Orbs of Bliss: 12 Suparis

Features Issue 159 Mar, 2015

Matchmakers are slowly disappearing from Newari culture. The Lamis who previously made matches, confirmed marriages and brought communities together, are now only merely footnotes to the ever evolving marital trends.

The rays of the sun illuminated the sky and the stars disappeared. It was six in the morning but the house buzzed with excited voices. Instead of tea, I was called upstairs to set up poles for the gway ceremony we were having that day. My sister’s new family would be bringing 12 suparis (areca nuts) and a dabal (coin) to confirm the marriage. This trend of passing supari is remnants of a time, when people still lived in small tightly-knit kingdoms where the kings and ministers were invited to grace marriages personally. No union could be deemed complete unless blessed by the sovereign himself.

But as time passed, communities expanded, making it impossible for kings to attend every marriage held in their kingdom. Coins, instead, became the symbol of royal approval, while the versatile supari nuts came to represent ministers. 

My relatives frantically whooshed back and forth in the house as the arrival drew near. When my brother-in-law’s family arrived late in the evening they came laden with dozens of trays filled with lakhmari, chocolates, fruits, and cashew nuts among others. His aunt who had made the match carried a bucket full of supari. I was more excited about the giant pineapple cake they had brought with them. I would later learn the significance of the lami (matchmaker) and supari from Deepak Gurju. Although at the time the cake seemed the most important part of the entourage.
Meeting with 

the modern Lami
Nani Chori Maharjan has paired more than 50 couples in Kathmandu. When I had called her, she seemed keen to know who I was and happily agreed to meet me. Upon my visit, she questioned me as though she was interviewing me, and not the other way around. When I learned that she was in the impression that I had come seeking a match, I choked with uncontrolled laughter. Not today.

Nani Chori had not planned on being a lami, she had at first merely helped one of her relatives connect with a prospective groom. “I was really happy to see the pair marry. The joy I felt is inexpressible. To add, people claimed I would be blessed because I had hitched two souls in marriage” says Nani Chori.  When more people began I approach her in search of matches, she happily obliged. 
Nani Chori however, couldn’t elaborate on the history of lamis. Matchmaking was novel to her and she had no other family member or ancestors who had plied the trade. She appeared confused when I asked her about the importance of a lami in a wedding. “The importance varies from family to family---I have had to stay in touch with the bride’s parents and her in-laws until the birth of her first child but sometimes I just pass along phone numbers,” she replied. 
Sensing my disappointment, she recommended that I meet a Gurju (traditional Newar priest

/astrologer) instead in search of the answers that I had sought. 

I bade her farewell.

The Kazi and the Areca nut
Patan can be a confusing city. For someone, who hasn’t explored the city well, the intricate maze of streets becomes a nightmare. On the phone, I asked Deepak Gurju to look out of his window so I could ascertain if I was in the right place. I thought I had followed instructions well and claimed to be at his door but as it turned out, I was waiting for him outside the wrong house.  I shook my head and trudged on to his further directions. When I finally met him, I started my usual drill “I was wondering if you could help me with a story I am pursuing”. Deepak Gurju led me to his office, where he reads and makes chinahs (birth charts) for people. I crossed my legs to listen to him intently. His stories have always grabbed my attention. I never have had to egg him for answers.

The Gurju began, “Traditionally to marry a pair must match at least a dozen qualities out of their 36 characters charted at their birth. People today read chinahs only if it is an arranged marriage, and with love marriages in trend people rarely even seek to match Chinahs anymore”. Deepak Gurju’s knowledge about marriage is astounding. “Earlier, lamis were all men and they were referred as Kazi.  Somewhere along the line, this strictly gender specific trade transformed.”

In days of yore, Kazis were a significant part of weddings as they erased the distances between two new families. Acting as a mediator, the Kazi would pass over any requests or reservations between the two families. He was the thread that linked the bride and the groom. 

On the day of gway biyegu, the Kazi gives 12 suparis and a dabal to the bride-to-be.  “If the Kazi returned back with the dabal that same day to the groom’s house it meant that the bride’s family would have to contribute financially for the bridal reception” says gurju. The “ifs and buts” with marriage were too many, I scribbled every detail of the in my notebook. I was an outsider to my own culture; the term marriage suddenly seemed mysterious. 

For instance, lakhmari which is considered a luxury among traditional sweets was an obscure metaphor used at weddings to garner dowry. The bride’s family would have to negotiate a heavier dowry if the groom’s family presented lakhmari to the bride on the day of gway biyegu. However, the bride’s family had the option of sharing the burden by dividing the lakhmari among their close relatives. “Anybody who would get a piece of the lakhmari had to contribute a little to the dowry fund”. 

Kalya bandhan   was another traditional marriage ceremony lost to time Deepak Gurju elaborates. On that day, the Kazi would go to the bride’s family with a family goldsmith (Sakya) and a farmer (Jyapyu). After the tutelary deity is worshipped at the bride’s home, the Sakya slips a silver kalya (bangle) onto the bride’s wrists. “The girl’s family cannot back out after this ceremony, the bangles signify the bond created the new family”. 

The wedding didn;t end here either; marriage ceremonies lasted well over a year. The whole community and the bride’s family would visit the bride’s new home with the Kazi to inquire whether she was happy. The bride’s family passes the 12 suparis to the groom’s family if they were satisfied.  “It’s called khwa sweyegu, these days it is arranged immediately after the marriage.”  

The role of the Kazi was important in terms of the supari he passed along between the two families. The bride gave away a supari and a sweet to the invitees telling them “I am being married” at the biha chweguh bhwey (bride’s reception) while the groom’s family arranged for another reception after wedding, where the bride gives away a supari  again, but this time telling the invitees “ I am a part of this family.” In both the celebrations, the Kazi takes a seat beside the bride.  The circling suparis in Newari marriages today is a reflection of the olden days when two families, often from different parts of the country, played out various ritualistic and metaphorical ceremonies designed to bring them closer. 

Deepak Gurju’s information was overwhelming; half of his shared knowledge has already waned with the changing seasons. Today Kazis or Lamis both are merely footnotes to ever changing marital trends. But I do hope when my time comes, it will be a genuine matchmaker who will make my match. I too will be demanding my 12 orbs of bliss.