Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Newar People of Kathmandu: United through the Gyanmala Bhajan Khala

When I was looking for the topic of the essay, religious and rituals appear in my mind. Comparing to Hindu temple I prefer Bauddist temple to go so it drive me to Swoyambhu. Although, I have been heard few about Gyānmālā Bhajan khalah’s activities in Swoyambhu area, I was unknown about the meaning of Bhajan in their community. That is why I choose this topic for my mid-term paper. I have used different theories to describe on this paper. Greertz theory of deep play/cock fight to thick description, theory of kula to analyse the reciprocity, Communitas theory of V. S. Turnor to describe Bhajan as a communitas and the On Key symbol of Otner’s to give the meaning of Bhajan as a symbol. For instance, I have taken a sociological theory of George Simmel to analysis social interaction. Although the Gyānmālā Bhajan khalah’s working area is broad, the Bhajan is one of the major components which is helping to bind Newar society since long period of time.
Gyānmālā "garland of wisdom" Bhajan Khalah :

Gyānmālā Bhajan khalah is one of the old organizations in Nepal, which works on different sector of Newar community.  Gyānmālā Bhajan Khalah mostly performs Buddhist devotional songs. It is based in swayambhu, Kathmandu, and has chapters across the country and abroad.  It is established in 1937 as a Bhajan mandali (group of devotional singer), as a place for get together and get peace by singing Bhajan, but by the time it shaped as an organisation. It’s out looking or visible objectives were to unite people by providing Bhudda’s knowledge, to deliberate the massage of Budhha to all the people around the Kathmandu, to preserve and promote the caste-ethnicity, language, and culture of Newar community but the core idea or invisible objective was to make aware people in society about Rana regime and kick them off from their position, and it helped too[1].
It has own elected body to run the organization. It has thirteen members in a committee including two women. Its election happens in every three years. And anyone[2] can be a president but must have to be a membership first. It has more over twelve hundred general members in whole Nepal yet. People joint voluntarily to do all kinds of activities. It has different mechanism to run the society such as; they do the Bhajan every morning, they had conducted old education (proudh shikchha) in their society, help to establish the PAROPKAR through this Bhajan khalah, providing sanitary program around Swayambhu temple, serving free water service every day, restructuring or construction work, (constructed the water tank and road in the Kathmandu vally), tree planting, deliberating the Buddha’s knowledge (Buddist Gyan) in different part of the world[3], It has published 19th edition of Gyānmālā book (Buddhist devotional song book), 95,000 books sell and distribution yet, producing CD and distributing devotional songs as well.
The ritual of Bhajan is being performed since establishment. The Bhajan starts in 6:00 till 8:00am every day but people can join any time within this period. In the place of Bhajan, there are no any strict rules to enter any cast, age, gender and any society, they treat equally to all. These are the ties organized in terms either of caste, class, or rank hierarchies (Turner, 1995). No hierarchy within the gender and caste to sing or performance inside the Bhajan house, although most of the participants represent from Newar community because the Bhajan happens in Newari language. They provide tea and fruits as a prasadi to the entire participant free of cost and those fruits, sugar, milk are collected by voluntarily. It means the organization is running by Donation, no any funds got from Nepal government yet. That is why their activities are countable for them. Through these all activities they are being able to create a unity or solidarity in the Newar society.
It was Summer Sunday; I went to Swayambhunath temple. It was nearly 7:13 in the morning. I was there for observation of Bhajan, it was already started. More than 30 people were actively participating and busy with singing inside the rest house, few of them were serving drinking water outside, and some of them were enjoying the Bhajan sitting in the chair outside. I stand near the people who were sitting in the chair outside and find some people to speak because I had to talk to them. I didn’t know any of the members there. One people came to me and offered drinking water in a mineral water bottle with sweet smile, I have been shocked and asked “why”? I saw, he was disable (couldn’t speak properly) and he replied me hardly, weren’t you looking for water? I replied sorry, actually I was looking for member of this organization do you know anyone here? Especially I am looking for authority person to sit inside with them, do you mind to tell me where can I find them? He called a person who was wearing white T-shirt with logo of that organization, who was sitting next to corner of the Bhajan place. He came to me; I easily guess that person is the member of organization and I greet him and share my queries. “I just want to sit inside, listen the Bhajan and observation these activities; do you allow me to sit with them please? He simply smile and said happily “oh! Sure why not? Please take a sit inside”. While our conversation, people were looking at us curiously. I saw people took off the sleeper and shoes outside the Bhajan place and so did I. One donation box was in the front row and small statue of Lord Buddha in framing of visible glass. People were donating little money as voluntarily, I also put some rupees in the box. The old man was singing as a lead vocalist in front of all participates and all were following him sitting opposite side[4]. Few women and most of the man’s were sitting on front row and rest of women were behind them. Only one female were playing the musical instruments rest of all by a man, later I asked why only a women was playing the musical instrument? A man replied who was next to me “She is the one who can play”.
