A sweet bread variant and a popular delicacy ‘liked’ by many is Yomari. In Nepal Bhasha (Newar) language ‘Yo’ means much liked and ‘mari’ means bread. It is, somehow triangular in shape and interestingly looks like a conch, a religious object and often believed to be a symbolic representation of half a Shatkona, another religious symbol in Hinduism. It is as big as a tennis ball or a normal smartphone in size. The outer cover is of rice-flour and the inner content is primarily sweet substances of chaaku, brown cane sugar and haamu sesame seeds. Celebrated quintessentially in the Kathmandu Valley or among Newar communities, it is an important post-harvest celebration.
Yomari punhi or dhanya purnima (full moon day) is a festival to mark the end of the rice harvest which falls on the full moon day in December. The Newar town of Panauti in Kavre is credited for inventing the tradition of Yomari. Myths explain a farming couple of Suchandra (Nayo) and Krita (Bayo) who made the experiment of delicacy out of their new crop and distributed in the neighborhood. As the bread was much liked by all, it was named yomari afterwards. Another myth goes on to explain that the poor couple offered the bread to Kubera- the Hindu God of Wealth, the new delicacy, who was passing incognito as an ascetic. Delighted Kubera disclosed his real identity and blessed the couple with wealth and declared whoever prepare and distribute yomari on the day with devotion would get the blessing of Lord Kubera.
Families and relatives come together for a larger family feast. Yomari is believed to compensate the energy lost during the farming season and provide warmth during the winter months. People especially farming community offer, worship and thank Annapurna, the Goddess of Grain, for the rich harvest. People do also make two big yomari in commemoration of Nayo and Bayo and other deities like Kubera, Laxmi, Ganesh, the Moon and animals which the farmer community comes in contact with. A fascinating tradition has it that the children between the age of 2 and 12 are offered with a beautiful garland of Yomari on their birthdays on their even birthdays.
Yomari has three parts. The head dedicated to deities and the inventors, the body is the bread-tank filled with delicacies and the pointed tail. A popular belief is that the more pointed the tail of Yomari, the lengthier will the coming days become. The shortest day of the year, the 21st December, fall around Yomari festival every year. Due to its popularity and its variations, the festival is celebrated by other ethnic groups nowadays. Apart from the festival and the even birthdays of children, Yomari is also prepared on other auspicious occasions like janko– rice feeding ceremony of the young children or dhau baji nakegu, a traditional baby shower ceremony.
It is prepared by mixing rice flour with warm water to make a thick paste of floor. Artistic but time-consuming is to prepare it which is then handmade a hollow conch shaped with a hole. A mixture of sweets, molasses mixed with sesame seed, khuwa (sweet cheese), meat or a mixture of vegetables are kept in the tank and is sealed before being cooked steamed. Water is boiled in a utensil and put above are the plates of yomari. Utensils are made with numerous holes so as to enable it to be steam-cooked like the famous momo. It is first offered to Annapurna, the Goddess of Grain or Kubera, the God of Money and then to other deities before being eaten in the gathering of the family and to the celebration of exciting children.
The festival turns culturally vibrant, stimulating and musical when younger kids visit the community in the evening singing and asking for yomari. They sing;
Yomari chhwamu, uke dune haamu
biu sa maaku, mabiu sa faaku
Biu mha lyase, Ma biu mha buri kuti chha
Translation: (Nepal Bhasha to English)
‘Yomari is sweet and delicious. Yomari givers are nice ladies but those who don’t give are out-fashioned oldies’.
As children visit and musically try to please each house lady to receive more pieces of yomari bread, many gather in the evening for various masked dances and cultural evening performed in the community. This interesting social and inter-generational interaction between the generations, is a feather on the cap to the rich heritage and culture Nepal has.