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The Newar Pantheon




All the Hindu and Buddhist deities are fair game for Newars, along with a few additional characters of local invention. Some deities specialize in curing diseases, others bring good harvest – as far as Newars are concerned, it doesn't matter whether they're Hindu or Buddhist so long as they do the job. The following are some of the figures uniquely adapted by the Newars.

Machhendranath, honored as a rain maker par excellence, typifies the layering of religious motifs that so frequently takes place among the Newars. To be accurate. only Hindus call the god Machhendranath; Buddhist Newars know him as Karunamaya or any of a number of local names. He is commonly associated with Avalokiteshwara, the bohisattva or compassion, who is invoked by the mantra On mani padme hum. Depending o his incarnation (he is said to have 108), he may be depicted as having anything up to a thousand arms and eleven heads. While it's unclear how Avalokiteshwara came to be associated with the historical figures of Machhendranath and Gorakhnath – who are considered saints by Hindus – it was certainly in part the result of a conscious attempt by Hindu rulers to establhish religious and social bonds by grafting two Hindu saints on to a local Buddhist cult.

Kumari, the "Living Goddess", is another often-cited example of Newar syncretism (religious fusing: although acknowledged to be an incarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga, she is picked from a Buddhist-caste family. Bhimsen, a mortal here on Hindu Mahabharat, who is rarely worshipped in India, has some how been elevated to be the patron deity of Newar shopkeepers, both Hindu and Buddhist.

Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, has been pinched from the Buddhist pantheon to play the lead part in the Kathmandu Balley's creation myth (although he is often confused with Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knoweldge). He is always depicted with sword, with which he cuts away ignorance and attachment, and sometimes also with a book, bow, bell and vajra. Likewise Tara, the embodiment of the female principle in Vajrayana Buddhism , assumes special meaning for Newars, who consider her the deification of an eight-century Nepali princess.

Quintessentially tantric, the Bajra Joginis (or Bajra Yoginis) command their own cult centred at four temples around the Kathmandu Valley. They are regarded as the female aspect of the Buddha and are the subjects esoteric cults and closely guarded secrets. harati, the Buddhists protector of children, is zealously worshipped by Newars under the name Ajima, the grandmother goddess.

Throughout Nepal, stones and trees marked with sindur may be seen: vestiges of older animist practices, these may mark the place where a nature goddess (generically known as Mai), local spirit or serpent (nag) is supposed to live. There are many types many of these lesser spirit beings who require offerings to safeguard passage through their respective domains.


Original source: www.jwajapala.com