Upaku Wonegu : A cultural pride of Kantipur

Most of the cultural glories in Nepal are sustained from ancestors and followed with full passion and devotion but we mildly remember why it is going on? It has become a tradition to follow it wisely since our forefathers had accepted it and so do we.


Upaku Wonegu is one of the most fascinating festivals exploring the art and culture that people experience in the valley. It is one of the examples that proudly supports the cultural richness that people hold. Though it is still in dilemma from when this tradition is the symbol of the Newa culture, people believe that this ongoing trend started from the Lichhavi Era. It can also be predicted that during the time of Pratap Malla, with the demise of his second eldest son Chakrabartendra Malla at young age initiated the system of going to parade i.e. Gai Jatra.

It can be believed that in the mid-sixteenth century, the culture of Upaku Wonegu came into existence in the Yen valley. Upaku Wonegu is the Newa term that defines the procession of the people in the outskirts i.e. border of the Kantipur Valley to remember their deceased and beloved ones by offering and lightning butter lamps at different religious shrines. Making a complete single religious cycle in the outskirts of the valley including current places like Bhimsenthan, Bhagwati Bahal, Kanga, Naradevi, Raktakali, Chhatrapati, Thahity, Jyatha, Kamalachi, Bhotahity, Maha Bauddha, Newroad Gate, Tebaha, Sundhara, Bagdurbar, Bhotebahal, Ganabahal, Lagan, Hyumata, Kohiti completes the Upaku route. The Upaku goers move with the prime objective to pray for the homage and respect and wish for the eternal peace of the departed soul.

With the population of the Newa being minimum in those times, the gods and goddesses along with the devils and demons in the form of evil souls also resides in this small town. Those are still popular in the names of “Kyaks and Daityas”. The offerings of the street lamps in the clay dishes on the roads is the symbol of sympathy, love, and kindness shown towards the lost lives wishing that the demise of the deceased souls would not be a burden for the society scaring and torturing people in the form of “Prets and Tiryakas” a form of evil soul searching salvation.

The tradition of offering Samayabaji in each of the locally established shrines of gods and goddesses is the other especiality of this sacred day. The Samayabaji consisting of different varieties like Chiura (beaten rice), sliced ginger, bhatmas ( fried dried soyabeans), spied potatoes, fried boiled eggs, spiced green spinach, bara followed by the oiled and massaged with masala ingredient i.e. Fish at the top of the Samayabaji is designed and orchestrated in each local temple. This adds joy and entertains the pilgrims during a procession. The competition is also seen among the different local units that whose Samayabaji stands out the best as each design needs separate skills to make it unique and distinct among the crowd. Nowadays, the tradition of keeping the head of buffalo is also seen to decorate Samayabaji. It remains a big question mark that is killing animals and showing off is done to make the locally established gods happy or is just a human excuse.

The melodious musical town, chanting of the religious documents, people walking around in group carrying the oil lamps and incense sticks, the beginning of Lakhe and Pulukishi Dance, Shova Bhaku, Mahankali Pyakha in the streets sets of a different atmosphere with everyone in the Jatra mood. It is also believed that Upaku Wonegu was initially carried out by the Newa community belonging to Sayamis (Manandhar), Uraya (Tuladhar, Kansakar, and others), Gurjus (Shakyas and Bajracharya), and Maharjan tribes and later was mixed with different other clans among Newa people. Upaku Woengu is the beginning of the Indra Jatra festival and a unique symbol of the livelihood of the people living in the valley, their duties, and their responsibilities towards their family members and society as a whole. Society was advanced and skilled long ago. The development of art and architecture, culture, and religion was seen in those generations, and still, we are searching for an advanced form of development. The Corona Virus pandemic had canceled this epic festival in 2020 which is perhaps the rare occurrence in the history of Nepal. The people had lost their existence in the name of development with the overexploitation of cultural heritage that our ancestors established. Who would have known that this might be the consequences of those actions of pushing human civilization more than they deserve?

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