We know there has been a lot of talks about the different types of New Year that people in Nepal celebrate. It seems like each culture has its own New year of some sort, be it Rai, Tamang, or Newari. Here we will talk about the Nepal Sambat – the year of the Newari people. Fun fact is why this is called Nepal Sambat instead of Newari Sambat or Newa: Sambat is the true name of the Newari people. They are called the Newa: people and not Newari in their own language. Along with that their language is called Nepa: Bhasa and not Newari.
The term Newari is said to make it easier for general people to say. This is the main reason. Along with that in ancient times, Nepal was considered to be just the Kathmandu Valley as well so that has to do a lot with the Newari year being called Nepal Samat as well. So with the base covered let’s go to the list, shall we?
1: Who started it and when?
Currently, Nepal Sambat is in the year 1140. This is behind Bikram Sambat which is in the year 2077. Why is this? Well, it is because Bikram Sambat is the year which follows the Royal Family, the Shaha, and not the Newari people.
Back to the Nepal Sambat, this was started in 881Ad by Sankhadhar Sakhwa. It is not that Newari people didn’t exist before then though. One of the main theories behind why Nepal was started is still unknown with most theories behind them, none among which are proven. All we know for sure is that this was proposed by Sabkhadhar Sakhwa. With the help of the top astrologer at that time, this was approved by the kings of all three states within Kathmandu Valley to be accepted as their official date system along with a few from outside the valley as well. This means that this dating system was not exclusive to Newari people and spread to Tibet as well.
Fun fact is that Nepal Sambat was still in official use till 1769AD. This was then discontinued by the late king Prithvi Narayan Shah after the conquest.
Unknown to many is that Nepal Sambat is a continuation and a variant of Saka Sambat. Saka Sambat is one of the traditional Hindu years. According to the legend it was discontinued and transformed into Nepal Sambat in its year 802 due to the fear of the number 804.
2: The months of Nepal Sambat
Just like each year system has its own monthly system, the Nepal Sambat also has its own. Unlike most of the year systems, the days here are counted in Lunar days. If you know a bit about lunar days, you should know that it is not good to make an accurate calendar. The reason being the moon does not have a specific day when it completes its cycles. This leads to a year not being a predictable 365 days if you follow that system to the fault. This means that a few days are leftover.
To counter the Nepal Sambat has a 13th month every 3 years. No, the number 13 is not unlucky in Newari culture or even Nepali Culture for that matter.
So lets know the months and their corresponding Gregorian months shall we?
Kachha la (कछला) – November
Thin la (थिंला) – December
Pohela (पोहेला) – January
Silla (सिल्ला) – February
Chilla (चिल्ला) -March
Chaula (चौला) – April
Bachhala (बछला)- May
Tachhala ( तछला) – June
Dilla ( दिल्ला) – July
Gunla ( गुंला) – August
Yanla ( ञंला) – September
Kaula ( कौला) – October
As for the thirteenth month, it falls between October and November every three years and it is known as Analaa (अनाला). This means that as per Nepal Sambat we are in yanla of 1140 N.S. Also, this month has its own festival called Yalasi.
3: Who was Sankhadhar Sakhwa?
Now with the loss of the ancient documents and the proof, there is no certainty on who he was. However, historians agree that he was the leader of some form in the kingdom of Nepal valley in that time period. Despite this everyone agrees that he was filthy rich. In that time, the kingdom of Nepal valley was supposed to be in debt from the Tibetans. Using the wealth that Sankhadhar Sakhwa had collected, he is said to have paid the debt. He is said to have collected gold from the river Bishnumati.
From the data collected, it is speculated that he freed the Nepa People from the region of King Raghav Dev. He was a Thakuri king who was likely to be the one to start the rule of the Thakuris and the end of Lichchhavis. This was likely done by freeing the Nepa people from the debt of the Tibetians. Due to this the Thakuri’s gained power and a New year was started to celebrate this occasion. The one who contributed the most was the man known as Sankhadhar Sakhwa. He is thought to have been of a low caste despite his riches.
4:Nepal Sambat and Mallas.
It is a common thing to relate Mallas to the Nepal Sambat as they were the last kings of the Valley before the conquest. Considering they are called Newari in modern times, it is not anyone’s fault to think that. But the thing is, the Mallas never called themselves Newari in those days. The word Newar itself is a new word. If we search the documents, the old documents only show the word Nepami which is what people of the Kathmandu Valley used to call themselves. Given the fact that the Kathmandu Valley was called Nepa Deh in the olden times, it is not a surprise. The word Newar came around 1652 AD.
It is widely believed that just like Bikram Sambat that is believed to have been started with king Vikramaditya, Nepal Sambat also started with the Mallas. Now the matter of Bikram Sambat is also up to debate but we will talk about that some other time. The point is, Nepal Sambat is not associated with the Mallas.
The reason for that is, Nepal Sambat was here for around 321 years before the Malls ruled this valley. Most likely this was started from the end of Lichchhavis Dynasty.
5: When is the New Year of Nepal Sambat?
If you are a Newari, you probably already know this. For those who don’t know when this is celebrated, it is on the day of Goverdhan Puja. For Newari People that will be on the day of Mha Puja as Newari people celebrate Mha puja Instead of Goverdhan Puja.
Each member of the Newari family sits in a row to worship themselves. Now while this may seem narcissistic, it really is not. The worshipping of themselves is the celebration of two things at the same time. The first thing is the celebration of being alive and worshipping the god within them. This is a belief that stems from the Hindu belief of each person having a god and a demon within them. So this way the Newari people please the god to suppress the demon further. This also acts as a morale boost
The other reason is connected to the Nepal Sambat. The Mha puja is also celebrated to celebrate the freedom that the Newari people gained from the debt of Tibet. They celebrate the freed soul of their ancestor by worshipping themselves as they believe that the soul of the past ancestor still lives within them.
Think about it for yourself though, every celebration in Tihar is the same as other cultures apart from Mha puja. And it falls in the New Year. This is a bit too perfect to be a mere coincidence even if you think logically.
If you are curious about Newari Culture, why don’t you check our list of 10 Newari cultures here
Also you can check out a detailed article on Indra Jatra as well. Just click our link here