Festivals of Nepal
There are more than 50 major festivals in a year celebrated in Nepal. Festivals in Nepal begin with religion, ending as social event. Although most of these festivals are religious some have historical significance, while others are seasonal and legendary celebrations. The best part about the festivals in Nepal is that all the events are celebrated with the same enthusiasm and galore the way it used to be hundreds of years ago when people had no other means of entertainment.
New Year: It is known as “Navavarsha” in Nepal. Nepal has its official calendar that begins from the first day of the first month Baisakh. This very first day is observed as Nepali New Year which usually falls in the second week of April. People go for picnics, have get-togethers and celebrate the day socializing in various ways as this day is also a national holiday.
Lhosar (Tibetan New Year): This is the New Year of the Tibetans and Sherpas of Nepal which falls in February. The Buddhist monasteries in Kathmandu like Boudhanath and Swayambhunath are decorated with eye catching colorful prayer flags pulling the crowd. The people perform their traditional dances and welcome their New Year with feasts and family gatherings wearing all the new clothes and finest jewelries and exchanging gifts.
Saraswati Puja: Saraswati Puja or Shree Panchami is a day to celebrate the birthday of Saraswati – the Goddess of Learning. This is a day when people from school students to scholars worship their pens and books to please the Goddess and expect her favor in their studies so they become wise and knowledgeable. People also throng around the idol of Goddess Saraswati, especially in Swayambhunath and offer flowers, sweets, fruits, etc. On this day, small children are taught to read and write and people write on the stones and slabs with chalks and pencils. This day which falls between January/February is regarded as a very auspicious day for marriages too as it is believed that Goddess Saraswati herself blesses the couples. Normally it is the astrologers who fix the marriage date and time in Nepal.
Shivaratri (Maha Shivaratri):Maha Shivaratri or Shivaratri is a Hindu festival celebrated every year during the month of Maagha or Phalguna in the Hindu calendar. Maha Shivaratri symbolizes the wedding day of Shiva and Parvati. This festival is principally celebrated by offering of bael leaves to the lord Shiva, all day fasting and all night long vigil. It is believed that those who fast in the evening on Shivaratri will please Lord Shiva and also be granted a blessing.
Pashupatinath temple (in kathmandu), one of the most important shrines of Lord Shiva hosts one of the biggest gatherings on Maha Shivaratri. Hindu worshipers all over the world gather at Pashupatinath to offer their pilgrimage. Worshipers must wait in line for hours to present their offerings at temple. Outside the temple naked Sadhus can be found offering tourists and worshipers blessings and marijuana in the name of Lord Shiva. This is the day on which marijuana is legal in Nepal. During the Maha Shivaratri festival, the Sadhus are treated as the guest of Pashupatinath temple and will be fed and housed for free and are even presented with gifts when they leave.
Holi: This festival of water and colors that falls between February/March is also known as “Phagu” in Nepal. This day is observed to rejoice the extermination of female demon Holika who together with her King Brother conspired to kill his son Pralhad, an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. This day, playful people especially the young ones wander through the streets in groups on foot or vehicles with various colors smeared all over they and the people in houses make merry throwing colors and water balloons at each other and also to these people on the streets.
Ghode Jatra (Festival of Horses): This festival takes place between March/April and a grand horse parade takes place at Tundikhel. Although this festival does not have much of religious aspects, a large number of people, even from outside Kathmandu flock around Kathmandu to witness the horse race and other exciting sports activities performed by the Army in the presence of the King and the Royal family.
Buddha Jayanti: Buddha’s birth anniversary is celebrated every year during May in Nepal. On this day people swarm in Swayambhunath and Boudhanath to pay homage to Lord Buddha and also visit Buddha’s birth place in Lumbini and chant prayers and burn butter lamps. Lord Buddha was born as Prince Siddhartha Gautam but he abandoned his luxurious life when he realized the misery of mankind and went in search of enlightenment.
Gai Jatra (Cow Festival): This festival of cow is celebrated every year in August/September. This is one of the most popular festivals in Nepal as it is full of humor, satire, comedy, mockery and shades of sadness too at the same time. And on this day satires and jokes on anybody is legal. As per the tradition, the family who has lost a relative during the past one year must take part in a procession by sending young boys in cow like attire and walk through the streets of Kathmandu lead by a cow. Cow is regarded as a Goddess and it is also the national animal of Nepal. This festival also purges many who have lost their loved ones as they get to console themselves as to they are not the only ones who have been bereaved and it also teaches to accept death as a part of life.
