Ehee (Bel bibaha in Nepali) is a traditional ceremony which has been performed for many years in Newar community. It’s a unique Nepali culture and tradition practiced in Newar communities. Young Newar girls who haven’t turned 13 take part in the ceremony when they are at an odd age of 5, 7 or 9 years before their first menstruation. In Newar community, girls are married three times in their lives. The first one being Ehee, which lasts for two days where they are married to Lord Vishnu, second in Bahra Tayegu (Gufa rakhne in Nepali), this time they are married to the Sun and third one would be with their real husband.
Ehee is done by both Buddhist Newars and Hindu Newars. For Buddhist Newars, the rituals are performed by the priest known as ‘Gubhaju’ and for Hindu Newars, it is done by the priest called ‘Deobhaju’. Bel bibaha is done to make sure the girls become and remain fertile and to protect them from evil spirits.
The first day of Ehee is called ‘Dusala Kriya’. On this day, girls have to go through the ceremony of purification. They are bathed and prepared as brides dressed in red and golden colored blouse, sari and shawl. They all gather in line and the priest starts the ritual for worshiping the golden statue of Lord Vishnu which is also known as Suvarna Kumar (golden bachelor). The girls are accompanied by their mothers or mother-figure women from their family to assist them in the ceremony.
The second day is the most important part of Ehee. This is when the actual rituals of marriage are performed including ‘Kanyadaan’. Kanyadaan is a part of marriage ceremony where a father gives his daughter away in marriage to her husband. Both mother and father of the girl are present in this ceremony. The girls are brought to the ceremony as brides wearing special ornaments and start the ceremony with purification rituals. The girls’ toenails are cut and cleaned and decorated with red color called ‘Alah’ to make them beautiful and bridal.
The priest performs the ritual of Kanyadaan with the girls’ parents, where the fathers give away their child’s hand in marriage to Suvarna Kumar with bel fruit (wood apple) as witness to the ceremony. Bel fruit has a unique quality of not getting rotten and retaining its freshness for a very long time. The bel fruit given to the girl should look rich and ripe without any damage. If the fruit is damaged or has marks on it, it is believed that the girl will have an ugly husband and unfaithful husband in real life. The girls are also given ‘Tha bhu’ Newari set of meal in a plate which includes rice, yogurt, egg, bara, roti, rice wine, meat, fish and many more dishes to eat like in an actual Newari marriage ceremony. At the end of the day they are presented with clothes and jewelry as gifts.
Ehee is supposed to have begun after the raid of Shamsuddhin IIyas, a Bengal warlord, in 14th century who looted temples and burnt palaces, killed men and boys and defiled girls, however, stayed away from the married women. People then started to believe that if they married their daughters young, they will be saved from any harm in future attack from the warlord.
Previously, Ehee ceremony made the girls more independent from their husbands. If a girl wants to break away from the marriage with her real husband, she can simply give the betel nuts back to her husband which was given to her in the wedding ceremony symbolizing an end to their marriage or she can put the betel nuts besides her husband’s dead body after his death. By doing this she becomes free from her marriage with her husband and she can live her life alone or enter into a new marriage. This ceremony gave girls the power to choose a husband of their own choice and the idea of remarriage for Newar girls was there without loosing their reputation. But, this message seems to have gotten lost in recent times.
But, the main reason to hold Ehee has to be to protect the girls from ‘Sati Pratha’ a practice in Hindu religion centuries ago where girls had to sacrifice their lives (commit suicide by burning alive on their husband’s funeral pyre) at the time of their husband’s death. In Newar community, this ceremony held for girls protected them from this unkind custom and also shielded them from the stigma attached to widowhood. Even if their real husband died, the girls wouldn’t have to sacrifice their lives as they would never be considered as widows because their first husband Suvarna Kumar is a god, an immortal. The girls would always have a husband in him who is still considered alive by the community. Because of Ehee and Bahra Tayegu, Sati pratha eventually ended in Newar community.
Today, Ehee is organized with two or more, sometimes as many as hundred girls gathered together in a group ceremony. A collective Bel Bibaha significantly lowers the cost needed for the ceremony and helps ease the parents’ financial burden. This treasured culture of Newar community has continued till this day evolving into an event in itself and is celebrated with even more enthusiasm and fervor.