Photo Courtesy: Rojina Shrestha, Sharun Sangat
Newari people are known for their rich culture, variant traditions, great food and good heart. No matter how old or young they become, they still follow their tradition and pass them to their succeeding generations. One of the many rituals they follow is ‘Gufa’. Even though I am not from the Newari Community, I chose to write about it because being a girl, I found it fascinating.
‘Gufa’ is a ritual performed by Newari girls of age 9 to 13 before her first menstruation as the significance of beginning of her womanhood. To perform the ceremony, first of all, girl’s parents ask their priest to dedicate a suitable date. After the date is fixed, the eldest member of family or priest perform the puja. Girls are said to be possessed by some spiritual element, Khyak. Therefore, Khyak is symbolized by dolls made out of cloths and is worshipped. After then, girls bid farewell to her father, brothers and male members of her family and stay in a dark room for 12 days. During her stay, she is not allowed to make any contact with her male relatives and the sun. In first five days, she is not allowed to take salty food and clean herself. She need to separate food for Khyak before taking any food for herself. After five days, she is treated like a queen. She can have anything she wants and her family must provide everything she desires for. She must not sleep alone during Gufa, a female member called ‘Gufa sathi’ (Gufa friend) should give her company every night. “On 12th day, we wore red sarees and jewelries and appeared as bride to be married with Surya Vagwan (Sun God). The sunlight after 11 days made us feel pure. Our grandmother married us with Sun and we are now wife of Surya Vagwan.” –says Rojina Shrestha. She performed this culture when in her 3rd grade.
“I was 11 when I got chance to perform the ritual. Even though I need to stay away from sunlight for 12 days, it was fun doing so. I was treated like princess. I missed my family members sometimes. I still remember communicating with my uncle through letters.” –Sharun Sangat shared her experience. “It seems fun viewing the bright side of Gufa but it does have an equally darker side. When a girl dies during her Gufa, she is buried right below the ground and her father or brother does not even get to see her for the last time.” She added. “I did not know about Khyak before the ritual but after I got out, my grandmother explained everything to me. I was scared to death after knowing about the spirit.”
According to Sharun and Rojina as explained by their grandmothers, there are two types of Khyak, black and white. White Khyak are friendly but black Khyak are dangerous and are said to haunt girls in their sleep. That was the reason of offering food to Khyak before taking any.
“No, I don’t really know about the culture and its funny to know that every girl marries with single sun, I mean isn’t it weird and unfair, many girls marrying to single sun.” –Pratik Budhathoki reacted with humor when asked to share his opinion about Gufa being a non-newar.
It seems quite weird but marrying the Sun keeps girls away from hatred and social judgments thrown to woman when her husband dies. She is never a widow as the Sun is immortal and is worshipped as a god.
The charm on little girl’s face, the happiness on getting to be a bride without being actually married and the brightness in her eyes when treated like a princess, all these add special value to the ritual. Listening to the event they performed, the dresses they wore, the way they were treated and the fun they had while in their Gufa made me jealous of my Newari friends. I cannot judge whether or not Gufa is a nice tradition but preserving the culture will definitely add value to their ethnicity.