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Being a multicultural country, there are so many festivals in Nepal. Albeit native, I find it difficult to keep track of so many Nepali festivals as they seem occur almost every month. Nepal is often considered to be the mystic Hindu kingdom which is not entirely true, as the country accepted the system of federal republic and secularism after the second popular movement of 2006. if you happen to glance the recent census of Nepal, you’ll observe multitude of races residing in different parts of the country and been following their own set of culture. Festivals appear as joyous part of the culture during which the people celebrate with the family, community and relatives. Originally, festivals were celebrated to mark any auspicious occasions like good harvest, plenty of rainfall, abundance of domesticated cattle in the agrarian society. So, the practice of agriculture in Nepal can be taken as one of the major reasons for the endless festivities.
Festivals in Nepal differ depending upon the people celebrating it; it might be whole country, a certain race, people belonging to certain geography, a certain religion, certain gender et cetera. I am going to divide the festivals under the headings I mentioned so that you’ll get to know the major ones in detail.
Though Nepal is a secular country, more than 80 percent of people follow Hinduism, making Hinduism as DE-facto religion. So, two major festivals Dashain and Tihar (Deepawali) which are celebrated to mark virtuous and important events in Hindu myth is celebrated all over the country, albeit in different way depending upon the geography and races.
Dashain is undoubtedly the major festival in Nepal which is celebrated all over the country i.e. by almost all castes, creed. It is celebrated by Hindus to mark the victory of Rama (mythical demigod also known as one of the many incarnation of Lord Vishnu) over Ravana (cruel King of Lanka, present day Sri Lanka) and also victory of Durga (fiercest Hindu goddess) over the demon. Suffice to say, Dashain is celebrated to signify the victory of good over evil.
Popularly known as Vijayadashami, a 10 days celebration which signifies the days taken by Durga to kill the demon and Rama, the Ravana, every days are celebrated in their unique way. Devotees visit different Durga temple to offer her with the gifts and extravaganzas while some others prefer fasting. Following are the important days of Dashain
The first day of Vijayadashami is called Ghatasthapana,well, it’s a ritual when the eldest of the home prepares Jamara (saplings of wheat and oat on the sand) which will be offered on the tenth day, also known as Dashami, to the sons, daughter in laws, nephews, and all other relatives.
Seventh day of Dashain is called Fulpati. Fulpati, literally refers to flowers and leaves but actually there are nine different ingredients in it such as Banana plant, turmeric, Flower, Pomegranate, Rice stalk and so forth. In nepal, during this day, there’s a century long tradition of bring Fulpati from the House of Gorkha (origination of Shah dynasty) to Hanuman Dhoka Durbar.
Eighth Day is popularly known as Maha Ashtami when goats and buffaloes are sacrificed for goddess Durga. There’s popular held belief that this ritual makes the goddess happy.
Tenth day, also known as Vijayadashami is the most auspicious day. During this day, elder of the family offers the jamara, which grows to decent size along with tika (rice grains mixed with crimson powder) is offered to his/her descendents and the relatives. Elders also grant the blessings along with tika, so that relatives utilize five more days after vijayadashami going to different relatives.
It is regarded as second popular festival in Nepal which is celebrated by almost everyone as it is also known as “festival of colors”. As it occurs just fifteen days after dashain, September- October can be taken as festive season in Nepal. Legend has it that, Dipawali, which literally translates to lighting the lamp, is celebrated to welcome Rama and Laxman, home (Two Hindu demigods) as they return after defeating Ravana (Evil king Of lanka). Also, this festival is popular in a sense that it strengthens the bond between Sisters and brothers. Tihar is also known as Yama Panchak (Five days of Yamraj, god of death) as there are five days of celebrations, namely:
This is the first day of Tihar during which crows are revered and given sweets and different food items. According to hindu scriptures, crows are considered to be the messenger of Yama, the death god.
The second of the tihar is celebrated by offering garlands, tika and different sweets and food to dogs. Considered as the gatekeeper of god Yama, Hindu devotee take this day for the veneration of the dogs.
