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Friday, August 01, 2008

“Yo Bajya, Gahanki Phoney”

The lanky, gray-haired lady in the middle of the picture is a familiar face at Janabahaa. Every morning, she occupies her own little corner, begging alms from devotes that throng there. Today, she came back in the afternoon as well, having decided that Janabahaa was a place as good as any to size up her collection and pack them up neatly in big bundles, that were later taken home on a rickshaw by her family.

Following centuries old custom in Kathmandu valley, lower caste families of the Newar community, especially the Podey caste, go out begging alms in town during solar and lunar eclipses. Holding out a basket for people to throw money, grains or clothes in, they holler, “Yo Bajya, Gahanki Phoney” for all to hear. If one is to assume that “Gahanki” is a corrupt form of Grahan (or eclipse), one could easily conclude that “Gahanki Phoney” translates to begging of alms while an eclipse is in progress.

Though “bajya” means grandfather in Nepal Bhasa, it is also a term used sarcastically when addressing someone who is projected as superior, especially if one feels he/she is being forced to address that person with respect where it is not due. In today’s context, traditions that vividly demonstrate class discrimination and public humiliation of the lower caste by the upper caste, such as the Gahanki Phoney tradition, should be made outright illegal.

A partial solar eclipse that occurred over Kathmandu skies today could not be viewed because of peak monsoon clouds. Photos by Alok Tuladhar.