Krishna Janmastami: The birth anniversary of Lord Sri Krishna, believed to be the 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu falls sometime in August/September. All the devotees assemble in Krishna Mandir, the ancient Krishna Temple in Patan Durbar Square and other temples with the idol of Sri Krishna and offer prayers, flowers, food, sweets and chant hymns too.
Teej: Teej also known as Haritalika Teej, is a fasting festival for Hindu women. Teej festival is a three day long festival that takes place in 3rd day of Shukla Paksha, in the Bhadra month of Hindu calendar, normally falls in the month of August or early September. This festival is celebrated for marital bless, well – being of spouses, children and purification of own body and soul.
Three days of Teej Festival
The 1st day of Teej festival is called Dar Khane Din. On this day women, both married and unmarried mainly of Khas ethnicity, assembles at one place, in their finest attire and starts dancing and singing devotional songs. The jollity often goes till mid night and after which a 24 – hour fasting starts.
The second day is the fasting day. Some women live with out a morsel of food and a drop of water, while others takes water and fruits. On this day, they gaily dresses and visit a near by Shiva temple singing and dancing on the way. The Pashupatinath Temple gets the highest number of devotees. At the Shiva temple women circumambulate the Shiva Linga, the symbol of the Lord offering flowers, fruits, sweets and coins. The main Puja (religious ceremony) takes with offerings of flowers, fruits etc. made to Shiva and Parvati, beseeching them to grant their blessing up on the husband and family.
The third day of the festival is Rishi Panchami. On this day women pay homage to various deities and bath with red mud found on the roots of the scared datiwan bush, along with leaves. This act of purification is the final ritual of Teej, after which women are considered absolved from their sins.
Indra Jatra: This festival named after Lord Indra- the God of Rain and also the King of Heaven is celebrated by both the Buddhists and Hindus in Nepal in August/September. This festival lasts for eight days with singing, mask dancing and rejoicing. The chariot of Kumari – the Living Goddess is taken through the main streets of Kathmandu with much fanfare. On the first day, the King of Nepal also pays homage to Goddess Kumari. The crowd of excited people from performers to spectators engulfs the streets of Kathmandu during this festival. People get to enjoy various classical dances like elephant dance, lakhe – a very popular dance of a man with a mask.
Tihar: Tihar is a five days Nepalese festival celebrated in late autumn, which comes soon after the Dashain. The name Tihar means the festivals of light. During this festival all the houses are cleaned and decorated with lit candles, oil lamps and other lights with the belief that the Goddess Laxmi (the Goddess of Wealth) will enter the house. This festival last for five days. During the five days crows, dogs and cows are worshipped and honored with vermilion, garlands and delicious food for what they have done in the lives of humans. The last day of the festival is the Tika Day or popularly known as Bhai Tika. Tihar is the festival when sisters wish a long life of their brothers (Bhai). On this day sisters put Tika on the forehead of their brothers. Tika is of seven colors Yellow, Orange, Blue, White, Green, Red and Black. A tika of seven colors is called Sapta Rangi Tika in Nepali, where Sapta means seven and Rangi means colors.
Five days of Tihar
1st Day: Kag Puja
The first day of the festival is the Kag Puja – worship of crows. The crows are worshipped by offering sweets and dishes on the roof of the houses. Crows are regarded as the messengers. According to the Hindu mythology, the cawing of the crow symbolizes the sadness and grief.
2nd Day: Kukur Puja
The second day is called Kukur Puja – worship of dog. Dog is believed to be the messenger of Lord Yamaraj, the god of dead. Once in a year during this day, people offer with garlands, tika and delicious foods to the dogs.
3rd Day: Gai Puja or Laxmi Puja
Third day of the festival is Gai puja – worship of Cows. According to Hindu myth, a cow is considered as surrogate mother of human. In the evening Laxmi, the goddess of wealth is worshiped. This day is called Laxmi Puja. It is believed that the goddess enters the brightest house making the family healthy and prosperous. And at night, the girls enjoy dancing and visiting all the houses of the village with folk musical instrument playing historical game called Bhailini (Vailini) for whole night.
