N. S.:6) and Shakya, (1111 N. S.: 8) the necklace should be composed of those materials which are believed to protect the child against evil effects of the navagrahahs "nine planets". The following is the chart proposed by Vajracarya and Shakya:
Materials Origin Planets, navagrahas luligu, old mineral addity-Sun hiular, plant plant soma-Moon kuta, horn animal's horn/bone mangala-Mars sovayaphala, fruits fruit buddha-Mercury patak, banner tissue brihaspati-Jupiter jatamasi, plant plant sukra-Venus na, iron mineral shanischara-Saturn harte, soap nut fruit rahu-Eclipse * (6) sijan, copper Mineral ketu-Comet *
Millot (1970: 293-296) remarked that a necklace could consist of twenty-one different materials (7), objects produced by men, animals, plants, mineral and ocean. The observation of these composition shows that the necklace has double utilization. On the one hand it protects the child and on the other it makes him/her aware of some materials existing in the world where he/she is born as well as the cosmic power and dangers.
Newars utilise amulets jantara or yantra (lit: tool) for relief from sickness to protect themselves against evil spirits or to accumulate divine power. Those amulets contain either an image of a deity or it's 'charms', mantras. The mantras are written in a piece of hand made fine paper, nepali bhon, and enveloped by a square cloth bag, or enclosed in a metal box, (square, cylindrical, rectangular or circular). It is fixed suspending on a black or white thread. Normally, an amulet (jantar) is worn around the neck as a locket. Amulets differ in accordance to their power of cure and function.
Newars use a tiny cylindrical locket, called tayo (8) for relief from mental and physical illness. Mostly, it is worn by children as a treatment against nervousness and small-pox, tahkai. In cases of an infant irritating and crying unnecessarily without opening its eyes, or is afraid without any reason, being ill or suffering from small-pox, it is believed that the child is possessed by the angry spirit of goddess Harati. In such situation they cure in establishing a ritual friendship (tway cinegu) between the sick child and either of the five children of Harati (9). The choice of the infant deity (Harati's child) will be determined according to the family beliefs or as prescribed by the healer. To get friendly link with the deity, one should offer a kalah puja (10), comprising of two pwakalan (upper underwear) and two tayo, amulets made of silver. On the day of the worship, the family purifies their home, themselves and the child, who is going to get link with the deity. The child is taken to the Harati temple at Swayambhu. On behalf of the child, the guardian priest offers worship (puja) to the concerned deity. At the end of the worship, the priest offers one pwakalan, and one tayo to the concerned deity and the other to the child. Through wearing these objects, the child is believed to be linked with the infant deity, with ritual friendship tie. The child is now considered as the ritual friend of one of goddess Harati's five children. Goddess Harati will accept the child who has established friendship tie, as her own child and provides protection. The child continues to wear tayo as long as he/she wants to maintain the friendship tie or needs the divine protection.
Some Newars wear a square cascade shaped locket made of copper consisting of an image of Narsilgh. The image comprises a picture or carving of a half man, nara, and half lion, singh, depicted in a seating position while killing a demon, daitya. According to the Hindu mythology, the deity Vishiu is represented in the incarnation of Narsingh (one of his ten avatars) to protect a child devotee Prahlad against the demon Hiranya Kasyapu. The Newars wear such locket also as a prevention against the attack of thunder, malah. They believe that thunder will not touch the person who wears the image of Narsingh or prays him. Newars also believe that a child born of a mother, who is not yet to have her menstruation, will always be in danger from thunder, malah. So the parents provide such amulet to the child born under such circumstance. It can be worn during entire life time or until the time the child is capable to recite 'Narsingh! Narsingh!!' or Narayan! Narayan!!' during the time of thunders.
According to Ratnaraj Vajracharya, a tantric priest and healer in Patan (11), an amulet consists of a charm of the Pancharaksadevi (five tantric divinities of dharni chant) which contains the power of protection against all kinds of dangers. It is believed that it can also eliminate the effects of poison and cure any kind of disease. Newars wear the amulet to strengthen their health and fate. Similarly, an amulet associated with the deity Ugratara, is worn to avoid possession from any kind of spirits (either evil or devin), tvapuwaygu. According to Vajracharya, tiloy (epilepsy) is not a real disease but a kind of physical and mental tremble provoked by the possession of such spirits. Hence Newars wear an amulet of Ugratara as a precaution: a measure and cure against epilepsy (tiloy).