In hindu myth, Laxmi is regarded as the goddess of wealth and prosperity. So, on the third day of tihar, laxmi puja is celebrated and on the same day people crack fireworks and
Perform deepawali ( lighting of lamps) all over their houses and abodes. During same day, Cow, which is taken as incarnation of Laxmi is also worshipped and given sweet dishes.
It marks the fourth day of the Yama Panchak on which farmers venerate the oxen. Legend has it that this day is also celebrated to mark the one of the superhero of hindu myth, Hanuman.
This is undoubtedly the auspicious occasion of tihar when the sisters put tika on the forehead of the brothers and share the gifts. This day stands as one of the important events to strengthen the bond between sisters and brothers.
Also known as Raksha Bandhan in India and Nepal, Janai purnima falls on the month of August and is widely celebrated by people albeit in different way. In nepal, this festival holds the major religious significance in relation to lord shiva as Hindu malle and make trip to famous high altitude lakes of nepal like Gosainkunda, Panch Pokhari and Jata pokhari. In addition devotee visit different rivers and shiva temples like pashupatinath in kathmandu,
During this festival, adult hindu males in possession of Janai (a six strands cotton given by priest to hindu adult which marks the adulthood) removes it and put a new one from the hand of priest. Also, the priest ties colorful cotton strands around the wrist which is believed to have certain power to protect people, hence named Raksha bandhan. Nowadays, on the same day, the brothers and sisters celebrate this day as Rakhi purnima where they exchange Rakhi (a colorful fabric which is put on a wrist) to strengthen the bond. A famous dish called “ Kwaati” (legumes and pulses) is served during this occasion.
Celebrated on 14th January, this festival marks the end of the winter solstice which lies in the month of Poush. So, basically this festival is the transition from treacherous winter often dubbed as inauspicious occasion to relatively warm and auspicious days. Devotees visit different holy places like Sankhamul in Kathmandu and Narayanghat in Chitwan. The major attraction of this festival is ghiu chaku (concentrated sugarcane mixed with ghee, nuts etc.), sweet potato, yam and other items of delicacy.
Also known as festival of colors, this festival is celebrated to marks the day of love and respect among the people and neighbourhood. It is celebrated in the month of March all over Nepal and during this day people share different colors in each others cheek and shows the notion of universal love. In modern days, lots of foreigners are seen talking part in holi festival.
Don’t miss the chance to celebrate holi if you happen to visit Nepal during spring because it’d be the experience of lifetime.
Believed to be the birthday of Lord Shiva, this auspicious day is celebrated in February all over nepal and india with much reverence. Devotee from all over indian-subcontinent visit the Pashupatinath temple, which include the sanyasis, deadlocked pot smoking hindu saints from northern India and Nepal where devotee chant the religious hymn (Bhajan) all night long. This festival is popular among the teenagers to almost all as smoking marijuana (ganja) is almost found commonplace during the day without any hassle of police force . Visiting nepal? Be sure you’ll do that during the time of Shivaratri to experience transcendental experience.
Buddha purnima is celebrated on either May or June to commemorate the birthday of Siddharth Gautam Buddha, founder of Buddhism who was born in Lumbini, Nepal. Different programs are carried out all over the country and also a special ceremony is carried in Boudhanath, Swoyambhu, and Lumbini.
Losar is regarded as the new year by various ethnic groups of Nepal who follow buddhism like Tamang, Gurung and Sherpa. But the day varies according to the ethnic groups. Sherpa celebrate Hyolmo losar, Gurung celebrate Tamu losar and The tamangs celebrate Sonam Losar. Mostly losar falls on the months of February and March. Besides Nepal, losar is celebrated by Tibetans and Bhutanese as the new year. During this day, especially in cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara, you can see the young damsels in their traditional attire walking on the street and gathering on Tundikhel of Kathmandu where major celebrations occur.
