nepal, lamp, light, dark, sukunda, buddhism, hinduism, religion

Is there a genie in the lamp?

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Asia

The Newars is one of the more than 130 ethnic groups in the republic of Nepal. In fact, they are considered to be the indigenous population of the Kathmandu Valley. For a number of reasons, the Newari community has attracted attention since the first Westerners arrived in Nepal in the early 1950s. Among these was the Danish archaeologist Werner Jacobsen, who lived in Nepal for two years.

He witnessed how not only the Newari Hindus were stratified according to caste affiliations – so were the Newari Buddhists. The religious traditions and worldview of the Newars in general was – and is still – a fusion between Hinduism and Buddhism. Although there still are particular Buddhist and Hindu shrines and temples, all Newars access all shrines and temples – if their caste affiliation is accordingly.

What they all share, however, is the use of the Sukunda – an oil lamp, which is used in rituals; and especially the central morning Pooja. The Sukunda is one amongst a plethora of highly decorated ritual vessels, which are used by both Hindus and Buddhists in the Newar community. It is basically an oil lamp lit at the commencement of any religious or cultural festival. Oil lamps such as this one are made of cast alloy, and come in various sizes depending on their use, and a few variations in design according to where they are made.

The philosophy pertaining to this ritual vessel is connected to the origin of the Kathmandu Valley, which was initially a lake millions of years ago. This lake was the abode of various serpent gods. According to mythology, the valley was drained by the gods to make it habitable to mankind. The pot is considered to be the lake and the snake hood the protector deity, and thus the lamp denotes the beginning of civilization and the presence of Lord Ganesha, who brings prosperity and well-being to all. Every Newar household owns a Sukunda. The oil lamp is lit at the beginning of any cultural or religious festivals. The lamp is supposed to light up the physical space as well as impart positive energy to all present.

The Sukunda will most likely be exhibited in an exhibition in Moesgaard Museum, which is planned to open February 1 2019. Hopefully, the genie will present itself during the exhibition…

//Ulrik Høj Johnsen

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