A Lost Tale of Farmers

A peek into the illustrious history behind the Yamari and all its goodness

15, Feb 2022 | nepaltraveller.com

A peek into the illustrious history behind the Yamari and all its goodness

Yamari is a delicacy that originated from the Newari culture through the time. Numerous myths and legends have brought the sweet treats to become a staple. A must have while in Nepal, it is a part of the Nepali identity.

According to experts, the practice of enjoying yamaris came from the ancient belief that its contents would help avoid the effects of the freezing cold. While the main ingredients of any yamari are flour and molasses, chaku. In addition, many Newar food enthusiasts also experiment with ginger, lentils, meat, khuwa and other interesting ingredients. There is also a saying that the shape of the yamari will decide how long the winter will be. The shorter the yamari, the shorter the winter will be. Therefore, yamari also has a special place in the hearts of the people who celebrate Yamari Punhi.

PC: [Ritesh Man Tamrakar/flickr]

In the dead of winter, on the first day of the second month of Nepal Sambat lunar calendar, many Newaris come together with their families to celebrate Yamari Punhi. They celebrate by making the delicious delicacy, Yamari, a sweet steamed dumpling containing sweet chaku or khuwa. While many people just leave it at that - a nice festival to come together in the winter to feast on - there is a whole other world of myths and legends. The culture and etiquette that has permeated in and outside Newari culture has blossomed into a beautiful depiction of the interweaving nature of Nepali culture.

PC: [Manto17/Wikipedia Commons]

The festival ‘Yamari Punhi’ has its meanings in the Newari language. The word ‘Yamari’ comes from two Newari words ‘ya’ meaning to like and ‘Mari’ meaning ‘bread’ or ‘delicacy’. With the word ‘punhi’ meaning ‘festival’, Yamari Punhi translates to the celebration of their favourite bread. It was originally celebrated by Newar farmers in Nepal to signal the end of the harvest season and to celebrate the entering of the new harvest into the house. Therefore, they made a special kind of bread (yamari) to celebrate the end of the harvest. But many Newari people also celebrate this festival for the myth of Yamari and the enormous amount of wealth and prosperity it is believed to bring.

Originally, the festival was supposed to have started in Panauti with the myth of Tomari. It is believed that there lived a generous and giving person to anyone in need, Suchandra and his wife. The couple was using a special kind of bread (yamari) from molasses and sesame to worship various gods such as Lakhsmi and Kuber. When Lord Kuber, the ‘God of Wealth’, heard about this, he went to visit the couple disguised as a beggar. When he arrived at Suchandra’s household, they took care of him and showed the utmost hospitality and also shared with Kuber this special kind of bread. Seeing Suchandra’s compassion, the lord was pleased and showed his true self as the ‘God of Wealth’ and blessed him with even more wealth and taught them the method of worshipping paddy. With this story spreading like wildfire, more and more people started to worship paddy so that their families would prosper. 

PC: [Dskoich/Wikipedia Commons]

While the custom and festival originated from Newari roots, Yamari Punhi has also branched out into many smaller rituals and customs that other groups of people also celebrate. Yomari Punhi is also known as the 'Jyapu's Festival' because the festival was originally celebrated by Newari Farmers. But in recent times, a lot of indigenous Jyapu communities have also started to celebrate Yamari Festival by praying to their ancestral gods and deities. Meanwhile, Kirat celebrates this festival under 'Udhauli Parva' based on their agricultural roots as a sign of happiness brought on new crops, as well as Dhanya Parvat and Dhanya Lakhsmi is celebrated. There are even more festivals and rituals that have originated and formed from the Yamari Puja. Buddhists on this auspicious day go to Swayambhu to pray and offer some servings to Lord Buddha. Members who worship the Sanatan religions worship this day with a cowshed and Gaidu worship.

PC: [Ritesh Man Tamrakar/flickr]

Besides these festivals, Yamari is also used in auspicious or special events in the family outside of worship. Special occasions like the birthday of a baby, the inauguration of a new house, or the pregnancy of a married daughter are all places where Yamari have been made and enjoyed. Some families make yamari on the day of their baby’s birthday from ages 2-4, where the baby will wear a celebratory necklace made with yamari.

While the occasion of Yamari Punhi and the yamari dumpling has stayed popular, with many restaurants even incorporating it in their menus, the tales, its origins and meaning is being lost to history. Only footnotes in historical books, we must learn and engage with the stories and the ways of our culture in order to know the intricacies and the immaculate details in which our culture revolves around.

Text by: Samyak Dhar Tuladhar

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