Bel Bivaha is an old ritual in the Newa community that is also followed today. It is called ‘ehi’ in Nepalbhasa. In this ritual, a girl is married to a fruit Aegle marmelos which is known as Bel in the local language. It is done when she reaches the odd age of 5,7,9 or 11 before puberty. Aegle marmelos or bel is regarded as a scared fruit which represents the husband of the girl during this ritual and symbolically signifies the girl’s marriage to Lord Vishnu.
People also believed that the girl had been married to a God and she could never become a widow in her life. It is generally performed in a temple or courtyard and is performed in groups. On the first day, the chosen site is purified by coating it with a mixture of red mud and cow dung. Scientifically also it is proved that cow dung removes bacteria on the ground.
The girl takes a bath in the morning, after which she is dressed up in a red saree along with gold jewelry as a bride. Newa bride is dressed in a red saree at the time of marriage and the saree is called dupatta. This saree is dressed only during the marriage ceremony by the bride and bride’s mother-in-law. The rich red sarees and blouses with golden colored designs but these days girls often wear lehengas instead of sarees as it is easy to wear.
She is then taken to the place prepared for the ritual and the girls are all placed around the courtyard while the priest sits in the middle. Priest performs various rituals such as Pitha puja, the worshiping of eight different flags that represent eight different goddesses, and Sat Brindika, which is done by using a yellow thread to measure the girl a hundred and eight times from the head to the foot.
The second day is ‘Kanyadan’, kanya means girl and dan means to give away. During Kanyadan the father offers the girl’s hand in marriage. In the next step, saree for bel bivaha is presented to the girl which is also known as “ihi parsi” in Nepalbhasa. The yellow thread that was used to measure her on the previous day is worn as a garland and her father sits beside the girls to perform the remaining rituals. Finally, the priest places the Aegle marmelos (Bel) in the hands of the girl and all the girls assemble to go around the fire during the marriage ceremony and her relatives offer gifts. After that, the Ihi or Bel Bivaha ceremony is completed.