It is said about Nepal that every other structure is an holy shrine and every other day a festival. Well, if the number of annual festivals, both religious and national, is any indication, the saying couldn’t be more true. Festivals are essential part of Nepalese life that garner tremendous local participation. Festivals also offer visitors a valuable opportunity not only for having fun but gaining insight into various aspects of Nepalese culture.
The religious festivals follow the lunar calendar, while national festivals have fixed dates. Wherever or whenever you arrive in Nepal, you can be pretty sure of being at the right time for one or more special events. Some of the major and interesting festivals are presented below:
New Year (Nava Varsha):
The Nepalese New year’s Day usually falls in the second week of April. i.e. the first day of Baisakh. The day is observed as a national holiday. The people celebrate it with great pomp and show. On this occasion, Bisket Jatra is held in the city of Bhaktapur.
In Nepal, Buddha Jayanti is observed by both Hindus and Buddhists. In the Kathmandu valley, the celebration centers around the ancient Buddhist Shrines of Swayambhunath, situated on a hill west of Kathmandu, the light of butter lamp blazes all through this night as it has for over 2000 years. It is a night of fasting and chanting. Morning finds the stupa gaily decorated with fluttering prayer prayer flags. Thangkas and religious paintings, are unrolled and displayed in front of the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries around the stupa. Monks performs long rituals and walk in procession with horns, cymbals and colorful head-dresses. On the other side of town, at the immense white stupa of Boudhanath, crowds of Tibetans, Tamangs and Sherpas gather for merrymaking. An image of the Buddha is mounted on an elephant leading a procession which circles the stupa and winds through the streets to another stupa.
Large symbolic lotus petals are painted on the stupa with yellow dye made from pounds of expensive saffron. Prayer flags fill the air, and when night falls, the stupa and balconies of monasteries and homes sparkle with the light of thousands of candle and butterlamps.
It’s a time of joy and devotion and a time of thanks to the prince who left his palace to bring to the world the teachings of great compassion.
Dashain is also known as Durga Puja, for it is the worship of Mother Goddess Durga. It is Nepal’s longest and most lavishly celebrated Hindu festival. Like Christmas, it is the holiday when families unite to exchange blessings and gifts, to spread goodwill and to forget feuds and quarrels. Everyone wears new clothes, feasts are spread, and the businesses and government functions come to a pleasant halt as one and all make festive visits to their relatives homes.
Throughout Nepal during the two weeks preceding the full moon of September or October, Hindu as well as Buddhist households celebrate Dashain. In villages throughout the Kingdom, in the homes, streets and temple courtyards of Kathmandu valley, the great Goddess Durga is propitiated with elaborate dances and ritual animal sacrifices. For it was Durga, in a momentous victory, who saved the world form evil forces. The gods and goddesses of Hinduism take may alternative forms. Durga, Divine protectress, is represented either as a simple holy water pot or in her full powerful form with 18 hands holding 18 weapons. Durga also manifested as ferocious Kali with a protruding tongue and necklace of Skulls; or as Taleju-the fearsome protector Goddess of Nepal; or as Kumari, the gentle virgin Living Goddess. Durga is compassionate when treated to generous offerings of blood and spirits, but she is vengeful is scorned with neglet; thus the fervor with which Hindus celebrate Durga puja.
For each of the first nine nights, the narrow lanes surrounding Patan’s Durbar square pulsate with masked dancers aglitter in jeweled costumes, each personifying one of the eight mother Earth goddesses, the Asta Matrika. It is celebrated upto 10 days.
Deepawali (The festival of Lights) :
Deepawali, which literally means “the row of lamps” is celebrated as the festival of lights. This festival is also known as ‘Tihar’ which lasts for five consecutive days and is observed in honour of Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth and good luck. It is the most friendly of festivals observed throughout Nepal and also India. Laxmi, the Goddess of prosperity and good fortune is invited into every home. All people enjoy five days of feasting and family gatherings. It also heralds the advent of autumn in Nepal.
Laxmi puja is observed on the auspicious occasion of Deepawali. This is the third day of Tihar when the sacred cow is worshipped with great honour. Hindus worship and regard cow as their holy mother. So we worship the holy cow in the morning with garlands of flowers and apply red tika on her foreheads.
A few days before Tihar, preparations are seen in full swing for cleaning and whitewashing to add new look to houses and buildings. During this festival houses, shops, offices, factories and mills are brightly decorated with lights and traditional lamps. It is a time of lights and tinsel decorations. This type of illumination is done for three consecutive days, beginning from the first day of Tihar. But special light arrangements are done on the day of Laxmi puja. Flickering oil-tradtional lamps lighten al courtyards, doorways, roof-tops, verandahs and windows. People stroll around in new clothes and buy sweets and gifts. In this way, this festival gives glimpse of a traditional Christmas.
Teej (The festival of women, August to September):
Teej festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm and devotion by women in Nepal. Teej is an annual festival. Married women observe observe Teej to honor lord Shiva and for long and healthy life of their husband. According to Hindu mythology Goddess Parvati reunited with Lord Shiva on this day. According to the holy books, the Goddess Parvati fasted and prayed fervently for the great lord Shiva to become her spouse.
