The cultural diversity of Nepal is as rich as its natural and geographic diversity. Diverse geography is home to even more diverse communities. Each community has its own language, cultural dresses, traditions, beliefs, rituals and festivals. Sir Kirk Patrick has stated, Nepal is a country with more temples than houses, more god and goddess than people and more festivals than days in a year.Being a multi-religious, multi ethnic and multicultural country, Nepal observes and celebrates myriad number of festivals. One or more community is celebrating festival every day of the year, which is why Nepal is also known as land of festivals.
Festivals celebrated in Nepal are more than just the observation, but an integral part of culture and Nepali customs and traditions. Most of the Nepali festivals have religious associations, some are historical, some are based on ancient myths, and some are seasonal celebrations.Each festival has its own significance. Majority of festivals are related to gods and goddesses of Hindu and Buddhist. Some are observed to pay respect and honor of the relatives such as mother, father, ancestors and people who are already dead whilst some are observed to worship nature, plants and animals.
Some of the festivals like Dashain and Tihar are of national significance whereas certain caste and community particularly observe some festivals. Some festivals are celebrated only in certain region of the country. Nepal is, now, a secular country. However, the majority of people are Hindu; hence most of the festivals are observed and celebrated by Hindu people. There are some festivals observed only by Buddhists and Muslims. Even though there are very less Christians, Christmas is widely celebrated in major cities.
Most of the Nepali festivals fall on different dates every year as the dates for all the festivals are fixed by main astrologers by consulting lunar calendar. Hence, the specific festival day does not match the solar calendar. Almost all festivals and celebrations in Nepal are colorful accompanied with music, song and dance. Some are even observed with properties and demonstrations.With all these different festivals that are celebrated in the relation of socio-cultural heritages, people of Nepal have religious tolerance and are living in harmony.
We have mentioned some of the biggest and widely known festivals of Nepal.
Dashain is the biggest festival of Hindu and is observed and celebrated almost all over Nepal. As the majority of Nepalese is Hindu (approx. 80%), this is studied as a major festival of the country. It is one long festival, observed for 15 days. The first day of this auspicious festival is Ghatasthapana that marks the beginning of Dashain. It is observed during the lunar fortnight ending of the full moon day (Purnima), also known as Kojagrat Purnima. It is usually celebrated in the month of Ashoj of Nepali calendar that is late September and early October. Hindus worship 9 manifestations of Goddess Durga and Ashta-Matrikas (8 Tantrik Goddesses) in these 15 days. The tenth day of Dashain is also known as Vijaya Dashami, people put Tika and Jamara (Barley saplings sowed on Ghatasthapana) from elders and receive blessings. Vijaya Dashami is celebrated as the victory of Goddess Durga over evil demon Mahisasur. Families get together during Dashain, observe Pujas, organize feasts and celebrate with great rejoice and zeal.
Tihar is second biggest festival of Nepal. Celebrated for five days, Tihar is bright and colorful festival of lights and flowers. People worship animals and sisters worship their brothers. In Newar community, they also worship themselves on the fourth day of Tihar and the day is called as Mha Puja. The first day of Tihar is called Kaag Tihar, the day to worship crows. The second day is called as Kukur Tihar, the day to worship dogs. Crows are considered as the messengers (Yamadut) of Yamaraj (God of Death) and dogs are considered as custodian. Third of Tihar is Laxmi Puja; people worship Goddess Laxmi (Goddess of Wealth) and cow. Cow is regarded as a manifestation of Goddess Laxmi. In the evening houses are decorated with dazzling lights (oil lamps, candles, electric lights) and flowers. The fourth day of Tihar is Gobardhan Puja; people worship oxen and the cowdung that is made into the resemblance of Gobardhan Parbat. The fifth day of Tihar is Bhaitika where sisters worship their brothers, put tika and give treats and pray for their good health and long life. Tihar is observed in the month of Kartik of Nepali calendar (October/November).
Maha shivaraatri is the celebration of Supreme God of Hindu, lord of the lords, Lord Shiva. Millions of devotees visit Pashupatinath temple (holiest shrines of Hindu) in Kathmandu; even Hindus from different country make their pilgrimage to Pashupatinath to celebrate Mahashivaratri. During Mahashivaratri, Pashupatinath is full of devotees, Sadhus and Yogis paying tribute to Lord Shiva. Shivaratri is the night of Lord Shiva when he himself was created by his own divine grace. Hindus celebrate this day with great enthusiasm and passion. This auspicious festival falls on the fourteenth day of the waning moon in the month of Falgun (February/March).
