Guthi system in Nepal
Man is a social animal and throughout its evolution, it has created a society and lived in a community. Shakyamuni Gautam Buddha established Sangha. He also made rules and regulations to regulate the Sangha. This was in fact the first concept of Guthi.
In Nepal, Guthi has been active since Licchavi era(400 to 740 A.D. approx) and is dedicated to promoting cultural, religious traditions thus strengthening society.
The written inscriptions found in Pashupati (Dated 1403 A.D.) & Patan (Dated 1406 A.D.) validate the fact that Guthis were the means to promote and preserve culture and heritage.
The native of Kathmandu valley, the Newars are the champions for establishing and operating the Guthis for at least the last 800 years. Outside the valley, the Thakalis, Tharus, Limbus, Sherpas, and other ethnicities have been promoting social works and cultural preservation through Guthis even though they might call it by a different name. It is therefore clear that Guthi is an integral part of Nepalese society since time immemorial.
The proposal of the government to bring amendments to Guthi has received strong opposition and criticism from Nepalese from all different backgrounds and ethnicities.
This prompted me to delve deeper into understanding the Guthi and its purpose, function, and importance to our society and nation itself.
I went through some articles written about the Guthi and borrowed the key features of the Guthi system.
Although the following features of a Guthi are derived from the Newari Guthi system, it is to be understood that all other Guthis operated by different ethnicities in the country function on a common point.
The term ‘Guthi’ was derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Gosthi’. Later, the term Gosthi was used to mean a gathering of people with a particular objective. The term still extended to mean group, conference, or meeting.
The Guthi was created with a view to accomplishing a work, not by an individual, but by a group of persons collectively who shared a common goal. Therefore, the history of Guthi was as old as the history of civilization.
Guthi came into being due to the realization of the need to live together, earn one’s livelihood, ensure one’s life, and the need to work together for a common purpose. As the need to create Guthi was inspired by the religious spirit, the Guthi gave prominent importance to the religion. After this, the organizers of the Guthi created various kinds of Guthis to fulfil various needs of the Nepalese society.
Theoretical aspects of Guthi:
- Guthi was created for doing work for the common cause. The fruit of this common endeavor is evenly shared by all partners of the Guthi.
- Guthi is proof of selfless service.
- Religious feeling is the very life spirit of Guthi and all the activities of Guthis are inspired by religion.
- Devotees constructed chaitya, temples, inns, sheds, wells, water taps, sinking washing places, ponds, open grounds inspired by the idea that one who is able must contribute something to the society and devotees established Guthis for their upkeep.
- One of the rules of the Guthi is that any work must be done on an appointed auspicious day. That work can be done in advance but cannot be postponed.
- According to the concept of the Guthi, seniors must be respected and the instructions of seniors must be carried on.
- There is no discrimination between the rich and the poor, worthy and unworthy, old and young in the Guthi. All are equal in the Guthi.
- Any important activity of the Guthi is done by partners turn by turn. It is a rule of the Guthi that one who takes the turn must not be given a financial burden. If income is not adequate for doing that important activity, the equal contribution must be collected from the Guthiyars.
- Guthiyars have equal rights in the Guthi. It is the duty of the Guthiyars to assist in the work of Guthis.
- It is the duty of Guthiyars to preserve the fixed or floating assets of Guthis. But it is the special responsibility of the Thakali (The head of the Guthi) and Guthi pala (The Guthiyar who takes the turn of doing the important activity of the Guthi) to see that the assets are well maintained.
Philosophical aspects of the Guthi:
- The activity of the Guthi is a religious activity. It must not be neglected by giving poor attention.
- The activity done by Guthiyars unitedly becomes successful.
- The difficult work like taking the turn by Guthiyars must be shared by Guthiyars turn by turn.
- Every Guthi has its own specific objectives. These objectives must be accomplished by the collective efforts of all the Guthiyars.
- The instructions of the Thakali must be carried by all the Guthiyars.
- The Guthi stands for the welfare of the Guthiyars.
Basic principles of the Guthi:
According to scholar David Gellner, the basic principles of the Guthi are the following :
- Guthi is established in a particular locality, place or large place.
- The leadership of the Guthi is transferred or handed over in a hierarchical order.
- The works to be done by Guthi are enstruted to Guthiyars turn by turn.
- Most of the Guthiyars are males. The same Guthiyars become representatives of the households.
- There will be a god that represents the unity of the Guthi. During the festive occasion, anything is eaten only by offering the food to that god.
Objective of the Guthi:
The main objective of the Guthi is to do welfare of the people by undertaking a religious activity such as installation of an idol of god or construction of a temple. Guthi such as Guthi for carrying Degu Puja (worship of ancestral deity) protects the Guthi culture. Sigu Guthi (Guthi for taking care of death rituals) renders service to the society. Nasa Guthi promotes art and culture and preserves it.
Source: Role of Guthi in Newar Buddhist Culture-Phanindra Ratna Vajracharya
After going through the above mentioned features and key components of Guthi, the writer came to the conclusion that Guthi is essential to maintain, preserve and protect our heritage wealth.
Thus the writer strongly feels that Guthis should continue to function without any changes as it strengthens the society and promotes religious harmony and preserves cultural heritage which are the most unique qualities of Nepalese and Nepal.