Marrying A Fruit

Apr 26, 2014 | Nepal

newari ihi

While in Kathmandu between trips, I happened upon a ubiquitous and yet unusual Newari ritual: marriage of young girls to a bael fruit. Yes, full marriage regalia–clothes, jewelry, ceremony–to wed a fruit. But it all makes sense…

Hindus have a traditional practice of sati, women throwing themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands. Newari people are indigenous to the the Kathmandu Valley and they have a rich culture with unique foods, language, and customs. Traditionally the finest artisans in the Himalayas, they were influenced by many peoples and traditions through trade. They practice elements of both Hinduism and Buddhism.

Now, the bael fruit is unusual in that it will sit for years, decades, without rotting. Newaris evolved a practice of marrying their young daughters to this fruit, which represents Lord Vishnu, and which never dies. Later in life, if a Newari woman’s husband dies, she does not commit sati, because she is still married to her first husband, the god Vishnu. I believe this was a means of protecting Newari girls from suffering the fate of their Indian neighbors as Hinduism spread into the Himalayas. How’s that for cultural adaptation?

Newari girls aged ~5-10 are still regularly married to the bael fruit in this ceremony, and they keep the fruit in their homes throughout their lives. The girls pictured above and below are eating the feast after the ceremony.

newari ihi 2