KATHMANDU: Food and culture are closely associated. In our culture, each food item has a special significance with a particular celebration or festivity. There is always some kind of special treat waiting to delight those who celebrate that particular festival.
And Yomari is one such delicacy that has close ties with different festivals especially of the Newar community.
Dhanya Purnima or Yomari Puni is one festival associated with Yomari that is just around the corner. The festival occurs every year on Mangsir Shukla Purnima according to the lunar calendar and this year it falls on December 28. The farmer caste of the Newar community like Maharjan, Dangol, et cetera also celebrate Jyapu Diwas (Day) on this day.
Dhanya Purnima or Yomari Puni is celebrated by the people of the Newar community. According to cultural expert, Dr Chunda Bajracharya, legend has it that once a very poor couple lived in Panauti. Goddess Laxmi felt pity at their condition and went to their home along with God Kuber. The couple greeted them with honour and gratitude and let the god and goddess eat Yomari as they did not have anything else to serve.
The gods were pleased to have Yomari. Then the goddess told the couple to keep all the remaining Yomari and a fruit bimiro inside the bhakari (storehouse of grains) and left their house. Next day they saw that the fruit and Yomari had turned into gold. As such the couple didn’t have to worry about anything afterwards.
It was since then that Newars started celebrating Dhanya Purnima or Yomari Puni with much fanfare and merrymaking.
It is the day when all the grains are stored from the field and the day to worship Goddess Annapurna — one of the incarnations of Goddess Laxmi. “It is believed that if one worships Goddess Annapurna during this time, the person does not have to worry about lack of food,” shares Dr Bajracharya.
On this day, you can see children singing a song and asking for Yomari in their neighbourhood. The song describes Yomari and provides blessings on the households that offer Yomari to them, as per Dr Bajracharya.
Yomari : significance
Yomari is a special kind of dish that is prepared on the day of Yomari Puni. It is made of rice flour, sesame seed and chaku. In Newari, Yo means very much liked, and mari means bread. As such Yomari means a bread much liked by everyone.
Sharing more about this dish, Dr Bajracharya states, “The Yomari has a shape like a Chaitya,” adding, “It is an auspicious food that signifies
goodness.” Moreover, Yomari Puni is all about respecting agricultural products along with a feeling of giving and adjusting to the environment, as per Dr Bajracharya where during this period the weather is very chilly and there is need for much heat.
And here comes the need of Yomari. Dr Bajracharya points out, “The ingredients used in it help to generate heat in the body. Moreover, Yomari signifies five elements needed for a life where the white colour of Yomari signifies sky and water, sesame seed stands for earth, hollowness inside the Yomari represents air and chaku symbolises energy.”
As such not only on this day, but be it a birthday or inauguration of a new house or janko (celebration organised for elderly people) or Ratha Jatra and more, this delicacy is served to everyone in the Newar community.
The unique taste of this delicacy is one factor that makes Yomari popular these days.
One of 27-year-old Suman Manandhar’s favourite dishes is Yomari because “it is the best food to eat during winter and I like the soft delicate texture and its chewiness. Yomari is special and unique as it has a certain design”.
Besides that because this dish is eaten during festivals, “family ties have become more stronger as we make and eat the dish together with the family”.
Forty-six year-old Indu Shrestha, who has been celebrating the festival since years adds, “It’s all about happiness where we are able to sit together with family and friends and enjoy each other’s company.”
Manandhar feels eating Yomari in festivals like Yomari Puni is a really good way to preserve our culture. “We must protect our culture and to let the new generation know about our culture, this kind of festival is celebrated where relatives are invited and we spend time with them which makes the relation much stronger between each other.”