When Krishna Shwori Duwal heard that the Bhaktapur Municipality was holding a Yomari Fest at Dattatreya Square last year, she was first confused. First, the date announced by the municipality would be a day after Yomari Punhi meaning everyone would have celebrated and made yomaris at their home. “I was questioning if the fest would even do well. And if I should even participate.”
Despite the hesitation, Duwal led the 22-member Dattatreya Mayju Pucha, upon the municipality’s request. “We started preparations in the eve and got everything ready for some 250 plates. But we were busy all day preparing for 200 more as the fest was visited by so many people, and more by the domestic tourists.”
“The preparations were enjoyed by everyone, and the festivities continued throughout the entire day. People interacted with each other, sharing and selling the samaybaji plates they had prepared. I felt this event was a grand success.”
After last year’s success, Bhaktapur Municipality is gearing up to hold another edition of the Yomari Fest this year. According to the ward 9 chair Rabindra Jyakhwo, the event will be grander and more inclusive this time, with more participation and exposure to the city’s art and culture.
But like last year, Yomari Fest will be held four days after Yomari Punhi (today), on a Saturday (December 30).
What’s new at Yomari Fest 2023?
While last year’s festival was limited to the Dattatreya Square, this year’s festival will be held in other parts of the core city too, says Jyakhwo who also leads the management and coordination team for the upcoming festival.
Preparations are well underway as they believe they didn’t have enough time last year to stage a show that would get everyone talking.
“Last year, only locals from wards 8, 9, and 10 were involved, this time, the festival aims to engage all locals across the municipality, in coordination with all the ward offices,” Jyakhwo says. “We want to involve everyone in Bhaktpur and make it a festival that everyone who visits remembers.”
Reflecting on last year’s showcase at Dattatreya Square, he says, the focus was on the ingredients, the traditional preparation process, and the required equipment for making Yomari. “In Bhaktapur, the traditional cooking method involves using ‘hasi’ and ‘fosi,’ a two-part set used for steaming the yomari. It remained one of the key attractions last year.”
This year too, the purpose remains the same – to showcase the rich heritage and traditional methods involved in crafting this revered delicacy, all focused on the ancient baa bahi system across the city.
The theme of the event is “baa bahi chinau, sampada samrakhchhan garau” (Acknowledge baa bahis, protect the heritage), giving more reasons for domestic and international tourists to attend the Yomari Fest.
“There are about 23 baa bahis (bihars) across the city yet this fact remains relatively obscure to many. They know only about six or seven of these, but at least 17 of them are accessible,” he says. “The significance of these sites lies in their profound connections to human civilisation. So on Saturday, we will go on a tour that covers 16 bihars, in about four hours, starting from Nyatapole (Taumadhi) and concluding at Yata (Golmadhi).”
As they anticipate a large crowd, the organisers have orators who will be stationed across the bihars to provide information to those who visit. This, Jyakhwo believes, will help the crowd immerse themselves in rich stories, folklore, and the profound significance of these bihars, deeply intertwined with the lives of the people residing in their vicinity.
Visitors who embark on this tour will also receive pamphlets with bilingual guides in Nepali and English, which will help them grasp the essence of the narratives and folklore, minimising the chance of missing any crucial details. Along the way, at all 16 locations, visitors will encounter unique attractions such as food stalls which showcase local delicacies and handicrafts in a lively exhibition curated by the locals.
The evening will see musical bands, traditional Gunlaa baaja and na baaja performances, masks, dances, ancient attire, and crafts.
Having invested around Rs 2 million for the festival, Jyakhwo and the organisers are expecting at least three-fold footfall on Saturday.
“Last year we got about 5,000 visitors. So with all our preparation, we hope the event is a success this time too,” he says.
Like Jyakhwo, Duwal, who works as a full-time teacher at Lisha English Secondary School, also wishes that Bhaktapur and its culture get the exposure and recognition it deserves. “Though we have not decided what to do this year. If we are to participate then we will be there with full energy, showcasing our culture and cuisine.”
What can Bhaktapur gain from this?
Yomari holds a significant place in Newa culture and traditions. Beyond its taste and unique shape, its essence intertwines with art, culture, and the agrarian way of life of the valley.
“Because of its relation with the agrarian way, Yomari Punhi is also called Dhanya Purnima. Yomari symbolises the celebration of the new harvest and signifies hope for future bountiful yields. It is also a form of art as people make different shapes and structures to give people information. It is important in terms of festivals and for a better, healthier lifestyle with chaku and khuwa, a culture rooted scientifically and culturally,” Jyakhwo says.
This rich culture and heritage is what the organisers and Bhaktapur Municipality aims to show through the festival.
The city boasts a rich cultural heritage, proudly preserving its historic sites and ponds. The hope is that as more people come to appreciate these attractions, it will not only enhance the city’s heritage but also drive increased tourism throughout the year, ultimately boosting local businesses in the area.
That is not all, with shifting career landscapes and the younger generation seeking opportunities abroad, organisers feel it crucial to showcase the possibilities within the city. Jyakhwo expresses a desire to engage the younger generation, fostering skilled artisans to ensure the city retains its charm for years to come.
“That can only be done if they see the possibility in the city and see income generation doing tradition activities. This is one event through which we are providing young individuals with such opportunities to showcase their talent,” says Jyakhwo.
Last full moon, on Sakimila Punhi, they even successfully organised a photo and video documentary competition. Simultaneously, the local body has been facilitating different skill-based and talent-based training programmes for its citizens of all ages, with a special focus on the young generation, learning and shouldering the continuation of the age-old traditions and more.
But the city’s ultimate goal is for every path to lead and open different opportunities for Bhaktapur to thrive.
“Tourists visiting Bhaktapur only spend a couple of hours before moving on to Nagarkot, Dhulikhel, or Kathmandu. However, the objective should be to encourage tourists to extend their stay and experience the city overnight. Declaring Bhaktapur as a cultural city can be a step forward, showcasing its distinctive charm through uniform houses, each intricately designed with unique roofs and windows, enticing visitors to immerse themselves fully in its cultural tapestry,” says Jyakhwo.
Gradually, the tours and events that he has been organising will also take a concrete shape. “The tours of heritage sites, serene ponds, and routes to experience exquisite local craftsmanship highlighting metal and woodwork along with textiles will be packaged and catered to tourists, connecting the heritage to tourism, to livelihood.”
Referencing Narayan Man Bijukchhe’s book ‘Bhaktapur after 100 years‘, Jyakhwo says, “He has imagined that the day in Bhaktapur begins by experiencing the ancient city and its ambience, embracing temple visits, the bhajan sounds, and the vibrant local markets bustling within the chowks. Transitioning into daylight, the atmosphere transforms into an academic haven resembling a university where everything is open for exploration and study by all enthusiasts, offering a plethora of research opportunities.”
“And as the night descends, Bhaktapur comes alive with cultural events, showcasing performances that resonate deeply with the city’s rich heritage, culminating in an immersive experience that spans the spectrum of the city’s illustrious history and present-day vibrancy.”
Bhaktapur municipality is trying to accomplish that very dream, with the help of events like Yomari Fest that help any visitor to experience Bhaktapur and all its glory.