Teej also known as Haritalika Teej, is a fasting festival celebrated by the Hindu women. It usually takes place in the month of Bhadra or Bhadau (August/September). The festival is celebrated by married women for marital bliss, well-being of husband and children commemorating the union of Goddess Parvati with Lord Shiva. Unmarried women take fasting and worship Lord Shiva asking for good husband. Almost all girls and women are dressed in Red attire and decorate themselves with various ornaments and jewelry. They gather together for singing and dancing. The day before Teej is called Dar Khane Din; women visit their friends and relatives and feast on various sweets and treats.
Holi (Fagu Purnima):
Fagu Purnima or Holi is the festival of colors that marks the beginning of the spring season. People celebrate holi by rubbing and throwing colored powder at each other and dousing each other in plain or colored water. It is celebrated on the full moon day of Falgun (February/March). Holi is celebrated in Terai region on the second day that is day after it is celebrated in Kathmandu. Holi is supposedly named after mythical demoness Holika and is celebration of the death of Holika. She tried to kill Lord Vishnu devotee, Prahlad by taking him into her lap sitting on pyre. Despite of having the power over the fire, Holika was burnt to death while Prahlad came out of fire alive. People burn logs and make bonfires and later smear the ash celebrating the victory of God over evil. Holi is celebrated with great enthusiasm.
Janai Purnima is celebrated on the full moon day in the month of Shrawan of Nepali calendar (August). Hindu men of Brahmin and Chhetri communities celebrate this festival. They perform the annual change of Janai, the sacred thread that is worn across the chest. Only the males who have done Bratabandha (religious ceremony only for males) wear this janai. Women and children get the sacred thread tied around their wrist by the Brahmins (religious gurus). There is huge crowd of devotees and worshippers in Gosaikunda, the sacred pond in Rasuwa district. This day is also celebrated as Raksha Bandhan. Sisters tie colorful bands around their brothers’ wrist and brothers promise to protect their sisters throughout their life. The Newar community celebrates the day as Kwati Punhi.
Indra Jatra is celebrated in the month of September for eight days worshipping rain god, Lord Indra. The ceremonial pole is erected at Basantapur Durbar Square on the twelfth day of the waning moon in September. During Indra Jatra, Lord Indra is worshipped and the pole represents the flagpole given to Lord Indra by Lord Vishnu. Men wearing mask of Vishnu, Bhairav and Shiva perform dances in front of public. The living goddess Kumari comes out of her palace in her chariot, which is a rare event. Other chariot of Bhairav and Ganesh are also pulled in the procession with mascots and musical bands.
Buddha Jayanti is the celebration of birthday of Lord Buddha who was born as Prince Siddhartha Gautam in about 543 B.C. in Kapilvastu of Terai region of Nepal. It is celebrated on the full moon day of Baisakh (late April or early May) called as Baisakh Shukla Purnima. The day is also called as Buddha Purnima or Swanya Punhi. Buddha Jayanti commemorates the day Buddha was born, the day he attained enlightenment and the day he passed into Nirvana. It is the greatest festival for Buddhists and celebrated with great splendor and demonstration. Even hindu people celebrate Buddha Jayanti. The major Buddhist shrines in Kathmandu, Bouddhanath and Swoyambhunath, birthplace of Lord Buddha Lumbini and all Buddhist shrines and stupas are decorated with butter lamps and electric lights. Prayer flags are strung up, offerings of rice, flowers, coins, butter lamps and incense are made and prayer ceremonies are carried out throughout the day. Images of Buddha, prayer flags and banners are carries in the processions.
Lhosar is celebrated by certain ethnic groups of Nepal, namely Gurung, Tamang and Sherpa. It is the first day of the New Year and each community has its own way of celebrating Lhosar at different times. Gurung community celebrates Tamu Lhosar (in December), Tamang community celebrates Sonam Lhosar (in February) and Sherpa community celebrates Gyalbo Lhosar (February/March). All three Lhosars have singing, dancing, feasting and drinking in common. Like Dashain, people visit their relatives and get together for the celebration. The traditions of Lhosar includes cleaning and decorating houses and monasteries, reading prayers, foods and offering it to deities and later to family, relatives, friends and neighbors. People wear their traditional dresses and participate in the celebration and festivities held in different parts of both villages and cities.
# Nepali New Year is first of Baishakh, which is usually 14th of April.
# Every year date of the festivals change as astrologers fix them after consulting the lunar year.
# It is government holiday on most of the major festivals so things (shops, restaurants, banks, etc.) might be closed down during the festival time.
# If you are a tourist visiting Nepal for the first time, make sure to check the dates and the festivals so that you can plan to attend the festival or avoid crowd and potential holiday transport problems.
# Jatras are fun and fascinating but be careful because the crowd is insane.
Nepal is the land of festivals with billion deities and innumerable myths and legends. Some festivals are celebrated nationwide and some regionally. Some festivals are observed exclusively by men and some by women. Each festival has its own importance and story behind it. Festivals are one of the factors that unite Nepalese people.