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Saturday, 26 February 2011

Hindu Bratabandha Ceremony, Nepal

Written by Amanda Shore
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A Photo Essay

A boy waits for his Bratabandha to begin. Bratabandha is a complex Hindu ceremony where boys, between 8 and 12, take the first steps in learning the traditional laws, ceremonial roles and rituals of their caste. In Nepal, it is considered the beginning of manhood. Before the ceremony boys wear a traditional orange headband pierced with a porcupine spine, for protection from evil.

 

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The boys warm themselves in front of the fire, close by a priest prepares. The boys try to behave like young men until the urge to wrestle overwhelms them.

 

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This Bratabandha is being performed by 6 Brahman priests, though only 2 are technically required. Red, white, yellow patterns, Swasti, were made around the fire for protection and to mark an elaborate place setting, indicating where each god should sit as they joined the ceremony. Pujas are performed to Ganesh, and light and water.

 

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Female relatives watch anxiously. Even at a Bratabandha, Nepali boys are never men in the eyes of the women who raise them.


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Pandit Karishna Thapa checks the razor. His son’s heads will be shaved for purification by their mother’s brother.

 

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I really felt for the boys as they shivered in their shorts waiting for their turn under the razor. The older boys and uncles playfully teased “the wind will be so cold on your new head” or “I hope I don’t slip and cut off an ear.”

 

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As each of the boys finish their mothers, aunts and sisters rush forward to carefully rinse any hair from their skinny necks and warm them in their shawls.  All the hair is collected with precision to protect the boys from anyone who may wish to use it for harm. It will later be disposed of in the Baghmati River.

 

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These belong to the Brahmin caste so they were dressed in orange and given a deer skin bag to signify the traditional Brahmin role as priests. At the Bratabandha of boys belonging to other castes different objects are used, for example Chhettri people often carry a bow and arrow.


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Much of the ceremony in conducted under the cover of a shawl and is secret, between the boy and his new Guru. Pundit Karishna Thapa explained “The Guru gives his students a sacred string to wear and a mantra which they are to keep private. If the mantra is said every day, while holding the string, it will promote prosperity, well-being and protection from everyday mishaps.” The mantras are taken from the Vedas, sacred Hindu texts.

 

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Occasionally one of the boys comes out from under cover and is asked to add elements to the fire.

 

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Aunts wait patiently for their turn to give their nephews their blessing. As with most festivals in Nepal, the Bratabandha is about family coming together to recognize an important day in someone’s life.

 

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The ceremony comes to an end with the boys begging from their relatives for rice and receiving Tika from their aunts. This practice is to signify the traditional life of a monk and give the boys a spiritual grounding for their first life lesson.

 

(c) Amanda Shore

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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