As an animist and a culture enthusiast, I have always been interested to learn how cultures are intertwined with nature in various parts of the world. Nepal is a culturally diverse country, and Kathmandu acts as a melting pot where people from all around the country have settled in. Life in Kathmandu is like an open museum, where one gets to witness distinct arts and culture, without having to travel far and wide.
A few months back, I was lucky enough to observe one of the largest festivals celebrated by the Magar people who are indigenous to west Nepal. Many of them, mostly victims of the civil war for over a decade, have now settled in Kathmandu. However, they still hold a strong sense of their culture and identity in the migrated place today.
Bhume Parwa or Bhume naach, also widely known as “bal puja” among Magars, is principally celebrated in Kham region with the advent of monsoon in the Kham region, the native homeland of the Magars. “Bhume” means earth, “parwa” means festival, and “naach” means dance in Nepali; thus, it is a festival to pay homage to Mother Nature through dancing. This festival is celebrated in June or July and is usually celebrated for 3 days, whereas in some places, the celebration can go up to 15 days
I got talking to one of the elderly participants, Yammaya, who hails from Taksera, to understand her take of the festival. She recalled her olden days in the village and spoke of it warmly: “Bhume festival is celebrated to thank mother earth for good crops and for protecting us and our livestock from natural calamities. It also marks our New Year. We clean our houses and surroundings and pray to Mother Nature. The basic practise is the animal sacrifice. People get sheep from their village and adorn it with colour and flowers. It is then taken to Bisauna (chautari, sacred place where people worship), where they sacrifice it in the name of ‘bhumi’ (land).”
During the puja, villagers offer little bits of every new grain, fruits, and flowers produced in their field to Mother Earth, thank her for all the good harvest, and ask for help in the upcoming days. The festival opens in advance with the playing of musical instruments and worshipping nature. It is believed that when the musical instruments begin to play, then the birds and insects come out to listen to the music, which helps to keep the crops safe.
Yammaya goes on to add, “Whole villages celebrate the festival by gathering in the big recreational area to dance, sing, and have fun. This is why we have all gathered here today. Although we miss our village, gathering in this heart of Kathmandu is equally a proud moment for us to celebrate the festival. My heart melts to see how people from all walks of life have gathered to cherish this festival. I hope this continues long. I wish the youths today understand the importance of Mother Nature.”