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Daphne Paper and Nepalese Tradition

written by Marina Vaptzarova March 3, 2018
www.mayshadmag.com
Marina Vaptzarova

By Marina Vaptzarova

Marina Vaptzarova is a designer of sustainable luxury creating vibrant and inventive collections entirely handmade in Nepal.

Daphne paper speaks volumes and millennia of traditions covered. It features in Hindu & Buddhist traditions with links to the monsoon & rain. The fascinating and sustainable handmade Daphne paper plays a prominent role in Nepalese tradition.

NAG PANCHAMI

Nepal’s dependence on monsoon rain continues to intensify in agriculture, spirituality, social culture and art. In today’s modern life and ongoing threats from natural disasters and climate changes, this dependence is equally evident. 

On the fifth day of the month Shravan according to the Hindu calendar (celebrated this year on 27th July 2017), in Nepalese culture the role of the nāga is heightened. The nāgas, snake spirits found in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, guard the essence of life: water. Hindu devotees feed and worship the nāgas by offering prayers and not digging the earth during this time. It is believed nāgas are only malevolent when mistreated and are susceptible to mankind’s disrespectful actions in relation to the environment.

Often depicted in imagery with the Hindu god Vishnu, a giant seven-headed cobra (Śeṣanāga – king of the nāgas) coils around the god and protects him as he awaits the creation of life. Since cobras are typically found in paddy fields, where they eat rodents and other pests, it is believed that the presence of a cobra signifies a rich harvest to come. Devotees customarily place this image above the doors to their homes. The image was traditionally meticulously hand-painted or block-printed on handmade Daphne paper.

The Jātaka tales in Buddhism also embrace snake worship. In this Buddhist literature it is claims that serpents gathered in the garden to help with the birth of Siddhartha, the Nepalese prince who later became Buddha. Just as the naga guards the sleeping Vishnu, here it is said to protect Buddha while he sleeps near a well. 

IHI CEREMONY

In Nepal, Daphne paper is used in other traditions and festivals. A peculiar instance is during ihi” ceremony, also known as Bhel Biha (Bhel Marriage). This is the first of three marriages Newari girls have in their lifetime! 

Newari young girls are given away in marriage to a deity represented by the bhel fruit (an imperishable fruit borne from the Bhel tree  Aegle marmelos). According to Hindu Tradition, this marriage will give the girl immunity from the consequences of widowhood. This first symbolic marriage is regarded as permanently valid, irrespective of later contracted marriage. In the same way as the bhel fruit never rots! 

During the ceremony, auspicious symbols which are block-printed on Daphne paper is tied to the little girl’s head. She is supposed to carry the print for the next 24 hours.

Daphne paper has played a vital role in recording spiritual ceremonies and teachings for centuries. A Senior Tibetan Lama describes this to me in a previous article, The Paper Pilgrimage. 

This amazing Daphne paper is truly amazing! It has so many fascinating uses and forms. From ritual cards used in Buddhist death ceremonies to Astrology charts (an ancient and still an active practice today) and paintings to headache cures!

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