Mustard Oil Mills of khokana
A 500 years old legacy
-  03 Apr 2018 | nepaltraveller.com
The oil mills of Khokana aren’t your ordinary mills, they represent a lifestyle that has sustained the people of Khokana for generations. They are symbols of unity that has spread a prosperous civilization, admired by many generations.
About eight-kilometer south of Kathmandu city lies the village of Kokhana. As you pass through the mud homes, exchange a friendly greeting with locals clad in traditional dresses and breathe in the aroma of freshly heated mustard seed, you transport to a medieval era. The charm of Khokana lies in the fact that it is situated so close to the main city and yet is untouched by modernity, making visitors feel as if they’ve entered a time capsule buried deep in outskirts of the valley.
Like many other old Newar towns and villages around Kathmandu Valley, Khokana also has its own illustrious past. The mustard oil mills of the village were once the main source of livelihood of the locals. Until a few decades, a member of every household of the village would be involved in this business. The fresh aroma and the high quality of the oil had sought after by many people in Kathmandu, even reaching as far as Phakhel in Makawanpur, Naubise, and Malekhu.
Mustard oil has a prominent use in Newari society- it is used to make popular Newari delicacies like Hakku Choela, kachela and is a necessary item in many religious ceremonies. There is a tradition in Nepali households to give babies mustard oil massages as it is good for the bones, applying mustard oil on your hair makes it smooth and silky, and cooking food in pure mustard oil will make your immune system stronger. For an outsider, its smell at first might seem like an odour, but as you inhale, it turns into an aroma that you can’t help but get engulfed by.
The purity of Kokhana’s oil has made it stand out amongst other mustard oils. People from Kathmandu still go hunting for pure mustard oil from Khokana. According to Kanchha Maharjan, a stakeholder of Gabu Jyaasha Oil Mill ( one of the four major oil mills Khokana) the oil milling tradition started in Khokhana before 500 years, probably during the Malla era. “Khokana’s oil is mostly extracted manually and requires a lot of strength because of which it is really pure. You can’t find it elsewhere”, he says with pride
Spending some time at Kanchha’s oil mill, the process of oil making turns the oil mill into a muse. The process begins by grinding mustard seeds in a large grinding machine. Then a worker shovels it into a straw container and pores the ground seeds into a large hot pan known as hadi. His next step involves pouring the hot seeds into a metal bag. Then, he slowly slips the metal between two large wooden planks (kol). As he tightens the metal bag, another worker simultaneously steps on the huge steering wheels and unscrews the traditional oil press so that the metal bag fits properly. After tightening the steering wheel, the oil trickles out from a tap below the kol. The red tika on the machines parades their religious significance. Khanchha says that the locals worship the oil press as Bhairav (incarnation of Lord Shiva), the hadi as Agni (Vedic fire god of Hinduism), and the kol as Mahankal(the lord of time). Every Nepali new year, locals conduct a puja in honour of these Gods and worship these machines.”
Gabu Jyaasha Oil Mill originally had 144 stakeholders of Kanchha’s community; one of them was his father. Later it was closed down as the stakeholders slowly left. The mill was abandoned for 30 years but Kancha wanted to keep his inheritance alive.“I felt a responsibility towards my culture, so I took this on a lease for ten years.” He further adds,” It requires a lot of time and manual power but it gives me a sense of satisfaction.”
Nevertheless, after almost five years of reopening, things are looking good for Gabu Jyaasha Oil Mil. You can find Khokana’s famed oil at few places in the valley. Some of the popular stores are Sojan Kirana Store in Lagankhel and Saleways department store in Jawalakhel. Kanchha hopes to preserve the glory of Khokana and his effort is worth admiring.
Gaabu Jyaasha Tel Mill
Ward no: 7, Khokana, Lalitpur
Phone number: +977 01 5592047, +977 9841405251