Some Newars can also be seen wearing a locket with an image of monkey god, Hanumana. It is believed that the chanting of hanumana chalisa text provides mental and physical strength. It contains the supernatural power to eliminate nervousness and fear. The persons who cannot chant hanumana chalisa text, wears such locket. The locket wearer gains mental strength and physical energies. The locket also cures nervousness.
A cylindrical shaped gold locket called pragyaparamitah jantar is very popular among the Buddhist Newars. It is believed that the wearing person can gain knowledge and wisdom.
Newars adorn their body with precious metal and gems, and along with simple objects such as thread, seeds, plants, animal bone, teeth and even with human disposals.... These adornments provide good appearance on the one hand and they also provide strength, health and protection against the evil spirits on the other hand. It is believed that by wearing them, people can accumulate extra energy. These are some example ornaments for differents purposes.
A locket made of 'jackal's horn' or 'jackal's bone' cure paralysis (bath) and asthma (dama). The jewellery consisting these materials can also cure any illness or suffering caused by evil eyes. Similarly, an ornament consisting tiger or bear's nail or tooth is supposed to give vigour as well as protection against wild animals.
A bracelet or a locket made of elephant's tail hair is used as an auspicious ornament which brings happiness and prosperity in life. The ornament is also used as a cure to treat skin diseases, mainly the pimples.
Newars wear ritha, soap-nut seed locket to treat respiration or asthmatic problems. They also believe that wearing of such locket can pacify the danger caused by unfavourable placement of comet (ketu).
Every year, around the month of April. Newars give their children a locket made of a palahbi (Hutea semina) seed to wear, and also give them a glass of water containing palahbi seed powder to drink as medicine against intestinal worms. The locket should be worn through out the year to ensure protection against such worms with a belief that the seed contains natural healing power to eliminate the intestinal infection and other diseases caused by worms.
They wear bracelets and finger rings made of copper to treat high blood pressure. It is believed that such bracelet and finger ring made of five different metals such as gold, silver, copper, iron and brass also have the same kind of healing power.
An aged person may wear a finger ring with turquoise (yu) colour to protect himself/herself against cold and paralysis. According to Hunt (1952: 46-47), the best quality turquoise for such purpose should be sky blue in colour which does not scratch easily. Newar gold-smiths trust that such turquoise colour provides heat to the wearer.
Newars have faith on the influential super natural power of an umbilical cord. They use it as a remedy and as a talisman to affect the sex of a foetus in their favour. During pregnancy, the woman ties a dry piece of an earlier umbilical cord of a female child around her waist if she desires to get a girl child or replace it with such male umbilical cord if she desires a male child. In case of a child crying and irritating continuously without any perceivable reason (arinchaygu), Newars make the child wear a locket containing a dried umbilical cord (from an earlier issue or neighbour's child) to treat against such illness.
Iron anklets (na kalli) are offered to a child to wear who is born in weak astral positions or evil location of Saturn (shani), so as to provide him/her with the super natural power of the deity Bhairava, which will protect him/her. As the iron bracelets and anklets are symbolic to a prisoner, most of the Newars do not like to use them and replace them with a small piece of iron, fixed on the clothes of the needy child.
The Newars wear a finger ring made of silver and pearl (motiya angu) to pacify any kinds of dangers associated with the evil disposition of the Moon and also to get success while travelling. Similarly, to make a journey smooth, they put on a silver ring with a moon stone, chandrakanta (skt.). It is believed that the finger tings made of those objects have power to protect against any accident and injury.
Rudrakche, rosary seeds (Eleocarpus ganitrus) are supposed to be Lord Rudra's (Shiva's) eyes as well as tears of his joy, issued with the achievement of knowledge (Manandhar 1982: 29). The rudrakche seeds are also used to neutralise poison effect (Khatri 2042 B. S. (1985): 127). Rudrakche seeds are often used as rosary beads by the Buddhist and the Hindu Newars. They trust that one can get protection from the deity Shiva by wearing ornaments made of rudrakche seeds. Newars adorn themselves with rudrakche for protection against any accidental death or attack from any poisonous being (particularly snake). They also wear rudrakche to obtain supernatural power to suppress their enemies.