4th Day: Gobhardan Puja and Maha Puja
The fourth day of the festival is Gobhardan Puja or Goru Tihar (Oxen worshiping). Oxen are worshiped on this day as they plough the land and help to grow crops to sustain life. The fourth day of the Tihar is also about worshiping yourself. This Puja (worshiping) is known as Maha Puja. This is also the first day of the special calendar of an ethnic group known as Newar residing in Nepal. The coming of the New Year is also celebrated in Nepal.
5th Day: Bhai Tika
The fifth and last day of Tihar is Bhai Tika, a day where sisters put Tika on forehead of their brothers, to ensure for long life and thank them for the protection they give. When sister give the Tika, brother gives a gift and money in returns. A special garland is also made out of flowers that wilt after a couple of months, symbolizing the sister’s prayers for her brother’s long life.
Dashain (Bijaya Dashami): Dashain is the biggest festivals of the Nepalese people, which fall during the month of late September to mid October. Dashain is the longest and most auspicious festival in the Nepalese calendar, celebrated by the Nepalese of all the caste and creed through out the country. The fifteen days of celebration occurs during the bright lunar fortnight and ends on the day of full moon. Dashain gets many nick names as Dashara, Bada Dashain, Vijaya Dashami, Durga Puja all of which means the same thing, Dashain – a day of victory over demons.
The main celebration glorifies the triumph of good over evil and is symbolized by Goddess Durga slaying the terrible demon Mahisasur, who terrorized the world in the guise of the brutal water buffalo. The first nine days signify the nine days of ferrous battle between Goddess Durga and the Demon Mahisasur. The tenth day is the day when Mahisasur was slain and the last five days symbolize the celebration of the victory with the blessing of the goddess. Dashain is celebrated with the great rejoice and goddess Durga is worshiped throughout the kingdom as the Devine mother goddess.
Before the Dashain Festival begins, every house hold is cleaned, beautifully decorated and painted as an invitation to the Mother Goddess, so that she may visit the house and bless with good fortune. During this time the reunion of distant and nearby relatives occurs in every household. The market is filled with shoppers seeking for the new clothing, gifts, luxuries and enormous supplies of temple offering for the gods as well as foodstuff for the family feasting.
Days of Dashain Festival
1st Day of Dashain: Ghatas Thapana is the first day of Dashain that triggers the beginning of the festival. It is the day which tells that Dashain has just begun. On this day, as announced by Astrologers, a clay pot is filled with the mixture of sand, soil and a seed of maze are sown after performing Puja (Worshipping God). The pot is kept isolated from the sunlight and Puja is performed on it everyday till the last day of Dashain. On the last day the yellow leaves (Jamara) are collected from the pot and are placed at the back of the ear or hooked in hair after Tika.
7th Day of Dashain: The 7th day of the Dashain is known as the Fulpati. On this day Jamara (a tiny yellow leaves) for royal families is carried from their ancestral Royal Gorkha Palace arrives at Rani Pokhari Kathmandu and in the evening they are taken to Royal Palace with huge parade.
8th Day of Dashain: The eight day of the Dashain is the “Maha Asthami”. On this day many orthodox Hindus will be fasting. Sacrifices are held in almost every house through out the day. The night of the eight day is called “Kal Ratri”, the dark night. Hundreds of goats, sheep’s and buffalos are sacrificed at the mother goddess temple, army barracks and old palaces all over Nepal. The old palace in Basahantapur, Hanuman Dhoka is active throughout the night with the worship in almost every courtyard.
9th Day of Dashain: The ninth day is called “Nawami”. The Taleju temple at Hanuman Dhoka is opened for the public only once a year on this day. On this day, the military sacrifices are held in the “Kot” courtyard at Hanuman Dhoka. The government allows the foreigners to witness this function, so hundreds of foreigners and diplomats eagerly gather here. Animals mostly black buffalo is slaughtered to honor Durga, the goddess of victory to seek her blessing. When the function ends the courtyard is filled ankle deep with blood. God Vishwas karma, the god of creativity is also worshiped on this day. All factories, Vehicles and any machineries instrument from which we make a living are also worshiped.
10th Day of Dashain: The tenth day is the “Dashami”. On this day we take Tika and Jamara from our elders and blessing. Elders put Tika on the forehead of the younger to bless them with the fertility and abundance in the upcoming year. The red Tika also symbolizes the blood that ties the family together. Elders will give small amount of money as “Dakshina” to the younger relatives at this time. The Tika continues for five days, during which people also gather for playing cards around a massive amount of foods and drinks.