Conservation of baha and bahi of patan article

The open spaces of the Kathmandu valley including Baha, bahi, chuka, Nani are the essential part of medieval town-development. These are the characteristic features of the three cities, Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. The Baha and bahi are the religious courtyards of the newer Buddhists where they practice their monastic lifestyle. The Baha and bahi can be distinguished with its architecture, shrines and its practices. This monasterie sare collectively termed as ‘vihara’ in the Sanskrit this day, the shrines and chaityas around this courts are worshipped along with the continuity of different religious practices. The members of these viharas are shakyas and bajracharyas, who form a priestly stratum as the head of newar Buddhist society.

The community of Newar Buddhists forms a social organization called Guthi, which is responsible for the maintenance and sustainability of the Baha and bahi. The members also worship the main shrine cyclically, generally for a week. This has not only helped to sustain the centuries-old tradition but also have aided in the maintenance of the vihara premises.

Nhyakanbahi and Kwa Baha are most active viharas in Patan. The funds for the renovation and maintenance of Nhyankabahi was raised by Guthi members voluntarily and have replaced the jhingati tiles (traditional Nepali roof tiles), damaged wooden columns, and rafters. They have recently added an idol of ‘Namsangati’ inside since the recitation of ‘Namsangati’ has been a part of their weekly liturgy.

Along with the Guthi, there has recently been active participation from groups of women known as ‘MisaPucha’ representing particular Baha or bahi. Their participation is seen in various activities of the vihara and other religious and political events too. These groups have helped empower women through different workshops, training, and exposure to the socio-political scenario of the state. Most importantly women have started coming out of their houses to participate in these activities and also having their voices heard. These Baha and bahi have become a platform for these events. Similarly, the intangible aspects of the heritage are also preserved with the teaching of traditional musical instruments and dances to the younger generation in the vihara complex.

Monthly hymns on the first day of the month (lunar calendar) are rigorously recited. Different Buddhist events around the year are followed with much dedication. For if their socio-economic status reminisce the first alms of Buddha and the significance of charity and donation. Also, in the month of Gunla(August-September), these viharas are full of life with Newar Buddhistsreciting scriptures accompanied with traditional instruments. It is observed instance, Paancha Daan is a great event, where the members of the Guthi ask for alms around the vihara regardless that despite the drastic change in the lifestyle and profession, the devotion is unwavering. Though the interest has been dwindling among the younger generation, efforts are being made to include them in different events.

It is so that, in order to become a member of a Baha or bahi, one must be the son of a previous member by Shakya or Bajracharya parents. The boy goes through an initiation ritual in which he becomes a monk for four days, wears monastic robes, receives alms from relatives and friends, and then on the fourth day, returns his robe to the priest and is initiated into the path of the Buddhist householder. But many times there has been a culture of ousting the member in the name of defilement if he marries a woman of a different caste. Intercaste marriage may have been the best way to sustain the suppressed and dying religion under the Hinduautocracy at that time. But today, with the nation declared as secular and the right to choose any religion, the issue of inter-caste marriage should have been out of the question. Still, this is the practice in many of the Baha and bahi of Kathmandu valley. Nevertheless, there has been a major change in the past few decades with the allowance of other castes in Kwa Baha to perform the rituals of becoming a monk in the premises.

Kwa Baha, famously known as theGolden Temple is one of the most visited sites by locals and tourists alike. It is the largest organization with close to 5000 members and also one of the rarest viharas where the centuries-old traditions are reiterated meticulously. Unlike in other viharas, the priests are appointed for a month and have to adhere to the regulations of the monastery. Here, the Holy Scripture, Pragya-Paramita, the Perfection of wisdom in eight thousand lines, has been preserved here since ancient times and is frequently recited, by Bajracharya priests. It is a common practice of local people to commit such a recitation, either when a member of the family is ill or on an auspicious occasion, such as a wedding.

The main bahas, with the fairly large number of members, takes turns for organizing and managing big events like Buddha Jayanti, Mataya and other professions. It is clear that with the active participation and inclusion of the members in various events, the significance of these viharas is preserved. But most viharas in the valley are in the dilapidated state since the original inhabitants have deserted the place and moved to places with better facilities and lifestyle. For instance, Mikha Baha near Nakabahil, the houses around the viharas are either in dilapidated state or are rented by people who have no affiliation with the vihara.

There are hundreds of Baha and bahi in Patan itself, all these come alive during the festival of Mataya mostly in August, where people walk around more than a thousand chaityas in Patan. People who belong to the viharas stand beside the chaityas as the representative of the viharas and receive the offerings by the pilgrims. As the city continues to grow, it is a challenge to create a balance between space, resources, and development. But it is encouraging to see that the social organizations have been dedicating themselves to the conservation of the heritage, both tangible and intangible .

Subcribe to our Newsletter

Our main focus is to make our readers aware through our monthly issues which come up with different themes that are dedicated to different sectors, trends and events.