During the annual festival of gathanmugah (around June-July), Newars perform a ritual of expulsion (Anderson 1971: 72-76). They perform bau puja, in one hand to satisfy Bhairava, (deity representing the protector divine force), and in other hand to scare off the evil spirits (bhuta, preta, pisacha ...) from their residences and their localities. On that occasion, iron finger rings are offered on the bau pah (offering bowel), where there is supposed to be the force of Bhairava. It is believed that these iron rings are thus charged with the divine power and force of Bhairava. At the end of the worship, these tings are taken back and distributed among the family members. The finger ring is worn on the middle finger of the left hand. The person who puts it on is supposed to obtain the benediction from Bhairava and will be protected against the evil spirits. By wearing it, a person is supposed to possess the force to resist against any evil spirit. Each year, the earlier ring is offered during the expulsion ritual and is replaced by a new one in the same way.
Adornments as illustrated above explain that they are used for precaution, prevention, protection and healing. They work as talismans (buti) which contain some kind of precious power and replacements for jewellery. These objects are considered as substitutes to gems (ratna and uparatan).
The corporal decorations provide necessary elements for the body
The water (jal), air (bayu), fire (agni or heat, Sun light), earth (bhumi) and sky (akasha) are the basic elements for the composition of a human body. Most of the materials used in jewellery are associated some how with these five elements whether by the materials themselves or through their colours (Lad 1983: 145-150). Newars adorn their body with the ornaments made of different materials in different motifs, from which they suppose to gain mental and physical strength. For example, the most common materials used in Newar ornaments are asta dhatu (eight metals) and navaratna (nine precious gems), which function for remedy. Simultaneously, they represent the constitutive elements of the human body.
Dunda Bahadur Vajracharya, a goldsmith from Patan (12) write that the Newar sculptor made the sculpture of divinities utilising eight metals or nine gems as the different parts and organs of the body. They used the metal and gems to symbolise the following organs.
dhatu (metals) angapratyanga (nep.) (human organ/part) lun old chengu skin waha (silver) mastisk, rain sijah (copper) hi (blood) raga, tin (lie, brass) la (flesh) paro (mercury) barna colour mhah lead kway bone jasta zinc rasa (liquid) na (iron) wa (teeth) Ratna(gems) Angapratyanga (nep.) (human organ/part) hira diamond hway bone moti earl * (13) wa teeth maiika ruby hi (blood) panna (emerald) khaipopocha (gallbladder) nira, sapphire mikha (eyes) lasune lapis-lazuli) rasa (corporal liquid) muga coral * la flesh pusparaja (topaz) chengu skin sphatic (quartz) cahti (sweat)
Use of gems (ratna) in making divine sculptures show that the body is composed of different minerals. It seems that the concept is related to the Hindu mythology about the creation of mines. According to the mythology a demon, Bala (Bali), took control of the heaven and earth. He became proud, corrupt and violent. He massacred several innocent people. The divinities could not bear his acts of terror and declared a war against him. He was defeated and killed by the divine alliance. His dead body fell down on earth and was disposed into six different mining queries. The site where his blood floated transferred into a mine of ruby, his bones into diamond querry, his teeth into pearls, his eyes into sapphires, his skin into topaz and his nails into garnet querry (Brijbhusan 1979: 7).
The metals and gems are hence considered as the constitutive elements of a human body. They provide energy and vitality (prana shakti) to the body. Lack of certain material in human body, manifest weakness and the person becomes ill. These metals and gems contain medicinal values and supernatural powers for protection and healing. They are also utilised to make some of the ayurvedic medicines or therapies. The following are some of such practices:
A medicine called shubarna curna, "gold power" is used to strengthen one's brain power and intelligence. It is also used to get relief from the gastronomical problems. The "ash of iron" loha bhasma, "ash of mother pearls" moti bhasma, "ash of coral" muga bhasma can treat the disease of eyes, ear, nose, skin, paralysis and asthma.
