Nepal is predominantly Hindu and Buddhist nation. Many of the festivals in Nepal are religious and are celebrated with pomp and grandeur. The national festivals have fixed dates, while religious festivals are set by astrologers following the lunar calendar. The best part about the festivals in Nepal is that all the events are celebrated with the same enthusiasm and excitement every year. The following are the major festivals celebrated in Nepal:
Dashain is by far the longest and the most auspicious time of the year which is celebrated throughout the country by the people of every casted group. The festival generally falls in the month of September/ October as per the Georgian calendar. It is that time of the year when sorrows, grief and hardships are forgotten and families reunite and celebrate the happiness together. The festival is celebrated in order to honor goddess Durga. During these days people worship goddess Durga and all her manifestations are worshipped with innumerable pujas, abundant offerings and thousands of animals are sacrificed as a part of showing their devotion towards the goddess. The first day of the festival is Ghatasthapana. During this day the kalash of the holy water is established in the puja ghar of every household.
As a preparation of this festival people clean their houses, decorate it as an invitation to the mother goddess Durga, so that she might visit and bless the house with the good fortune. All the schools, colleges and offices experience holidays during this festivals. Mainly the children enjoy this festival by flying the kites, playing swings and feasting. People working and studying in the valley returns back to their villages and celebrate this festival with their family and loved ones. Amongst the 15 days of festival the seventh day (Phulpati), eight day (Asthami), ninth day (Nawami) and the tenth day (Dashami) are considered more auspicious.
Of the ten days of Dashain festival, Phulpati occurs on the seventh day. The navapatrikad (flower and leaves) are carried inside the “Dashain Ghar” (a special room dedicated for the festivals and religious ceremonies) or in the room where goddess Durga is worshipped. The royal kalash filled with holy water, banana stalks, jamara (the yellow grass sewed on the day of Ghatasthapana) and sugarcane tied with the red cloth are carried by the brahmans along way from Gorkha the ancestral home of Shah kings. This festival occurs at Tundikhel (the big parade ground at the heart of Kathmandu). There a majestic display of the Nepalese Army is held. Guns are fired and the entire valley echoes with the resonance sound of it. The firing continues for ten to fifteen minutes to honor the Phulpati and this process is named as “Phulpati Badai”. With this the dashain feasting starts.
Durga Puja ‘Astami’
The eighth day is called the 'Maha Asthami'. The favor of worship and sacrifice to Durga and Kali increases. On this day many orthodox Hindus will be fasting. Sacrifices are held in almost every house throughout the day. The night of the eighth day is called 'Kal Ratri', the dark night. Hundreds of goats, sheep and buffaloes are sacrificed in the mother goddess temples. In the darkness of the night Durga temples, army barracks, and old palaces all over Nepal hold sacrifices for the mother goddess. The sacrifice continues till dawn. The old palace in Basantapur Hanuman Dhoka, is active throughout the night with worships in almost every courtyard. People visit various temples of goddess Durga with various offerings as devotion. Tourists could see the excitement of the people and the long queues outside the temples from the morning dawn to the evening. While the puja is being carried out great feasts are held in the homes of common people where large amount of meat are consumed.
The ninth day is called ‘Nawami’, a day before the real Dashain. The Taleju temple at Hanuman Dhoka is opened for the public on this day. The temple remains closed to public for the rest of the year. Thousands of people go and pay their respect to the goddess this day. Temples of mother goddess are filled with people from dawn till dusk. On this day the official military sacrifices are held in the 'Kot' courtyard at Hanuman Dhoka. The government allows foreigners to witness this function so hundreds of tourists eagerly gather here. Animals mostly black buffaloes are slaughtered by hundreds, to honor Durga (the goddess of victory) to seek her blessing. Military bands play war tunes, guns boom and officers with beautifully decorated medals in full uniform stand there. When the function ends the courtyard is filled ankle deep with blood. On this very day the god Vishwas Karma, the God of creativity is also worshiped. All factories, vehicles, any machinery instruments and anything from which we make a living are worshiped. In this day, animals are sacrificed in every house. People clean their vehicles and sacriﬁce animals or eggs for safe journey and protection for vehicles throughout the year. The entire day is colorful.
