Yomari Punhi is a harvest festival celebrated by the Newari people. As the name Punhi (full moon) suggests, it is observed every year during the full moon of December. The festival is named after the famous fresh harvested rice confection, Yomari. This traditional fish shaped delicacy filled with either chaku (molasses) and sesame seeds or with khuwa (khoa) and coconut, is often compared with the Earth. The two ends of the dish is thought to reflect North and South Pole.
Within the valley in the most frequented local market, Asan, offerings are made to Annapurna Ajima, the goddess of prosperity and abundance. She is believed to be the goddess of grain as the name Anna (food) suggests.
In the southern outskirts of the valley, Harisiddhi and Thecho, sacred masked dances can be witnessed. This tradition is believed to have started from Panchal Nagar (Panauti), south east of the valley. According to the Nepali folklore Suchandra and Krita, a married couple, first created this dish through experimenting a yield of rice from their farm. The dish was liked by all and was named Yomari which translates to “tasty bread”.
One day, the god of wealth, Kuber was passing through the village in a disguise when the couple offered him the dish. Pleased with the dish he blessed the couple with a fortune. He further stated those who make this dish during the full moon of Marga Sukla Purnima yearly and observe four days of devotion to god, would earn wealth and prosperity. Hence, a new tradition was born among the Newars.
During the four days long celebration offerings are made in the Dhaneshwar Mahadev temple in Banepa and deities such as Kuber, Ganesh and Subhadra are worshipped. Yomari is prepared on the second day, shaped in a form of idols. On the last day, Yomari is distributed as Prasad (blessing) and consumed marking the end of the festival.
Onlookers can witness children going around the neighbourhood asking for Yomari while they sing The Yomari Song;
त्यछिं त्य वकछीं त्य लातापाता कुलेचाँ जुछिंत्य । योमरी च्वामु उकी दुने हाकु ब्युसा माकु मब्युसा ।। फाकु ब्युसा ल्यासे मब्युसा बुढी कुटी ।
Translation: The bread is pointed, filled with sweetness, if you give me Yomari, you will be a pretty young lady and if you don’t you will be an ugly old lady.
Those wanting to try this popular delicacy don’t have to wait for Yomari Punhi. Guests staying at the Hotel Roadhouse can take a 5 minutes walk to the Village Cafe, Chhaya Centre 4th Floor, in the heart of Kathmandu. The Village Cafe chain in Pulchowk also organises a small festival during Yomari Punhi for visitors to enjoy.