These are the annual festivals celebrated by the indigenous group residing in eastern hills of Nepal. Known as Kirat. In literal sense, Udhauli means to move downwards whereas ubhauli means to move upward. So, legend has it that Kirati (basically Rai and Limbu) celebrate udhauli to mark the downward migration of birds from the colder region which hints the arrival of winter and you have probably guessed about Ubhauli as the festival to mark the upward migration of birds signifying the arrival of spring and yes you are right.
Basically udhauli falls in October whereas Ubhauli occurs in March; during both occasion the male and female of Kirat perform the dance called “ Sakela” which in previous times would be taken as occasion to confess one’s love for other and hence a perfect romantic courting ceremony.
Just like in Losar, during ubhauli and udhauli, young maids of Rai and Limbu decorate themselves in their traditional attire.
Maghi is celebrated as New year by the ethnic group of western and eastern tarari , Tharu. Especially if you happen to travel western plain land of Nepal like kailali and kanchanpur during mid – january, this festival can be observed. Tharu people perform their traditional dance, also known as “ Sakiya nach” during this week log festival when in addition to dance, they clean their home and prepare the favourite dish and offer it to the relatives.
Gai jatra is celebrated by the Newar community (natives of Kathmandu valley), annually to mark the death of loved ones on the same year. This is also a week or so long ritual which is celebrated in the month of Bhadra (August- September). During this festival, cows are marched on the street or the young ones, decorated as cow walk on the street along with the family members and they are offered with gifts and food by the community members. This would be the great opportunity for you to explore Kathmandu valley and its cultures, as different lavish way of celebration reveals the long preserved tradition of Newars.
Mostly, this festival is celebrated by the people residing in midwestern and far western hills of Nepal. The word gaura comes from Gauri, wife of Lord Shiva, so the devotees on this day performs the typical dance of Midwestern and far western known as deuda naach, to celebrate the union of Lord Shiva and Gauri. The speciality of this festival is its demonstration of reverence of women, a central dogma of Hindu philosophy. So, devotee perform fast on this day and visit the Shiva and parvati temple. In kathmandu, Deuda dance is performed in city ground, Tundikhel.
Legend has it that Chhath started as a major festival of Mithila region which lies in central terai of Nepal and Bihar Of India. Nowadays, almost all people of terai region celebrate this festival on October during which they worship Sun god and his wife Usha for all the bounties they have bestowed upon the humankind. Celebrated for almost four days, devotee perform fasting and offer tarpan (offering) to rising and setting sun visiting different water sources like rivers and ponds. Along with this, people prepare sweet dish and serve it among relatives and loved ones.
Teej is the greatest festival of hindu women of Nepal which is celebrated in the month of August on which Lord Shiva is worshipped. According to Hindu Scripture, sati devi, worshipped and prayed to get Lord Shiva as a husband and as a result of her prayer she finally got him.So, today too, young hindu girls perform fasting on this day praying lord shiva for awesome life partner just like him and married women fast for the longevity of their husband. The women can be seen on red saree and jewellery during this month which signifies their adherence to this tradition.
In addition to above mentioned festivals, there are so many local festivals which are celebrated in Kathmandu valley. I will just talk about couple of them.
It is the largest of all street festivals in kathmandu valley which is celebrated to worship lord Indra, king of heaven. Believed to have started from 10th century by Malla king of to mark the establishment of Kathmandu, during this week long procession, masked dance of different deities is performed to make Lord Indra happy. Also, the chariot of Kumari, living goddess is also pulled during this festival. Well, if you are visiting kathmandu, you’ll not miss the festival as it centers around the Kathmandu Durbar square.
Celebrated on Nepali new year, i.e mid april, this is one of the major festivals of Bhaktapur region. A huge chariot of god bhairav is pulled by the local people around the places, which is prepared a month earlier in nyatapola temple of Bhaktapur Durbar Square. Celebrated with local wines and newari cuisine, this jatra ranks as one of the lavish celebration in Kathmandu valley.
There are so many festivals celebrated in Nepal besides from the ones i discussed above. Every lifestyle of Nepali is often reflected in the festivals they follow. Want to discover Nepal? Your quest of deciphering the hidden beauty of nepal won’t complete if you don’t look at cultural aspects of Nepal.