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Food

Yomari Punhi: The festival of the most popular Newari Delicacy, Yomari

17-Dec-2022

By Saban Shrestha

Image source: Online Kathmandu

“Learn the history and the culture Yomari hold from the time of its making.”

You know what a Yomari is. You probably had a chance to taste Yomari from your

Newar friends either from schools, colleges or even work. Or you just had the

opportunity to try it on some different occasion. If you don’t know what Yomari is, don’t

worry, just read this article and see the picture. And try searching for Yomari in

restaurants or try to find a Newar friend.

Yomari's are so popular in Nepalese society today that even some restaurants are

serving them to the people. Yomari in Nepal Bhasa means “Liked bread” as yo means

“liked” and Mari “Marhi” means “any sort of bread” thus justifying this dish’s popularity,

which is even growing in Non-Newar communities. Yomari is made from rice flour and

filled with chaku (molasses), khuwa, and meat as well. To make Yomari, the rice flour is

made into dough and the dough is then shaped into a fig fruit-like structure which is

filled with chaku, khuwa and meat. Adding meat to Yomari is not an age-old tradition

but a tradition which is popular for some time. And then it is steamed and ready to

eat.

Thus this easy-to-prepare dish is made during the full moon “Punhi” of Nepal

Sambat Lunar calendar’s second-month Thinlā, which is the full moon day of December,

the day which is known as “Yomari Punhi” or “Thinlā Punhi”. Non-Newars recognize this

day as Dhanya Purnima or Ubhauli Parba celebrated by the Kiranti communities.

Yomari Punhi is the age-old Newari festival which symbolizes a great day for the Newari

farmers. This festival traces back its roots to the Newar Farmers who used to make

Yomaris from rice flour and adding chaku and khuwa into it and steaming it. Yomari

Punhi is the day of the end of the harvest season in Nepal. During this time, all the rice

crops are harvested and brought to the farmer’s home for storage. A certain portion of the harvested rice crop is ground down into rice flour and is used to make Yomari. This

dish is then first offered to the Goddess of Harvest, Annapurna, thanking her and other

gods for the harvest. People also make figures of their respective deities from the rice

flour like Lord Ganesh, Goddess Laxmi, God Kuber, and Goddess Saraswati and put them

in a large grain basket Bhakari as an offering to the gods and also thank them for the

harvest. After the rites are over, families gather together to make Yomari in a cheerful

manner, and they consumed later, even saving the rest to be eaten for a few days to come.

Different festivals break out during Yomari Punhi around various places in Kathmandu

Valley. There is a common tradition of kids running around their neighbourhood asking

for Yomaris during the evening while singing this tune in their Newari dialect:

योमरी च्वाम्मु उक्के दुने चाकु   

ब्युमा ल्यासेय मब्युमा बुरिचा 

This short and funny song talks about Yomaris being pointy and filled with chaku

(molasses) which is sweet and the people (in this case, the housewives) who willingly

give Yomaris to the kids are praised to be beautiful while the ones who drive them away

are sneered at and called ugly old hag. This is seen rarely nowadays in a few Newari

neighbourhoods. Traditional mask dances are performed in the Newar villages of

Harisiddhi and Thecho of the Lalitpur District. Jala Pyakhan is the masked dance

performed at Harisiddhi which is only performed twice, once during Yomari Punhi and

the second time during Holi Purnima. Meanwhile, the dancing troops of the Nawadurga

naach of Bhaktapur arrive at the ancient Newari town, Madhyapur Thimi.

Among the many lores surrounding the beginning of Yomari Punhi and Yomari, is the

story of Yomari originating from the ancient Newar village of Panauti. It is said that a

married farmer couple first made this dish and even distributed this among the villagers.

They also offered Yomari to the God of Wealth, unknowingly when the god was

travelling around disguised as a beggar. Pleased by the couple’s generosity and the

tasty dish, God Kuber blessed the farmer couple with wealth and prosperity. He then

proclaimed that whoever prepares Yomari with the shapes of Gods and Goddesses on

the full moon day of Marga Sukla Purnima will be blessed with wealth and prosperity.

Thus this is how Yomari Punhi started in Newar Communities.

Yomari went on to be popular among Non-Newar communities in today’s time due to

the influence of Newars. Also, the fact Yomari is delicious and conventional was

far enough to make Non-Newars fall in love with this dish. Thus Yomari and this festival

are widely recognized by the Nepalese and even the Nepalese Government 

declared a public holiday during Yomari Punhi. Jyapu Diwas is celebrated during

Yomari Punhi. During this day, a big rally of Newar people travel around the Kathmandu

Valley singing songs and dancing while a procession of giant Yomari follows around

for display as an act for the preservation of Newari cultures and traditions. Yomari is now

even recognized in International Standards as MasterChef UK runner-up Mr Santosh

Shah prepared Yomari for the British judges which led him to the finals and led 

him to finish in second place. Thus Yomari is far more popular than ever in today’s society while Newars still wholeheartedly celebrate Yomari Punhi, saving their age-old culture and tradition. So this month of Mangsir, hope you will also get a chance to taste Yomari on the day of Yomari Punhi.

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