Religion, Rainfall and Rice: Social-ecological Interpretation of Festivals in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal
The Newa: (or Newar in Nepali dialect) culture of Kathmandu Valley is home to a number of mythical stories associated with gods and demons. Such stories embody the spirituality of the people on the one hand, and symbolize the socio-ecological systems of the Valley on the other. This paper presents narratives of the cultural festivals of Newar communities in relation to the agricultural-ecological system, particularly rice farming, they have traditionally adopted for their livelihood. The meanings of the festivals celebrated by the Newar communities are presented with reference to the process of celebration, the items included in the offerings for gods, and the varieties of foods eaten during family festivities. The festivals chosen for this study range from those of the pre-monsoon (preparation for paddy seedling) to those of the post-monsoon (the rice harvest). The lives and livelihoods of the multi-cultural communities of the Kathmandu Valley have traditionally been linked to the spirituality, socio-cultural practices and ecosystem of the Valley. However, these practices are facing constant pressure because of modernization, changed livelihood systems, contradictions in the government’s religious/cultural policies and practices, and changes in global systems. The Newar communities of Kathmandu Valley are struggling to maintain sustainable celebration of their festivals because of changes in the Valley’s agro-ecological landscape. At the same time, Kathmandu Valley is establishing its identity as a multicultural area, which, to some degree, affords hope for continuing the religious legacy. The Valley is being preserved as a “sacred place,” because people from other castes/ethnicities are now also supporting these festivals.
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