Nepal is a country with a majority of Hindus whose festivals are interesting and colorful being celebrated almost round the year. The most important festival for Hindus is ‘Dashain’ which is the same as Christmas for Christians. After Dashain follows the festival of ‘Tihar’ which is the festival of lights. Another noticeable festival is ‘Holi’ – a festival of colors. Besides ‘Buddha Jayanti’ – the birth date of Lord Buddha, is also celebrated by Buddhist with pilgrims flocking to Buddhist sites in the Kathmandu Valley like ‘Swyambhunath – Monkey Temple’ and Boudhanath. Major festivals of Nepal are:
April – May/Baisakh.
Navavarsha (New Years Day)
The Nepalese follow their own calendar system known as the Bikram Era or Bikram Sambat. This festival celebrates the first day of the first month of the New Year and is observed as an official holiday. In Bhaktapur, fifteen kilometers from Katmandu, the new year celebrations take on added importance as the Festival of Bisket during a tall wooden post is erected in one of the main squares. This festival commemorates the great battle of Mahabharata, with the wooden post symbolizing victory.
After two days, images of god Bhairab and his female counterpart Bhadra are enshrined in two large chariots and pulled through crowds of cheering onlookers. When the chariot reaches a sloping open square, there is a tug-of-war between the inhabitants of the upper and lower parts of the town. Winners are considered to be blessed with good fortune for the coming year. The festival concludes with several days of dancing and worship. Thimi, another ancient town of the Valley, also celebrates the New Year with special festivities.
Red Machchhendranath Festival
This festival takes place in Patan. During the celebrations the towering chariot of Lord Machchhendranath is pulled by ropes through the narrow streets of the city followed by a large crowd of worshippers. In front of the chariot, a small crowd of musicians and soldiers add even more excitement to the occasion. Over a period of several weeks, the chariot is slowly hauled to Jawalakhel where tens of thousands of devotees burn oil lamps and keep an all-night-vigil. During this chariot festival the Bhoto or sacred waistcoat, itself the subject of many legends is displayed from the chariot as all the onlookers strain to catch a glimpse of the lucky sight. A final ritual is then conducted to mark Lord Machchhendranaths departure for one year.
Buddha Jayanti (The Birthday of Lord Buddha)
Buddha Jayanti is a great day for the Nepalese. This day which falls on the full moon of the month of Baisakh is celebrated to commemorate the birth, attainment of knowledge, and the death of Lord Buddha the founder preacher of Buddhism, more than 2500 years ago. It is a thrice-blessed day. It is the day when he attained Nirvana (salvation). Prayers are sung and worship is offered by the Buddhist in leading Buddhist shrines throughout the country. At Swayambhunath temple for example, devout Buddhists gather to chant prayers and burn butter lamps. The next morning, a small shrines are visited and worshipped. Parading groups walk through the streets of Katmandu and Patan while special flags fly from all Buddhist households.
Mani Rimdu Festival
This typical Sherpa festival is celebrated exclusively in the Lamaist monasteries of the Mt. Everest region. It is held in the month of May, mostly on full moon day at the Thame monastery in he Khumbu region, near Namche Bazaar at an altitude of 13,123feet (4000m). A very spectacular masked dance drama played for three full days is the main outdoor highlight of the festival.
Taking place towards the end of the Nepalese month of Sravan, this festivals celebrates the exorcism of a mythical demon, Ghantakarna, who, according to legend, was greatly feared throughout the Katmandu Valley. The festival is celebrated by acting out the legendary drama in the streets. To begin with, children of each Katmandu Neighborhood collect money from passersby which is then used to make an effigy of the demon god. While this effigy remains in the center of a rough tent-like structure erected from bamboo poles, one man impersonates Ghantakarna by smearing himself with white paint and roaming the local area collecting donations in a begging bowl. Surrounded by the crowds of small children, the group then returns to the effigy and proceeds to take it to the river for burning, thus marking the victory of the local inhabitants over the demon god.
According to the tradition dating back since time immemorial, every family who has lost one relative during the past year must participate in a procession through, the streets of Katmandu leading a cow. If a cow is unavailable then a young boy dressed up as a cow is considered to be a fair substitute. It is believed that the symbol of a cow, revered as a holy animal by all devout Hindus, will assist the deceased relatives heavenward journey. Later in the Afternoon, nearly everyone takes part in another age-old tradition in which all participants dress up and wear masks; jokes, mockery and humor of every kind become the order of the day until the late evening.