Copper according to local beliefs is supposed to cure cardiac problems and give relief from certain kinds ulcer and cancer. The blue-green or the greenish impression made on human skin by wearing a copper or brass bracelet is considered as an effective cure against high blood pressure. Similarly, such impression marks of lead, iron or zinc bracelets, or ornaments are practiced as cures against goitre problem.
D. B. Vajracharya also describes about the positive effects of the navaratnas, "nine gems" in favour of the person who wears those gems.
ratna em Positive effects labha manika rub 1. protect ion against physical sicknesses and diseases moti (pearl) 1. bringing happiness and prosperity 2. protection against theft accusation muga (coral) 1. protection against injury and any kind of skin disease 2. providing talents and happiness panna (emerald) 1. increasing memory 2. protection against child delivery complication pusparaja (topaz) 1. remedy against tuberculosis, 2. bring happiness and wealth hia (diamond) 1. strengthening fertility 2. bringing prosperity and prestige nira (sapphire) 1. bringing happiness or sadness according to zodiacal position gamed (garnet) 1. protection against physical diseases lasune (lapis-lazuli) 1. protection against unfavourable location of comet 2. protection from any kind of accident, 3. protection against evil spirits and gastronomical problems
Navaratna "nine gems" differ in colour, nature and the power they contain. Most of them are linked with the five basic elements of life, (water, earth, air, fire, and sky) through their natural power and colour (Lad 1983: 145-150). They are also associated with one of the divinities or one of the planets. By this association, they inherit the divine power. An ornament in navaratna provides protection against any probable danger brought by the evil location of the planets, and brings happiness and good luck to the wearer.
To counter with the troubles brought by the evil location of any planet, Newars wear a finger ring with a gem corresponding to the planet:
ruby (manika) sukra (Sun) pearl (moti) chandra (Moon) coral (muga) mangala (Mars) emerald (panna) buddha (Mercury) topaz (puzparaja) brihasAat (Jupiter) diamond (hira) sukra (Venus) sapphire (nira) shani Saturn garnet (gamed) rahu (eclipse) * lapiz-lazuli (lasune) ketu (comet) *
There are some prescriptions for expected benefit from the gems. The precious stones or gems should be clear and bright in colour, intact in form, without any kind of damage, scratch or spots. The weight should be precise according to the aim of utilisation. In general, a man should wear a finger ring made of two and a half carats gem, (or at least two carats); it should be one and a half carats (minimum one carat) in case of a woman. The auspicious time and the part of the body where the gem is to be adorned are also determined by the relation of the concerned gem with its corresponding planet. For example; finger ring with topaz is corresponding to Jupiter, it is worn on ring finger and first adorned on a Thursday (they are associated with Jupiter), sapphire should be worn on the middle finger of the left hand (first adorned on a Saturday), pearl should be worn on the little finger of the right hand (first adorned on a Monday), etc.
However, these are the practices among Newars. A well known Nepalese astrologer Dr. Jagman Gurung (expert on Chino-Tibetan astrology) suggests that his clients wear rings on their fingers that contain nine gems which correspond to the nine planet. The correspondence is shown in the following table:
Fingers Gems Planets Right index pusparaja (topaz) brihaspati (Jupiter) Left index hira (diamond) sukra Venus Right middle finer nira (sa hire shani (Saturn) Left middle finer gomed (gomed) rahu (Eclips) Left middle finer lasuni (lapis-lazuni) ketu (Comet) Right ring finer manika (ruby) surya (Sun) Left ring finer muga (coral) mangal (March) Right little finger panna (emerald) buddha (Mercury) Left little finger moti (pearl) chandra (Moon)
Thus, most of the materials used in making ornaments and jewellery are supposed to possess divine power and they themselves represent the deities or planets. Sometimes the motifs depicted on them play a vital role in providing such power. Following are some examples:
Power contained in Materials: Five planets (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn) are represented with gold, silver, copper, lead/brass and iron respectively. In the same way, gold represents Visnu. Silver, copper and iron represent Shiva in different forms such as: silver represents Shiva as Soma-Chandra form, while copper represents him in Shiva-Parvati and iron represents him in Bhairava-Kali form. Each of the nine gems represents one of the nine planets. Hence they inherit the power of the concerned planet.
