Janku is celebration of life. It’s sort of a traditional grand birthday celebration when a person reaches a certain age. It is celebrated by both Hindu and Buddhist Newars of Nepal.
This birthday date for celebrating Janku is calculated by the priest on the basis of lunar calendar. When the man reaches his age for Janku, it’s done together with his wife irrespective of her own age at the time. After the ceremony of Janku, the person is called Thakali meaning eldest or senior.
The first Janku in a Newar person’s life comes when he is just a baby. This Janku is known as Pasni and Annaprashanna in Nepali and Macha Janku in Nepal Bhasa (rice-feeding ceremony). It’s the ceremony where babies are given solid foods for the first time since their birth. All the family members, close friends and relatives are gathered for this ceremony. For baby girls it’s done when they are of five months old and if a boy then it’s done when they are of six months old.
The rest of the Jankus are done five times in later stage of life when they reach the milestone ages between 77 and 106 years.
First of these is done when a person is of 77 years 7 months and 7 days where they worship the Sun god is called Bhimratharohan. In the second one, they are of 83 years 4 months and 4 days (in which it’s believed one has seen 1000 full moon in his/her life) which is called Chandraratharohan and their prayers are directed towards the Moon.
For the third one, they have to be of 88 years 8 months and 8 days old which is called Devratharohan. From this ceremony onwards, the status of person is lifted from a mere human to that equal of a god. Then at the age of 99 years 9 months and 9 days, another Janku is held also known as Divyaratharohan and the final one is performed at the age of 105 years, 8 months and 8 days old which is called Mahadivyaratharohan.
The reason for Janku being performed at that particular age is that those are the times when it is said to be the most inauspicious time where any sort of harm can easily befall on him like getting into accidents, falling sick or worse dying. So to avoid or minimize these unpleasant happenings in one’s life different gods and goddesses are worshiped and prayed to for keeping the person safe and for their good health and a long life.
For the ceremony, the elderly couple is dressed as bride and groom and takes seven steps before getting on a Rath (chariot). They are paraded around town by the sons and grandsons carrying them on the chariot. The procession is followed by family and relatives of the couple, everyone dressed to the nines. Women shower them with flowers and vermilion powder and when they reached their home they are given Sagun wishing them a long healthy life together. All the relatives’ even distant ones visit them to receive their blessings and have Bhoj (party) after the completion of all the rites and rituals of the ceremony.
Even if unfortunately the spouse is dead, Janku is celebrated with gusto by the family, dressing the man of the hour into his finest and the woman looking like a new bride to be. At these times there are always a wishful melancholy and moments filled with tears of joy for being alive and surrounded by a loving family and being thankful to the gods for such wonderful blessings in life.