Touched by her devotion, he took her for his wife. This is why women also fast on this day for their husbands or for their husbands to be. Unmarried girls also observe fast on this day for a good husband. Red color is an eminent part of this festival as it is considered auspicious for women observing Teej Fast and so most of them dress up in red or bridal clothes
Teej celebrations last for three pious days. Women are busy shopping for this festival buying new clothes, bangles, potes, and preparing dishes they have the day before the fasting day. Teej is the only fasting day that women are not allowed to have anything the whole day including water.
Some of the attraction of Teej Festival are:
Pote (Red bead necklace)
Dhago(Bunch of threads in red color)
Maha Shiva Ratri (February - March):
The night of Lord Shiva, where tens of thousands of devotees and pilgrims from all over Nepal, India and other parts of the world converge at Pashupatinath temple complex.
During Shivaratri the temple of Pashupati Nath, dedicated to Lord Shiva, becomes all spruced up in anticipation of the arrival of Sadhus, Yogis and other holy men as well as hundreds of thousands of devout Hindu pilgrims. The fact that all devout Hindus believe a visit to the holy Pashupati Nath temple will absolve all past sins and the preference to make this pilgrimage during the time of Shivaratri, the most auspicious of Shivaratri festivals, is one of the main reasons for the annual congregation of this vast multitude of humanity.
The days before and after Shivaratri sees the collection of vast numbers of people from all walks of life as well as providing a Kaleidoscope of many different ethnic and tribal races of Nepal and India. People fill roads around Pashupati Nath temple-holy men, some half clad, some covered in ash but entirely nude; pilgrims in their distinct and colorful tribal costumes; vendors selling practically everything from vermillion powder, Rudraksha beads, Monkey nuts to Coca cola and snaks. The curious foreign tourist also form part of this vast collection.
People gather on the hillside across the river from the Pashupati Nath temple as well as around the vicinity of the temple complex, in groups around campfires and in making shift shelters, singing Bhajans, reciting mantras, discussing various religious topics while maintaining a fast and a vigil in anticipation of the religious ceremonies. Some with photographable hairstyles dot the area, serene and trance-like, emulating Lord Shiva himself, who it is believed to smoke the ‘stuff’.
Holi (The festival of colors):
Holi or Faagu, the festival of color, falling in the month of march, Faagu Purnima (Full-moon day), according to Nepali calendar, is a colorfully distinct and unique festival in Hindu culture, celebrated amid greater jubilance and festivity by the Hindu youth-boys and girls in particular.
On this day, all young and old, usually garbed in white costume, wearing red-powder on their foreheads, and varieties of liquid colors thrown on their white Pyzama or Pant Shirts, wander in groups from place to place reaching their friends, relatives, kith and kin, hugging each other, receiving and offering the red-powders on foreheads. The mood and the atmosphere is one of the state of happiness, victory.
In similar fashion, the young girls and women of the household, too, play Holi among themselves, some with their male relatives, friends and kith and kin.
To add intensity to the Holi mood or to forget their sufferings, perhaps the youth consume Opium paste called Shiva buti or ghotta which adds momentum to the festivity. The revelers sing and dance in a complete state of happiness wearing strange look, a bizarre appearance, resulting form applying of several colors on their faces.
The significance of Holi festival, like other Hindu festivals in Hindu mythology, is of greater theological importance.
The tradition in the Terai of Nepal and India has it that a day before Holi festival is cermonically observed, the local youths collects, to some extent, steal wood and timber in the evening from vicinity and, pie them up in some isolated field where they, after observing some rituals, set the wood on fire.
Krishna astami (July - August):
It marks the birthday of Lord Krishna. On this day, impressive ceremonies are conducted at the Krishna Temple in Patan and at Changu Narayan.
Gai Jatra (Cow festival, July - August):
It is a carnival that lasts eight days. Dancing, singing, comedy and anything that causes mirth and laughter are its highlights.
Red Machchhendranath Rath Jatra (May - June):
This festival is the biggest socio-cultural event of Patan. The wheeled chariot of a deity known as Bungdyo or Red Machchhendranath is made at Pulchowk and dragged through the city of Patan in several stages till it reaches the appointed destination. The grand finale of the festival is called the ‘Bhoto Dekhaune’ or the “Showing of a vest”. A similar kind of chariot festival to Machchhendranath(white) is also held in Kathmandu city in the month of March-April.
This festival is most impressively observed in the month of February by the Sherpas. They organize folk songs and dances on this occasion. These dances can be seen in Khumbu, Helambu, and other northern regions of Nepal and also at Boudhanath in Kathmandu.
Ghodejatra (March - April):
Known as the festival of horses, it is one of the most exciting festivals of Kathmandu. Horce race and other sports take place at Tundikhel on this day. In other parts of the city, various deities are carried shoulder-high on Palanquin to the accompaniment of traditional music.
Inrajatra (August - September):
The festival of Indra, the God of rain, is observed with great enthusiasm in Kathmandu valley. The festival lasts for eight days. The Chariot of Kumari, the Living Goddess, is taken out in Procession through the main streets of Kathmandu. The festival is specially noted for the echoes of drums and dancing feet of the masked dancers almost every evening.
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