Krishnashtami or the birthday of Lord Krishna, is celebrated in commemoration of the hero of the Hindu epic, Mahabharata. On this day, worshippers carry ornate and decorated idols and pictures of Lord Krishna through the streets, often with bands of musicians following or preceding the procession. In Patan, thousands of devout flock to Krishna temple to worship and receive blessings.
The festival is celebrated by both the Hindus and Buddhists with great enthusiasm. The festival continues for eight days during which time there is much rejoicing, dancing and feasting. On the first day, along wooden pole is erected in front of the ancient Royal Palace at Hunuman Dhoka, in order to propitiate Indra, the god of rain. Classical dancers also assemble at the spot wearing different kinds of masks and dancing around the courtyard of Hanuman Dhoka to celebrate Indras visit. On the third day of the festival, the Living Goddess or Kumari is taken out in a procession in a chariot. Three chariots of Kumari, Ganesh and Bhairav are taken round the city for three days. The King also pays homage to the Kumari during this time. The festivals many other interesting dances including the Mahakali, Mahalaxmi, and Dasha Avatara masked dances, are staged on the plinth of Narayan temple, just opposite the Kumari temple. On the last evening of the festival, the long wooden pole erected on the first day is lowered amid religious ceremonies and animal sacrifices.
Dashain – Dashain is the greatest festival of Nepal.
Dashain is Nepal’s most important and lavishly celebrated festival. The first day of the festival is known as Ghatasthapana-the placing of the sacred vessel. According to the tradition, all devout Hindus should take an early morning bath in the holy river and return carrying some sand from the riverbed. At the same time, a small clay pot is filled with water from the same river and placed by the sand. Barely seeds are planted in this pot and nurtured for nine days. As with other Nepalese festivals, this ritual has also a specific meaning. In this case, the river water represents the mother goddess Durga, who according to legend, crushed many powerful demon hordes in an epic battle. For the next nine days, devouts, go to different prescribed sites for early morning bathes.
The next major even occurs on the 7th day of the festival when the sacred flowers and leaves are brought from the old palace of Kind Prithvi Narayan Shah at Gorkha. When the flowers reach Katmandu, there is a large procession to Hanuman Dhoka gate where brass bands are waiting to celebrate the occasion. At the same time, guns and cannons are fired at Tundikhel parade ground.
The eighth day of the festival is known as Mahashtami and is marked by a fast by all orthodox Hindus. In the morning, animal sacrifices are carried out at temples dedicated to Goddess Durga.
On the 9th day, all temples dedicated to Durga are bathed in sacrificial blood. On this day, even vehicles and other mechanical items are worshipped and sacrificed so as to prevent accidents during the coming year. Similarly, all instruments, weapons and implements of all professions are worshipped in the hope that Durga will bless their usefulness and accuracy. In the evening, there is an elaborate sacrifice at the Taleju temple near Hanuman Dhoka.
The peak of Dashain celebration is reached on the tenth day known as Vijaya Dashami, or the Day of Victory. On this day, all the Hindus are supposed to visit their elders or superior relatives, starting with their parents. The main purpose of this visit is to receive tika and shoots of the barley known as jamara. Tika is a red dot or smear placed on the visitors forehead by the senior relative. Also frequently used in other festivals and even in daily worship, the tika consists of vermilion powder, rice and curd. As all visits cannot be completed in one day, they continue until the end of the festival.
Tihar – Tihar is the second biggest festival of Nepal
After Dashain, Tihar is probably Nepals second most important festival. The first day of the festival is crows day. In the early morning, worshippers bathe either in the Bagmati or some other river. After this the devouts light a small lamp made of cotton wool and mustard oil, and placed in a leaf pot. Then the first portion of every family meal is offered to the crows.
The second day is known as the dogs day. On this occasion dogs are given a red tika on their foreheads and garlanded with flowers. They are then worshipped and offered large plates of food, including many delicacies.
The next day is the cows day and these animals are also worshipped in the similar fashion. This day is even more important day, as Laxmi Puja, or the day for worshipping Laxmi the goddess of wealth also falls on this day. Towards the evening, small candles or wick lamps are lighted and placed outside the main door and along windowsills. This becomes a very beautiful spectacle as the whole city, town and village become filled with little lights.
The fourth day of Tihar is self day or self worship. As the name implies, this ritual aims to felicitate the sprit dwelling in ones own body.
Brothers day or Bhai Tika is the fifth and last day of Tihar. On this day, every sister worships her brothers by placing a multicolored tika on their foreheads and offering her blessings. The brothers then in turn give tika to their sisters after which gifts are also exchanged. As with many other festivals, Tihar ends with a grand feast with all family members present.