Power obtained in motifs by themselves or through fabrication process: Certain ornaments obtain the super natural power during their fabrication process or through motifs carved or decorated on them. Amulets and jewellery made of certain metals and the 'nine precious stones' are supposed to acquire such power through the fabrication processes. A kind of black paste (mohani) prepared along with praying to the mother goddess (ajima) provides hypnotizing power on the one hand and protection against evil spirits (vayu) on the other.
Power with colour (rang): Colours are associated with specific divinities and planets which can give us relief from illness, and cure from diseases. In South Indian ritual practices, red colour represents blood and heat and is thus associated with life, fertility and procreation (Beck 1969: 553-54). According to colour therapy theory, red colour heats blood and helps it circulate in a properly balanced manner and thus brings physical vitality. It eliminates high blood pressure, activates the procreation process and protects from cold and anaemic disease.
A mixture of red and yellow is the colour orange which symbolizes an active personality. As the yellow colour represents intelligence, orange colour combines the mental and physical energy and helps to control and balance them in life. Orange colour is used to get relief from asthma and bronchitis. In Ayurvedic tradition, yellow colour is prescribed for treatment in the nervous system disorders. A golden spoon or the medicine called suvarna churna "gold powder" is used to nourish brain and intelligence. It also has positive effect on the digestive system.
A combination of blue and yellow colour results in green. Green symbolizes fertility. Most Nepalese consider it as a 'colour of life'. The bluish green mark of copper and brass impressed on the skin, especially, around the wrist where we examine the pulses, is an efficient remedy for high blood pressure problems. Such marks can treat heart and ulcer problems and even cancer.
Blue colour is associated with peace and a prestigious status in the society. It also sometimes indicates death or difficulties in life. So, this colour is considered beneficial as well as baleful. This colour has a positive effect in recoveries from goitre as well as calm and relief to oneself. Blue substance procured from copper, lead, iron and zinc are used in ayurvedic medicines, as one of the effective remedies against the eye, ear, nose and throat problems as well as paralysis and asthma.
Methods of colour therapy: In colour therapy, a therapist uses various methods to ensure recovery from sickness. Colour therapy with gems of specific colours is one of such treatments. It is expected that the sickness will be cured through the rays of gem's colour.
Such therapist suggest that a sick person use a finger ring or a locket with certain precious stone of specific colour as for remedy. The locket should be pendent around the chest level and the finger ring should be put on the finger associated with gem's colour, planet or deity. Precious gems can be replaced by amethysts of the same colour for treatment, but it is believed that cure through such replacement is less effective. When the Sun's rays pass through the precious gems and touches the body, it is supposed to provide positive vibes. For example; diamond's vibration activates one's brain and heart, ruby's vibration balances blood pressure and fortifies the heart, pearls are supposed to be effective to treat problems related with eye and urine disorders. Corals are supposed to protect one's skin and cure pimples. Similarly Sapphire is supposed to cure neurological (epilepsy, hysteria, psychiatric) problems.
Heating the body with the Sun's rays reflected through a glass (khah) in specific colour prescribed to a specific kind of patient is another method of colour therapy.
In another method, coloured gems should be dropped into a glass of drinking water for one night and the water should be drunk as medicine the next early morning (Lad 1983: 145-150), or drink the shoddy water stored in a glass bottle of specific colour (as prescribed for the disease) for about a month.
Wearing of ornaments made of copper, brass, lead or iron, which transmit their colour while leaving impression marks on the skin is also a kind of colour therapy. Vibration of such colour is supposed to treat the illness.
Storing water in a pot made either of a particular wood or a metal (14) for 24 hours, which change the colour of water into bluish, yellowish or greenish according to the kind of timber or metal of the pot in which the water had been stored, is also a method of procuring such medicines. Such coloured water is drunk for specific cures.
