May 29, 2013

My 84th Birthday Celebration on Sunday Was Great, But It Would Have Been A Really Big Deal in Nepal!

I enjoyed a fine 84th birthday on Sunday: a nice lunch at home with Ramesh, Laxmi and Rahel (my Pokhara family), dinner with my son and daughter at our favorite restaurant, lots of email and snail mail greetings, phone calls from Kathmandu, Macau and North Carolina. Topping the day was the news that a third great grandchild will arrive early next year.

I couldn't have asked for more. Or could I?

In a birthday email, a good Nepali friend wrote:
In Hinduism, 84 is taken as a special number. Many people in Nepal do something called a "chaurasi pooja" to mark this special achievement. It is also taken as a special number because there are supposed to be 84 lakh (84 thousand!) life cycles and one can be reborn in different cycles including the human being.
I got busy on Google to learn what I'd missed. Here's what I found:

Chaurasi Pooja -- Marking the Transition to Living Ancestor
The chaurasi rite honors elderly people who have reached the age of 83 and several months. That span includes one thousand full moons.

According to Hindu philosophy, there are four stages of life:
  1. celibate life (an oxymoron in our culture!)
  2. house holder
  3. forest dweller
  4. wandering ascetic 
Concerned mainly with elder worship, chaurasi is performed at the last stage. According to one source:
After this ritual, elder people are respected as living ancestors like a god or goddess.
Another source indicates:
Chaurasi puja or the ceremonial worship conducted during the age of 84 is one of the unique traditions of Nepal which raises the status of the person next to god and frees them from all kinds of social bonds.
Hmmm. Breaking away from social bonds is right up my alley!

It's a three-day ritual. But the third day includes the main event, when the main puja (a ritual in honor of the gods) is performed. Eighty-four ghadas (mud pots) are prepared for the worship. They are decorated with red and white cloths. Each pot contains a flower and a fruit:

chaurasi ghada Celebrating eighty four years

People put tika (the mixture of red powder, yogurt, and rice) on the forehead of the 84-year-old.


Gifts are given. This process can take various forms, but this one appeals to overweight me:

Finally, here's a look at the rite being performed. The picture ends after about four minutes.

This ceremony is another example of the respect for elders that's deeply engrained in Nepali culture.

But I still loved my birthday celebration here.

1 comment:

Madhav said...

Thank you very much, John.