The festival of Bala Chaturdashi at Pashupatinath temple celebrates an apocryphal legend of long ago. On the eve of the festival, thousands of people from Katmandu and its surroundings, proceed to Pashupatinath to keep an all night vigil. Small wick lamps are lit after which the worshippers spend the night chanting hymns and dancing. At dawn, everyone makes their way to the holy Bagmati river to bathe; acts of worship are then performed at the temples many shrines. The festival concludes with all the worshippers scattering sat biu, seven types of grain along a prescribed route starting and ending at Pashupati temple. It takes several hours to complete the task, after which worshippers begin their journey home.
Sita Bibaha panchami
This festival, taking place in Janakpur in the eastern Terai, celebrates the marriage of Rama and Sita, the hero and heroine of the Hindu epic, Ramayana. During the week before the festival starts, thousands of pilgrims start to arrive in the city and a local fair is set up. On the first day of the festival a large procession sets out from Rama temple, carrying an image of Rama and proceeding to the famous Janaki temple. The next day, in an equally colorful ceremony, an idol of Sita is carried to Ramas side thus re-enacting the ancient wedding of the divine couple.
The Nepali month of Paush, although having less festivals of a religious nature, features three important birthday celebrations-those of the late King Mahendra, the present King, His Majesty King Birendra and the founder of Nepal as a nation, King Prithvi Narayan Shah, The Great.
The Birth anniversary of the Late King Mahendra On this historic day, actually the first day of Paush, processions all over the Kingdom celebrate the late King Mahendras birth anniversary. Various social and cultural activities are also arranged to celebrate the day when the Late king Mahendra announced the establishment of Party less Panchayat Democracy in Nepal, thus ushering in a new era of peace and stability.
National Democracy Day
The Birth of Anniversary of the Late King Tribhuvan .This is celebrated all over the Kingdom to observe the 7th of Fagun 2007 BS(1951 AD) when the Nepalese people, led by the Late King Tribhuvan, overthrew the autocratic Rana regime. All government offices remain closed on this day and parades, processions and other celebrations take place throughout the country.
Shivaratri-The night of Shiva
This festival, taking place at Pashupati temple on the outskirts of Katmandu, is dedicated to the god Shiva. On the morning of Shivaratri day and also on proceeding days, thousands of worshippers make their way to the ancient and revered temple of Shiva, many of them undergoing one or more days of fasting. It is customary to offer gifts both in the temple itself and to the temple priests. The priests in turn, give back a small portion which is considered a gift from Lord Shiva and a sign of his blessing. While these religious rites continue until the evening, there is along military gun salute at Tundikhel parade ground in central Katmandu to acknowledge the important occasion. In the evening, His Majesty the King, accompanied by the Royal family, also pays homage at Pashupati temple.
As darkness falls, hundreds of wick lamps are lit around the temple vicinity while on the surrounding hills, bonfires are lit. Throughout the night, prayers, singing and chanting continue; many worshippers also take holy baths at three-hourly intervals. Bonfires are also lit at important crossroads and in village and town courtyards throughout the valley.
Fagu (Holi) – the festival of colors
Fagu, also known as Holi, is a weeklong festival celebrated all over Nepal. In Katmandu, it starts at Hanuman Dhoka with the setting up of a Chir – a long pole whose upper portion consists of wooden frames decorated with strips of colorful cloth. These strips of cloth are believed to carry special power to ward off the evil. The following six days of festival are almost normal; however, the last day is wildly celebrated with people throwing colored powder and water at each other. In every town of the country, there are jubilations in the streets as the celebrants throw small balloons filled either with ordinary or colored water. At the end of the festival, the chir is taken down and burnt.
The festival of horses is a yearly sports event-taking place at Tundikhel parade ground in central Katmandu. Its roots go back several hundred years, though, it is also associated with other older religious traditions. For example, at midnight at the parade grounds, the images of Bhadra Kali and her sister goddess are carried from their respective temples and placed in the middle of the dark expanse. A third sister goddess is then brought from another locality and made to bow before the first two images. The actual horseracing is conducted with great gusto and spectators come from all over the valley, as well as from more distant parts, to witness the exciting event.
Seto Machchhendranath Jatra
Held annually, the main feature of this festival is a weeklong chariot procession of Seto Machhendranath Katmandu. A long chariot-decorated with flowers and greenery, with the replica of the main deity, is taken out in procession through the main throughfares of old Katmandu.
Janai Poornima, Teej, Chaite Dashain, Ram Nawami, Dumji and Losar are other important festivals of Nepal.