It can be said that the colour of gems and metals or materials used in such therapy is supposed to govern the human body. The traditional beliefs related with the super natural power of body adornment are not only superstitions but they are also in fact used as the cure and remedy for vitality.
Human body's link with cosmic power: Newars believe that they can strengthen their physical and mental status and keep themselves healthy and wealthy through body adornment. According to some astrological beliefs, the ornaments made of certain minerals are linked with the cosmic energy and possess certain particular virtue. Wearing of such ornaments at the concerned parts of one's body helps one benefit from them. For example, sapphire and iron are co-related and associated with the middle finger, the Saturday of the week and the planet Saturn. So, a finger ring made of a sapphire and iron can be a talisman and remedy to obtain the cosmic power, for getting strength, health and stability in life. But to receive these benefits, sapphire should be worn only on the middle finger of the left hand. The finger ring should be put on Saturday for the first time. Under any circumstance, it should not be put on or taken off on any other day of the week other than Saturday. Otherwise, it loses its supernatural power.
Healers suggest that their clients put on amulet around their neck which should be pendant at the level of one's heart. Heart is the centre of blood circulation which transmits vitality (jivashakti) all over the body. That's why the power of ornaments affects positively upon all over the physical parts of the wearer's body. According to one another belief, heart is the centre of the body which directs all actions. If one's heart is not fortified, the person becomes physically and mentally weak. An amulet with 'good' and 'solid spirit' contributes it's wearer with a fortified heart and leads him towards good actions. Thus, the supernatural power of an ornament is highly linked with its application to human body. Hence, the part of the body for which an ornament is prescribed is not chosen randomly but with a great care and concentration.
Newars also trust on receiving divinities' benediction through adornment of their body, with representations of miniature replicas, emblems and charms of the divinities. Rich people wear such images, emblems or charms in the form of jewellery and ornaments made of precious gems and metal. The poor ones use either cheap materials or paintings and tattoos related with such deities.
Tattoos: Newars use different kinds of motifs and images as corporal decorations. They paint them either temporarily or as permanent tattoos on their skin. The most frequent motifs are half moon, animals, birds, plants, divine emblems or the divinities themselves. The images or emblems of divinities are used to decorate the upper parts of the body where as animals, birds and plants are sketched on the lower parts. The tattoos are the corporal decorations which mark their social rank, economic status and personal faith. They believe that the tattoos assure their protection in the present life and also a treasure for the next life.
According to a traditional Newar belief, tattoos abandon neither the concerned's body nor the soul even after the entire dead body is burnt. When the dead body is burnt, tattoos transform into gold and accompany the dead person to the next world as his net savings. Thus, to the poor people tattoos provide with a kind of hope for a prosperous life in the next world.
Baleful effects of body adornment
Although, corporal decoration is supposed to provide with several kinds of supernatural powers for benevolent use, such powers can also be used in evil ways, which affect negatively.
In Newar society, we frequently hear about the use and practice of black magic among family members or neighbours. We can find cases of people consulting healers, tantrics and black magicians who provide services concerned with corporal decoration for negative effects so as to harm their adversaries, enemies or people they dislike. Corporal decorations can be used' both for positive as well as negative purposes. For example, amulets (jantar), the black marks (mohani sinah), containing divine power, provide good effects, where as, the same types of objects prepared after praying demonic spirits might prove destructive to the wearer. These types of Corporal decorations can be used to hypnotise a person, create physical and mental disorder or even encourage a person towards the path of suicide sometimes. It can provoke conflicts in the family. It can provoke hate against each other, create disputes among concerned persons, and can even destroy a normal family. Newars believe that a person uses such method against another person because of personal jealousy or enmity. In such case the person consults a healer, a tantric or a witch doctor to recommend corporal decoration so as to harm the targeted person. They prepare such corporal decorations with the demons' charms or the spirits of the 'evil death,' or, even in line with the divine power in a negative way. As soon as such corporal decoration is applied against the targeted person, he/she becomes ill or sick or faces other kinds of disorders in their personal life.
As it is difficult to apply such body decoration directly upon the targeted person, the tantric or the black magic expert uses a dummy figure representing the targeted person in which he transmits the spirit of the targeted person by means of tantra. Such action helps in creating problems to the targeted person from a distance.