I was wearing a short, white fancy T_shirt with black outer, fancy sleeper with sunglasses. When I entered into the Bhajan place most of the old women were staring at me. I went behind and took a sit on window with chakati, at the same time one old man came and showed me the floor and start using sign language, I guess he was requesting me to sit in the floor with all participant, and I asked “sorry, can’t I sit here?” he smile at me and said “oh are you Nepali? It is not a wrong place but I have to use this place for serving tea”. And I took a sit in corner of the last row. Women were mumbling within them (kane khusi/ sauti). Then again one man came to me and asked where are you from? I replied I live in Balaju but me; originally from Dhankuta. His facial expression has been suddenly changed and said “oh! Are you Nepali? I thought you are from China or Japan for research about our culture, innocently replied me[5]. I smiled and replied shortly “no, I’m not from abroad but I’m here for something to know about your culture”. Within that conversation one person blows the shell and suddenly changed the rhythm of other instrument so the environment. The blowing shell means to call the god on their Bhajan. And within five or ten minutes again they blows the shell and ended their Bhajan saying Bhagawan Charana. And started greet each other saying Bhagawan charana so did I. And again they sang Bhajan five-seven minute’s glory for Lord Budhdha. Within that period one man provide a cup of tea, some of them serve the peace of fruits and flower as a prasadi. People on front rows started packing their instrument back. I like the system that after drinking all people should have to wash their own glasses outside the temple and I also follow the rule. Then some women were gossiping about their home problem, man started to chitchat with their friends about political issues, some of them were concerning about next meeting, some of them were sharing their problems with member of the khalah. Few of them started to collect the glasses and put it back to the place. One person collected the whole chair and put back inside the place.
I found there were most of the Newar people gathering together every morning for Bhajan. The participants came from different places of Kathmandu such as; Lazimpat, Maitidevi, Koteshor, Kalimati, Balaju, Gongabu, Kalanki, Saibhu every day for the Bhajan. When asked why they visit Swoembhu every morning, Most of their reply was for inner peace and get bless or divine love by Buddha. For same question Binod maharjan (member of Bhajan khala) answered “working with this organization is kind of social work for me, that’s how I get pleasure, as like me, few of participants come here to do social work through the organization and Bhajan”. Purna kaji jyapu (secretary of Bhajan khala) replied “beside Bhajan people get together here to solve the social issues, for instance sanitation, education, health, and reconstruction of the water tank or temple, there for this place is helping us to uniting the community”.
Theoretical interlinks of Bhajan
German sociologist George Simmel learns society as the form of interaction. For him the essence of society lies in the interaction that takes place between individual and group, society is the array of interactions engaged in by individual (Edles, 2005). Society is formed by the condition a priori in the elements themselves, which they interact themselves to form society. I found the Newar communities and Bhajan are emotionally, historically and socially attached. Every morning they are gathering together for Bhajan in Swayembhu temple and chitchat with each other. Despite some youth almost all people were old age in Kathmandu. Most of the women and old age people are participation on Bhajan time. “But youth are also participating in rest of the other activity. Beside Bhajan, most of all activities run by youth, they participate voluntarily actively” said Purna kaji jyapu. Old age gather in the Bhajan because they have nowhere to hang out rather than Bhajan, they do not go to cinema or for a coffee as youth, so where they go? They go to Bhajan for inner peace, also for satisfy, for social gathering, for share their experience, idea and problem, for get together with their friend. Simply, acknowledging the fact that people interact in a Bhajan, so anyone can say that Bhajan place forms a community because society is running through interaction.
