Kohbara Ghar
Gosaun Ghar


Compounds are arranged in a pattern according to the suraj mandal, or the "circle of the sun." The sun is worshipped by Maithil Brahmans as the god Surya. The sun moves in an east-to-west direction across the sky each day.

The purbariya ghar of a compound in Jitwarpur, Dist. Madhubani

The gosaun ghar - the wife cooks on the verandah; the shrine is inside

The mandap in a Jitwarpur compound

Brahman compound

Life in the courtyard is not unlike living in a temple. For Brahmans, almost all significant religious acts take place in the family compound. Here the orthodox Brahman rises before sunrise and begins several hours of worship defined by Vedic-derived traditions collectively referred to as karmakanda. All major life-cycle rites, known as samskaras, particularly marriage (vivaha) and boy’s sacred thread ceremony (upnayana) are conducted in the courtyard. When eleven Brahmans must be feasted following each rite, they are seated in rank order beginning nearest the tulsi tree in a rectangle around the courtyard. Thus, the four-house compound of a typical rural village, arranged on an east-west axis with the mandap at the center, is the domestic temple as well as the home of Maithil Brahman families.

You arrive first at the purbariya ghar (eastern house), the men’s house, whose front verandah is the place for connecting with the rest of the village and the world. Here the men receive guests, deal with village business, share the convivial and ubiquitous pan with guests of high rank, while the wife sends out trays of tea but rarely herself appears from the courtyard.

The shrine of Kul Devi and other family deities is in the gosaun ghar, opening eastward like every temple onto the compound. The cooking hearth is usually on the inner verandah of this building.

The center of the courtyard contains a covered, raised platform, the mandap, whose ritual function is to protect the Vedic fire sacrifice from pollution, but whose everyday practical uses during extremes of heat and rain are many. You can dry clothes there, store bags of grain, sleep on hot nights, hide from the sun.

A third house, either in the south or the north, is the kohbara ghar, the house where daughters of the family will meet their husbands, and where sons will meet their new wives. Though this event happens but rarely in a family’s history, and this building in everyday life serves a wide range of useful functions, it is thought of and called the kohbara ghar as if every week it was needed for a bride and groom’s first shy meeting.The northern house is a ritually unmarked storage and sleeping place.

 At marriage the Gosaun Ghar and the Kohbara Ghar are elevated to their highest ritual status. At the bride's household, her Kohbara Ghar is where bride and groom will "meet" each night, called suhag ki raat, or the "night of suhag."

When the bride arrives at the groom's house, the Gosaun Ghar becomes the most important room. The bride must first be introduced to Kul Devi before the marriage can be consummated. She spends her first three nights sleeping in a small, specially constructed shrine near Kul Devi. This is tapas for the bride, it is said; the bride's asceticism. Through these three nights, bride and Kul Devi are coming to know one another; the bride gives Kul Devi a body, an incarnation, for the future of the family and of the lineage. Only after these three, chaste nights do the bride and groom sleep together for the first time, and that will be in the groom's Kohbara Ghar.