According to some tantric priests, they use human bone as a tool to possess magical power either of the demon or of the deity. Black magicians or witches use the tantric powers as a principal instrument to pick-up an evil spirits and manipulate it against the person whom they want to harm. But, if one is not capable to manipulate or direct such spirits properly, they become out of control.
The person who practices witchcraft or evil magic, places a fragment of human bone with a little dust or ash collected from a cremation ground, under the stairs of a target person who is to be harmed. It is believed that within four days of the placement of these objects, problems will start appearing within the entire family of the target person. It will provoke disputes, endless quarrels, misfortunes, catastrophes and disasters in the personal life of the concerned person and even in the family and surroundings.
As one proverb says, 'we should use the iron to cut the iron', Newars usually use black magic to eliminate the negative impacts created by the black magic of others. A highly powerful tantric or black magic expert can prepare and provide appropriate corporal decorations (amulets, jantar, mohani sinah, or cotton thread, etc.) to counter with such illness or problems. It is believed that those body adornments can chase the evil spirits away from the sick person or the suffering family. But there is a risk for the suffering person in such practices. Through the use of such corporal decorations the sufferer has to face two magical spirits or powers of opposite characters who will struggle to achieve their assigned aims. The suffering person himself might suffer further more the effects of the struggles between the two opposite powers. During these struggles in between the ritual spirits/powers, the sick person might become physically further weak, mentally disordered and even commit suicide or could die in a several way.
Body adornment not done in proper manner or order such as wrong combination of materials or wearing ornaments on the wrong parts of the body, by mistake, can transmit into evil powers and bring catastrophe and destruction to the users.
Newars use body decorations to obtain a healthy and wealthy life as well as physical protection. Through such adorning, they try to possess the capacity to fight against the malevolent circumstances and misfortunes. For example, an ornament made of iron and sapphire could be beneficiary for a person who needs to pacify probable dangers creating the evil disposition of the planet Saturn and correct it in his/her favour. Wearing a finger ring made of these metals and gems in the middle finger of left hand helps in the physical protector of the wearer. But the same ornament can bring baleful situation and instability in the life of the wearer, if it is made with wrong combinations of the materials or worn on unsuitable part or on the wrong or unauspicious day. Likewise, if one puts it on the ring finger, "space of Jupiter" instead of the middle finger "place of Saturn", one may suffer from the power tussle between the two planets, Jupiter and Saturn. A person with weak horoscope symbol should not wear it, because the person may not be capable to bear its power. If such person wears it unconsciously, it may cause his/her accidental death. Each ornament has it sown significance in having whether a good or an evil aspect by its nature and power. Hence the combination of materials and their fabrication process provides them with supernatural power which can be beneficial or baleful for its user.
(Translated from French to English in 2008. I would like to thank my senior colleague Prof. Dr. D. R. Dahal (CNAS), Dr. D. Rajauria and my nephew Yubin Pujari for their attention towards the translated text and their suggestions on the various aspects of the article.--Sushila)
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(1.) In the Nepalese concept, a ratna, "gems" is an object which is precious and valuable (materially as well as in supernatural context) and attractive.
(2.) Hence forth, the words used in this article, other than the English and Nepal Bhasa, are indicated by abbreviations such as: the words, the title of books and the articles written in the Sanskrit, Nepali and Hindi are indicated by the abbreviation (skt.), (nep.) and (hin.), respectively.
(3.) In India too this type of practice exists in case of optical problems. Indians offer an eye made of silver to the Goddess Sitala. Such offer of the eye may be the fight or the left depending on the suffering one's cause (Brijbhusan 1979: 4).
(4.) Tantric Cult is scetic beliefs and practices common in some Hindu and Buddhist followers in South and Central Asia.
(5.) Some Newars of Bhakatpur, such as the Shakhah and Shrestha pierce their boys' ear lobes during the tonsure (buan khakggu) ritual.
(6.) For the western people rahu (eclipse) and ketu (comet) are not planets but in the Nepalese context they are considered as planets which creates problems.
