Honour thy mother and thy ancestral heritage
Tilak Lama (Lopchan)
Cultural tourism is now the buzzword for profit not only among tourism experts but also among tourism entrepreneurs. It is because of a substantial increment in attraction towards the culture and people of developing countries, where age-old traditions and cultural activities are still intact and practiced in their original forms. Nepal being the country of hugely diverse ethnic groups, numerous festivals abound right through the year. In fact, every other day is a festival here in Nepal. This is our incomparable asset in terms of tourist attractions and is unique in the world. One such popular religious festival would be “Singun Ngya” or “Temal
Jatra” that takes place in the two UNESCO world heritage sites in the valley - the Boudha Stupa and Swayambhu. This ritual festival is popular among Buddhists and, especially, among the Tamang ethnic communities.
Chanting hymns of holy mantras by the priests (lamas) and offering butter lamps, food, drinks, fruits, etc. punctuated with ritual musical performance in memory of ones’ ancestors are some of the most important practices for Tamang, one of the biggest group of indigenous people who are devout Buddhists in Nepal. A strong belief is that the rituals performed in this way help acquiring peace of mind and attaining religious merit. Such rituals take place especially on full moon days in monasteries, stupas and other Buddhist holy places. One such ritual performed with big fanfare is Singun Ngya that takes place in Boudha (Jyalung Khasyor) and Swayambhu (Phapa Singun). On the full moon day of Chaitra, April 24 (Baisakh 11) this year, the special rituals performed by hundreds of Tamang lamas take place in Swayambhu and on the preceding day in Boudha in the same manner. This festival is also called “Temal Jatra” by Tamangs of other regions. Temal within the Tamang ethnic group is regarded as
the centre of rich Tamang culture and tradition. The place is the hilly region between Sunkoshi and Roshi rivers lying south east of Kavre district. Temal was a separate Tamang Kingdom until the formation of modern Nepal. The people from Temal call the festival
“Singun Ngya” or “ Chaita Ngya” or even “Boudha Jatra”. Swayambhu among them is better known as “ Singun” or “Simbu”.
Due to lack of proper records and data, it has not yet been ascertained exactly since when the festival started. However, Temal festival is believed to have been celebrated since ancient times. According to a Buddhist historical story, the festival can also be related to the sowing of lotus seed on full moon day of Chaitra by Bipashyi Buddha and later the origin of the holy flame and Swayambhu on that very lotus. This way the Singun Ngya has a religious significance in terms of Buddhism and the origin of Kathmandu valley, too. Another folktale has it: the last king of Temal - Renzin Dorje had organized a grand ceremony on the auspicious occasion of completion of the Boudha Stupa construction and the people from the area continued the traditional ceremony as Boudha or Temal Jatra and Singun Ngya. Apparently the festival seemed to derive its name - “Temal” from the Tamang kingdom of Temal, which has the credit of initiating the festival.
Pilgrims of all ages take part in the ritual and they come from far away mountainous villages braving long strenuous walks. This festival is very important for them to perform rituals in the memory of their past ancestors especially fathers, mothers and other loved ones. Hundreds of lamas perform the rituals separately for different groups of pilgrims. The memory of their loved ones becomes so strong and afresh that many are seen with heavy hearts and wet eyes taking part in the ritual. The ritual is called ‘Ngowa’. It is widely believed that the rituals performed in Swayambhu help pilgrims to pay tribute to their late mothers and similarly the rituals in Boudha to their late fathers. Nevertheless, the rituals are also meant for peaceful rest of soul of all their ancestors. On the preceding full moon day, thousands of Tamang devotees gather around Boudha Stupa with great enthusiasm. The whole crowd flows clockwise circumventing the main Stupa. Continuous rituals in different small groups take place around the Stupa and also in numerous nearby monasteries. At the completion of the rituals, food, drinks etc. are served to the Lamas, relatives and friends. Offerings in cash and kinds are also made especially to youngsters since it is believed that the offerings made here will reach one’s ancestors ultimately. The giant Boudha Stupa is illuminated whole night with hundreds of thousands of butter lamps. Youngsters, in their merrymaking mood, also sing songs in typical Tamang Dohori style. The same process continues next day that always falls on the full moon day in Swayambhu, too.
Every festival like Singun Ngya in Nepal has religious and spiritual significance. Attending or observing such festivals would leave a positive impact on not only the pilgrims but also other holidaymakers. The annual calendar of all festivals has to be prepared and promoted in international markets by Nepal Tourism Board in cooperation with other related tourism associations. Individual member agencies should also be made aware of such festivals so that their touring clients have a chance to observe the festival taking place at the time. Of course, precautionary measures have to be taken to minimize negative impact on our culture and tradition. Making cultural tourism vibrant can also contribute to preservation of our heritage sites and sustaining the cultural activities. More cultural tourists will also stabilize our seasonality in the tourist arrivals. Nepal being the birthplace of Lord Buddha and having many Buddhist holy sites, a meaningful effort in this direction can also strengthen Nepal’s position in the context of promoting the first and new South Asian Package - “Buddhist Circuit” encompassing Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and India with the support of UNDP.