Beli Bibah: A unique ‘orthodox’ practice ahead of its time
Every community has its age-old cultural and religious traditions that make them unique. One such is the ‘Beli Bibah’ of the Newar (Pradhan) community. This traditional ritual remains one of the oldest religious practices of the said community and is celebrated with much pomp and gaiety until today.
What is Beli Bibah?
The term comes from ‘Bel’ which mean the wood apple fruit and ‘Bibah’ meaning marriage.
As per the Newari tradition, once their girl child attains any odd age (5 or 7 or 9 or 11) between the age of 4-11 years (before she reaches puberty), she is to be married to the Bel. The said fruit which is regarded as her husband symbolises Lord Vishnu.
During the marriage ceremony, the bride (the little girl) is dressed in glittering bridal traditional costume comprising of an ankle-length skirt, blouse and a shawl. Ornaments and a red tika on her forehead complete her bridal look.
The belief behind the Beli Bibah tradition
This marriage custom is believed to be performed to save the girl child from various dangers and most importantly, to protect her from widowhood. It is believed that since the girl is married to the God, the death of her mortal human spouse (later) cannot deprive her of her married status and make her a widow. The tradition may be old and orthodox, but it has been ahead of its time as it also gives the girl the right to remarry even after divorce. This, in a way, makes the practice unique, for it favours the women’s right to remain happy and start a new life even after a failed marriage.
It is also believed that the girl will be blessed with fertility and prosperity.
How the Beli Bibah is conducted?
Bel Bibah is usually done in a group where more than one girl is married to each Bel. The fruit must be ripe and rich without any damage. It is believed that if the fruit is damaged, then the bride is destined to have an unfaithful mortal husband later in life, following which her future may turn ugly. The rituals are performed by Newari priests who are referred to as Gubhaju and Deobhaju.
The Beli Bibah is usually performed during the Akshaya Tritiya in the month of Baisakh as per the Nepali calendar. It is a two days ceremony which begins with the purification rituals followed by kanyadaan.
On the first day, known as Dusala Kriya, the girl bride has to undergo ritual purification which is followed by Pith Puja. Different Gods and Goddesses are worshipped and also the deceased ancestors are remembered by offering pinda.
The second day is considered important as it involves kanyadaan, a ritual of an offering of the girl to Lord Vishnu, also known as Subarna Kumar, by the girl’s parents. The custom of Sinchu Phaegu or putting vermilion or on the girl’s forehead is also performed followed by presenting new clothes. She is also offered three times a handful of rice by her relatives. The auspicious celebrations conclude with feasting on traditional cuisines.
As per the Newari tradition and culture, normally, a Newari girl marries thrice in her life. The first being the Beli Bibah. The second is with the Sun and the third is with a mortal human.
Beli Bibah in recent days
The tradition of Bel Bibah is still practised by the Newar community. Though there may have been some changes in the customs as per the changing times, the basic beliefs are still intact and its importance valued.