Humla Nyimba mens' ceremonial coat

The Book

Everyday Treasures of Nepal
--The Art of Purposeful Living
By Judith Conant Chase

    “I am a Nyinba greatcoat, woven of the finest black Tibetan-sheep wool, embellished by the
    appliqué of hundreds of small strips of bright cotton stitched onto the wool cloth, symbols of
    sky, mountains, water. The men wind long cummerbunds around my waist. For the most
    significant of occasions, such as weddings and the spring dance of Mani, I am worn with high
    embroidered and patch-worked boots.
    I dance Mani with the men in the fallow fields between the villages, each masked to enact
    different characters in the story of an ancient king of Tibet. I wear the mask of the jester, of
    course.  In the depths of the canyon a thousand feet below us is hidden the Humla Karnali
    River. The snow peaks rise even more distant above. I dance, drink, and laugh at the edge of
    the earth. I hear poignant songs of pilgrimage, about the sweetness of the old days, and of
    feasts on the rooftops under the mountains and stars.”
    Each object is an intimate and essential part of a family, precious and personal, like a close
    friend or relative, part of a community, ethnic culture, and spiritual tradition. Ritual tools and
    images, women’s ceremonial ornaments and exceptional vessels, which have been kept in
    the family for generations, acquire extraordinary energy and are especially revered.
    Enlivened by years of purposeful action in household and ritual life, objects often develop
    their own aura.  Affection for such precious belongings permeates each home.  The objects
    enhance and distinguish their lives.

    For the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley everyday objects are so vital that each one is
    related to a particular aspect of divine being.  During the construction of a new home, the
    priests conduct a remarkable ceremony which emphasizes the divine nature of each
    component of the construction from cornerstone to roof top. Within this home, the household
    utensils-----as manifestation of deities---- are each called upon to bless the new home.

    “The broom is Braahmani, the winnowing basket is Mahesvari, the grindstone is Kaumari and
    its stone roller, Vaisnavi; the pestle is Varahi, the mortar is Indraanii, the big earthen water
    pot is Caamunda; the long-necked drinking water vessel is Mahalaksmi.”  

    In crossing the threshold into a home, we enter a sacred space which every vessel and
    utensil shares.
Newar wooden chest with birds

    Here are some excerpts from the book, to be published in the near future.  The book
    complements the collection in the museum.  All text and photos C. Judith Chase

    I spent 18 years walking throughout the countryside of the mountains and plains and living in
    the Kathmandu Valley.  I followed hints to visit a rare group of people in one place and
    accepted an invitation to visit a hidden valley in another.  It continued to be a great
    adventure, roaming off for weeks or months. Journeying out with one porter, I often returned
    with three or four, as I collected smoky wooden milk churns, greatcoats and masks, Tharu
    baskets and fishing nets and Raute storage boxes.   Often I revisited the same area to stay
    with the same family for a special ceremony or a local pilgrimage.    I photographed and
    documented domestic and ceremonial objects.  I studied their ways of manufacture, the ways
    that they were used in the home, in rituals, in ceremonies. This was the outer view, the outer
    process.  Beyond photos, information and objects, I was allowed a glimpse of other ways of
    being in this world, ways still intimately connected with place, all ultimately based on a deep
    connection with the divine nature of all life.