(7.) Millot identified those objects as: '1. conch, sankha, 2. coin, paisa, (nep.) 3. stone "cat's eyes", 4. seed of palm tree ? 5. sea shell, kauda (nep.), 6. fragment of chalcopyrite, 7. triangle fragment with stamps of Vishnu's foot prints, 8. seed of lotus, paleswan, 9. mineral, tamo komi, (nep.), 10. fragment of a spiral sea shell, cakra, (nep.), 11. disc of agate, 12. piece of blue glass, 13. nail of bear, 14. piece of raw diamond, one of the minerals among the five gems, pancha ratna, (nep.), 15. grain of lignified fruit, labsi? 16. mineral of red oxide, dhungo, (nep.), 17. fragment pearly, 18. black and smooth grain, (palm tree?), 19. hard bead, rudracche, (nep.), 20. a coin, paisa (nep.), 21. small piece of boon, surly of human (...). Terminal cotton balls in red and black colour. These objets have the power to protect (Millot, 1970: 293-295)".
(8.) Amulet enclosing a charm of a deity with whom the person is going to get linked.
(9.) Harati has 500 children. According to a legend, every day, Harati used to kidnap one child from the locality of Swayambhu to feed her children. The inhabitants of Swayambhu had thus been terrified and lived a sorrowful life. They could not tolerate more and consulted Tathagata (Buddha) for relief. Buddha hid the five hundred children of Harati to make her realise the pain of the parents who had lost their children. Harati tried hard to search for her lost children. Finally Buddha realised her worry and assured her that if she would not steal others' children, she would get back her own children. She promised Tathagata that she would do so, and would even protect all children as her own. Then Buddha handed over all her children. She took back five of them (Wasibhaju, Wasimayaju, Latabhaju, Latimayaju and Jilanbhaju), placed around her body (two around her arms, two on her Lap and one on her shoulder). The rests of her children are depicted concealed inside a mandala, at the entrance of the temple of Harati). Since then she has been protecting all children. Thus, she turned to be a protector goddess of human beings, mostly the infants (Manandhar 1988: 8). The Newar honour her as their protector goddess, ajima.
(10.) Kalah is a basket made of bamboo or brass and used as an utensil during a tantric worship, kalah puja, contains bitten rice, baji, baked rice, syahbaji, grilled black soybeans, hakumusya, white beans, bhuti, ginger, palu, pan-cake made of lentils, maywah, boiled eggs of duck, fried fish, alcohol, beer, flowers, vermilion, rice and different kinds of incenses. Through supernatural tantric charm power, a priest can transform those ingredients into animals, like: buffalo from the baked rice grains, syahbaji, goats from the soybeans, haku musya and lambs from the white beans, bhuti (Vajracharya, 2024 B. S. (1967), 47-48/Juju et Shrestha, 1105 N. S. (1985): 16).
(11.) R. Vajracharya still practises his profession as a tantric priest, astrologer and healer. He manufactures various amulets and naturopathic medicines and prescribes such amulets and medicines to his clients. He gave a list of 16 different amulets made by himself in his book Sri jatadhari Padmapmi Lokeswarya mahatmya (2050 B. S.).
(12.) Two manuscripts entitled "Dhatu" and "Ratna" by D. B. Vajracharya, were consulted at the office of Cultural Encyclopaedia of Nepal, Kathmandou.
(13.) Even though coral and pearl are sea products, they are considered as "gems" ratna, for their precious natural power and their connection with the planets. The Nepalese concept of ratna, "gems" is precious and lovely, even a person can be called ratna "gems" in admiration.
(14.) The kinds of timber and metal will vary according to the illness. For problems related with brain, one should use gold pot, if financially it is not possible, brass or yellow glass can be used. For indigestion problem, one should use a pot made of bimbisoel tree wood, etc.…
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Publication information: Article title: Supernatural Power of Body Adornment: Beliefs and Practices among the Newars of Kathmandu Valley (Nepal). Contributors: Manandhar, Sushila "Fischer" - Author. Journal title: Contributions to Nepalese Studies. Volume: 36. Issue: 2 Publication date: July 2009. Page number: 259+. © 2008 Research Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies. COPYRIGHT 2009 Gale Group.
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