According to S. Ortner (1973) key symbol is very important to belong, it is comes in many differently and everywhere, elaborating more than enough, greater culture restrictions surrounding. Thus, it leads me to conclude Bhajan is key symbol for Newar community. They do the Bhajan and Pooja at first moreover it takes 2 hour and finishes their activities by playing a shell (shankha) by a man. Blowing a shell is symbol of calling to god on their prayer. And provide an aarati to all participants and non participant[6] giving aarati means to get blessing. Bhajan we can say it’s a summarising symbol for them. Hence; it is a symbol of unity, forum for social identity, to be spiritual, and for solidarity. It could be key scenario as well because; this is the place where most of the old age people get together and share their problem to find the solution, where they emotionally attached, where they can make a unity, and where they can make good decision for the society.
Communitas is the feeling of solidarity and equality through a powerful community of togetherness. It is simply equal and grading in particular ritual and particular time phase. This emerges recognizably in the liminal period, is of society as an unstructured or rudimentarily structured and relatively undifferentiated comitatus, community, or even communion of equal individuals who submit together to the general authority of the ritual elders (Turner, 1995). I found inside the Bhajan they all are equal, no any hierarchy of gender, caste, class or age group. Thus it’s a kind of communitas for them. Most of the time we found in the Hindu culture, female should have to provide an aarati[7] but in this activity no any gender discrimination. It means it has equality in everything for instance, serving prasadi, playing an instrument, singing a song, providing an aarati. In the Bhajan One main singer sing as a lead vocalist and all the participated will follow him, more than 5 members helps to play an instrument like shell (sankha), jhyali, khaijadi,madal and their typical instruments including womens. They greet each other while entering the Bhajan place, after aarati again they greet by saying Bhagawan charan with joining two hand together (doing Namaste). Basically, it is a form of equally treating; people feel solidarity with whole process of Bhajan.
We can compare the Bhajan as a Kula system. According to Malinowski, B. (1922) the traditionally set Kula, a long ritual processed of magical ritual and public ceremonies, it carries own significance in these tribes which ensures the personal relationships between two people via reciprocal exchange of gifts and services. These relationships developing the collectiveness of thousands of men help each other in terms of their security from any fears of sorcery; it also holds mutual trust and commercial honour. As in a Bhajan also the participants come with fruits, money and flowers to offer the god. Offering god something means to respect the god and get self satisfaction. Collected fruits and flower share to all the participants, it’s kind of reciprocal process, which made people interconnected and blessed. As a result Bhajan is kind of system where certain kind of ritual activities happens with reciprocity.
To summing up, according to my observation Gyānmālā Bhajan khalah is important place to newar people in Kathmandu, and the Bhajan is one of the major components which help them to socializing process. The Bhajan’s small steps or processes do have their meaning which are key for them. For this I have already mention the theories which is interlinked. Thus Bhajan is a symbol of unity or solidarity for them. Through Bhajan they are preserving their own language, culture and tradition even history since long time. It is running through interaction, reciprocal, and exchanging their views, emotion and work each other. Bhajan is the stage for socialization and releasing stress for old age people and forum for social work for young generation. Additionally, through the Bhajan old people get inner peace and young people will be able to involve in social work that’s how the society run through.

Eeles, Laura Desfor and Scott Appelrouth (2005) “George Simmel”, (p.241-251; 280-287) Sociological theory in the classical era: texts and Readings. Pine forge
Greerz, C. (1973) “Deep play: Notes on Balinese cockfight,” in the interpretation of Culturess: Selected Essays, New York: Basic Books, pp 412-453.
Malinowski, B. (1922). “The Essentials of Kula.” In McGee, R.J. and R.L. Warms. (eds.). (2003). Anthropological Theory: An Introductory History (pp. 163-178), Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Ortner, S.B. (1973) “On Key Symbols,” American Anthropologist, Vol. 75, No. 5, pp. 1338-1346
Turner, V.W. (1995) “Liminality and Communitas”, in the ritual process: structure and Anti-structure, New York: Aldinede Gruyeter, pp, 94-130.

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