(Bael Biwaha/Bel Bibaha) or “Ehee” is a ritual that signifies a coming of age for Newar girls. It is an age-old tradition followed devoutly by the Newar community – the predominant resident population in Patan, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Kirtipur in Nepal.
A typical Newar girl will undergo three different marriage ceremonies in her life-time – with a bael fruit, the Sun god and finally a man. Each ceremony is a rite of passage; the first – Bel Biwaha – is carried out well before the girl reaches puberty. During this symbolic marriage with a bael fruit, the girl is donned with a red sari and ornaments, and fashioned like a typical Newari bride. The bael fruit is considered an incarnation of the god Kumar – son of Lord Shiva. It is believed that by giving away his daughter in marriage to an immortal, a father secures his daughter’s future from widowhood. This ceremony also supposedly bestows the girl with enhanced fertility and health. Folk lore also proclaims that the bael fruit used at the marriage ceremony foretells of the future husband’s traits – a healthy bael fruit equals an attractive, doting husband while a damaged one indicates the opposite. Some also suggest that this age-old practice was brought about by Newars to circumvent the customary practice of Sati, where the widow immolates herself along with her dead husband in a funeral pyre.
Bel Biwahas are conducted at the family’s discretion at a pre-determined date on consultation with the “Gubhaju” (Newar priest), either within a small gathering comprising of close family members only or with much festive fanfare often followed by a lavish banquet.Ehees en masse during Basant Panchami are also a common feature and regularly acquire the shutterbug‘s attention.
A more comprehensive account of a Bel Biwaha is available at http://colorfulnepal.com/culture-and-religion/newars-of-the-valley.html.
Listed below are some more photos from a Bel Biwaha ceremony conducted at Bijeshwori temple, near Swayambhunath in Kathmandu. Please do comment in what you think of the post and the photos.