A month-long Gunla festival, one of the major festivals of the Newar Buddhist community began from today. During the festival, Newar Buddhists recite scriptures, observe fast and visit places of worship playing devotional music. A fair is held at Swayambhu during the festival.The Swayambhunath Area Development Committee has made arrangements of medical and drinking water facilities for the convenience of devotees visiting the Swayambhunath Stupa to observe the fair, committee general secretary Mahendra Ratna Buddhacharya said.
According to culture expert Hari Ram Joshi, devotees visit Changunarayan, Bangalamukhi, Swayambhunath, Bijeshwori, Shova Bhagwati, Maruganesh, Janabahal, Suryabinayak and Dattatraya temples during the holy month. On the last day of the festival they visit Bungamati, Karyabinayak, Jalbinayak and Adityanath temples.
“Our cultural traditions are on the verge of extinction. However, such festivals bring the old and the new generation together,” said Asta Ram Prajapati, a local of Madhyapur Thimi. “The government should promote and protect such festivals,” he added.
According to cultural expert Hari Ram Joshi, the festival is celebrated on the ninth month of the Nepal Sambat calendar. He said, “From the full moon day of the ninth month of Nepal Sambat, the festival is celebrated for a month.”
Different traditional musical instruments are played in different places of Kathmandu during the festival. The instruments are called Gunla in Newari.
Devotees form groups and go on pilgrimage. Joshi informed that these groups visit Changunarayan, Bangalamukhi, Swoyambhunath, Bijeshwori, Shova, Bhagwati, Maruganesh, Janabahal, Suryabinayak and Dattatraya temples on Nag Panchami, Janai Purnima and Krishna Janmasthami.
On the last day, they visit Bungamati, Karyabinayak, Khokana, Jalbinayak, Chovar and Adityanath temples.
Gunla is a holy month for Newar Buddhists when they recite the scriptures, observe fasts and visit places of worship playing devotional music. It is one of the most important events in Newar Buddhism. The practice of observing the sacred month is descended from the rains retreat dating from the Buddha's time when monks stayed in one place and taught the Dharma.
Devotees mark the holy month by making daily early morning pilgrimages to Swayambhu in Kathmandu and other Buddhist temples playing Gunla Bajan music. The musical bands represent various localities of the city.
The devout recite the scriptures at home and sacred courtyards. Some undergo fasting. Another devotional activity during Gunla is Dyah Thāyegu (द्यः थायेगु) when devotees make little stupas out of black clay using a mold.On the first day of the second fortnight of Gunla, large images of the Dipankara Buddha and paubha paintings are put on display in sacred courtyards. The ceremony is known as Bahidyah Bwayegu (बहीद्यः ब्वयेगु).
On this day in a festival known as Bahidyah Swahwanegu (बहीद्यः स्वःवनेगु), the musical bands followed by residents of the locality visit the sacred courtyards in a procession to view the exhibits. The festival occurs on the day after the full moon and coincides with the Gai Jatra festival. Another major day for Gunla Bajan societies is the ceremony of Nisala Chhawanegu (निसला छाःवनेगु) when they make offerings to Swayambhu, and hold Gunla Bajan concerts at one's neighborhoods.
Matayā (मतया:) (meaning "light procession" in Nepal Bhasa) is one of the most important religious celebrations in Lalitpur. The festival celebrates the event when the Buddha overcame Mara, or temptation, and attained the light of wisdom.
Devotees visit Buddhist shrines and sacred courtyards in the city in a winding file and offer worship to the images. The participants also consist of musical bands and actors dressed in colorful costumes. The circuitous festival route takes the whole day to complete.
Societies based on locality or caste, in which membership is hereditary, organize Gunla Bajan performances. These groups follow an annual calendar of public performances. They also conduct music lessons and hold religious festivals, hymn singing sessions and feasts.
The most important activity of the year is making daily pilgrimages during Gunla to Swayambhu and other Buddhist sites playing Gunla music. The main days during the holy month are Bahidyah Swahwanegu (बहीद्यः स्वःवनेगु), when devotees playing Gunla music visit sacred courtyards to view the images of Bahidyah (Dipankara Buddha) and paubha paintings put on display for the festival and Nisala Chhawanegu (निसला छा:वनेगु), when offerings are made to Swayambhu and concerts are held at one's neighborhoods. Gunla musical bands also lead processions during New Year's Day of Nepal Sambat.
A performance of Gunla music starts with Dyah Lhayegu, a short salutation to the deities. Separate pieces of music are played when marching in procession, going around a shrine and crossing a bridge. These are known as Lawantah, Chwoh, Graha, Astar, Palimaa and Partaal.
During processions, musicians usually play the tunes of seasonal songs or other traditional songs backed by drums and cymbals. Tunes of modern hits are also played. Gwara is a long piece of music which is played in temple squares and sacred courtyards with the musicians standing in a circle. It is 15 to 20 minutes long. The popular ones are Annapurna Gwara, Swetkali Gwara and Sangin Gwara.
The double-sided drum known as "dhaa" (धा:), which is the main instrument in Gunla music, is believed to have been played in the Kathmandu Valley for 2,000 years. It is struck on the left side with a short stick and on the right side with the hand. Trumpets and clarinets are used to play the tune. Originally, local wind instruments known as "mwahali" (म्वाहालि) and "basuri" (बासुरि) provided the tune.
The other instruments used are "taa" (ता:) and "bhusya" (भुस्या:), small and large cymbals respectively. The "naykhin" (नायखिं) small drum and "chhusya" (छुस्या:) cymbals form a separate set of instruments. The "payentah" (पंयता:) is a long trumpet.