Yomari Punhi: A Fusion of Tradition, Harvest, and Culinary Artistry in Nepal
This December 26, the Newar community comes together to celebrate Yomari Punhi, a festival that harmonizes tradition, harvest festivities, and the art of culinary delight. Also known as Dhanya Purnima, this occasion not only marks the culmination of the rice harvesting season but also celebrates togetherness in the community.
Families unite on this auspicious day to offer rice to Annapurna, the goddess of grains, and to craft the Yomari. This steamed rice flour dumpling takes on various forms, filled with either chaku (jaggery taffy) and sesame seeds or khuwa (evaporated milk solids) and shredded coconut.
The Newari community lights up in joy and mutual coordination as children visit houses in their community, singing songs for the gods and getting Yomari treats. One of the songs goes like this:
“Tya chin Tya: wakachin tya; Latapata Kulincha Jucha tya:
(May the rich and poor be blessed;
May the dull and clever be blessed.)
Yomari chwamu; uki dune haku;
Byu sa maaku, mabyu sa fakku:
(Sharp yomari, filled with black goodness;
It's tasty if you give it; If you don’t, it’s not.)
Byusa lyasse; Mabyusaa Buri Kuti:
(You're beautiful if you give it;
You’re ugly if you don't.)"
The festival's essence lies in celebrating the harvest and expressing gratitude for the abundance of crops. Families shape Yomaris as a symbol of devotion to the gods. The shapes vary, from representations of deities like Laxmi, Ganesh, Kuber, and Saraswati to intricate fish or shrine-like structures.
Yomari's origin is veiled in legends, with one narrative tracing its roots to a generous couple in Panchal (modern-day Panauti), who shared this unique confection with their neighbors. The villagers, enamored by the treat, named it Yomari, combining the Newa words 'ya' for 'to like' and 'mari' for 'roti or flatbread.' Historical narratives suggest Yomari-making dates back to the 6th century, during the reign of Amshuverma in Kathmandu Valley.
Yomari's unique shape and filling set it apart in the rich Newa culture. The teardrop-shaped delicacy, resembling a fish or shrine, is also linked to the fruit jambhara. This fruit, worshipped during Mha puja, carries cultural and religious significance, representing longevity, wealth, prosperity, and fertility.
The festival extends beyond Yomari crafting. Families prepare Mayo and Bayo Yomari, symbolizing male and female sexual organs, highlighting the symbolic representation of two sexes. 'Yomari phonegu' practices, where young ones go door to door seeking Yomari, are considered a form of romantic rendezvous.
Chaku, the accompanying jaggery taffy, is more than a sweetener; it is the soul of Newa culture. Eaten on the first day of the month Magh, marking the end of extreme winter, Chaku provides energy and warmth during the peak of winter. The process of making chaku involves boiling sugarcane jaggery until caramelized, then painstakingly pulling and stretching it to achieve a smooth, glossy texture.