The festival of strings. It’s a season of growth, changes, and bonds. The festival of Qwati (that’s gonna be an entirely different story). A day when the Shaman culture of the entire country is in full display. Performing ancient rites and rituals. And it all ends with the view of the full moon in the sky in the month of Shrawn. Yup, that’s Janai Purnima.
The Day of the Janai
On this day Shamans of the Kathmandu Valley perform ancient rites in places such as the Kumbheshwor in Patan and Gosaikunda at Langtang. The people of the Brahmin caste change the holy string they wear and take dips in holy riverbanks on this day. This thread is something that is given to them during a once in a lifetime ceremony, known as Bratabandha. The ceremony is a religious process of accepting or welcoming a person into the religion. This ceremony is for the male members only. But hold your horses, you know who I’m talking to, there’s a female counterpart to that ceremony too. But that’s not what this post is about. Along with that, the Brahmin priest ties a sacred yellow thread around the wrists of the faithful. This is said to purify the soul and ward off evil spirits.
How it goes
For those who celebrate the occasion, the day starts with them cleaning themselves up in all sorts of manner. They also have a minor fasting for the day, as in not a full-on “no eating” fasting but a, one meal that is “Clean” i.e. no meat, onion or garlic, type of fasting. This process is repeated during several other Hindu rituals and festivals too.
Then in the morning, yes it’s still the morning, the men usually go to a pond or river to take a sacred bath making or giving sacrifices to the Saptarishi and their forefathers. That’s when they change their Janai. However in modern times, maybe even during olden days, especially in the cities the priests are called to the residence and the entire family gathers around him as he recites from a holy book and performs a ceremony. that does the purification work to the new thread the men are given.
Tying the Loose Ends
The aforementioned sacred yellow thread is believed to bring good luck. The thread is supposed to be tied until the day of Lakshmi Puja, which is the third day in the celebration of Tihar. This is when the thread is removed from the wrist and tied to the tail of a cow because that’s when cows are worshipped. This is done because people believe when people pass away, they hold onto the tail of the cow as she pulls the across the Baitarni River, thus securing a safe passage to the heavens.
In Other Culture
The Newars of the valley celebrate this day as the Gunhi Punhi. There’s a special soup prepared by the community for this occasion called the Qwati. It’s a nutritious soup made from a mixture of bean sprouts.
It is also celebrated as Rakshyabandhan, which literally translates to Protective Bond. That part of the celebration includes sisters tying a special decorative thread known as Rakhi around the wrist of their brothers.
This festival has a really old origin, even making its presence and cameos in ancient hindu literature and mythological tales. This includes when the sister of Lord Ganesh came to visit him during the occasion to tie rakhi and his sister-less sons, feeling let out, wanting a sister of their own, thus leading to the creation of Santoshi Ma.
There’s the tale of Demon King Bali being tied the sacred thread of Rakhi by the Goddess Laxmi on the occasion, and other mythical characters such as Yama, the lord of death, and his sister, Yamuna, the Rakhi-vow between Lord Krishna and the wife of the Pandavs, Draupati.
All in all Janai Purnima is an important day in the country. There are annual fairs on this occasions near and around the Kumbheshwor Temple of Patan and Gosaikunda of Rasuwa. The Gosaikunda is a lake in itself and over at Kumbeshwor the two hitis in the complex are believed to be filled by water originating from Gosaikunda itself and it is around this occasion that they are filled enough to allow people to take dips into them.