The tenth day of the Dashain festival is “Dashami” which is taken as the victory day of Goddess Durga over a demon. On this day, the relatives living far apart gather at one place to receive tika (a mixture of rice, yoghurt and the vermilion powder) from their elders. Elders put this tika and jamara (the yellow grass which is sewn in the Ghatasthapana) on the forehead of younger relatives to bless them with prosperity in the upcoming years along with small amount of money along with the blessings called as “Dakshina”. On this very day people also visit “Kumari” the only living goddess in the world situated in the heart of Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square to get the blessings in the form of tika.
Tihar is also known as Deepawali which means the festival of lights. This is the second biggest festival that fall in October /November. This festival lasts for five days and people worship Laxmi who is considered as the Goddess of Wealth. During the five days, crows, dogs and cows are worshipped and honored with vermilion, garland and delicious food. On the fourth day of Tihar, Newari community in Nepal performs Mha puja – a ritual of worshipping one’s own body and life. On this very day, the Newari New Year which is also known as Nepal Sambat begins. The festival ends with Bhai Tika – brothers’ day when his sisters worship him for his long and healthy life to safeguard the lives of his sisters.
Mani Rimdu is the most important festival celebrated in the Himalayan region. It is a 19 days sequence festival which consists of various rituals, world renowned mask dances, meditation and ends with a public blessing. The mani rimdu festival normally lies during the month of October and is greatly celebrated in the solukhumbu region by the Sherpa community. The date of the festival is determined by the lamas on the basis of the Tibetan lunar calendar. It is a colorful festival with enchanting rituals and occasions that takes places in the most spectacular settings. The festival is mainly performed by the monks of the Chiwong Monastery and Tengboche Monastery of Solu region. During the festival, a series of mask dance is performed by the monks and priests of both the monasteries clad in the colorful dress with the elaborated head gear and mask symbolizing the victory of Buddhism over the ancient Bon religion.
It is the re-creation of the legendary events of Buddhism in Tibet by guru Padmasambhava also known as Guru Rimpoche. The monks during the dances depict themselves as the demons, protectors which also convey the Buddhist teaching on many levels from the simplest to the most challenging. The dances are sacred and can only be practiced by the monks who take vows during the various ceremonies. They can only be performed in the context of Mani Rimdu festival. The festival is witnessed by many spectators and hundreds of people of the Sherpa community living in the various places come together for the common public celebration. Normally the big courtyards of the Tengboche monastery that can fit thousands of people are filled with the great mass. The festival consists of various stages such as:
Construction of The Sand Mandala
It is the mandala made with the colorful sand which has the intricate and complex designs on it which has some symbolic meaning. The monks chant various mantras related to Buddhism and the sound of which creates a very spiritual environment. The sacred Buddhist mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” rejuvenates the surrounding. The Rilwu pills which are the spiritual medicine are placed in the mandala for the blessing which is distributed amongst the visitors who attend the festival during the public ceremony. Also the Torma that are made from barley flour and decorated with colored butter symbolizing the body of the deity, and by the end of the ceremony enlightenment itself is also made. It is place in the front of the mandala on its own shrine, at the very heart of the temple.
The Empowerment (Wong)
The Wong is the first day of three days public ceremony which is performed on the full moon day, of the tenth month in the Tibetan lunar calendar. Trulshig Rimpoche, gives the empowerment on this auspicious occasion; for long life, happiness and prosperity. The sacred Mani Rilwu (sacred pills) and Tshereel (pills for long life), are also distributed amongst the attendants.
The Dances (Chham)
It is the second day of the festival when the various kinds of sacred mask dances are performed by the monks of the monastery. A series of performance happens with their own story and their importance relating to the Buddhism.
The Fire Puja (Jinsak)
The Fire Puja is performed in the courtyard the day after the dances. The Fire Puja is an offering to Agni (the god of fire), and to the Gods of the mandala - to allay all harm in the world. The harm is visualized as dissolving into the grain and butter is burned. Afterwards, the sand mandala in the temple is dismantled, and the sand is given as an offering to the serpent gods (Nagas), at the spring below the monastery.
Losar is also known as Tibetan New year and it is the most important festival of Sherpa community of Tibetan origin. It is celebrated every year around mid February. Festival is characterized especially by dancing, music, and a general spirit of merrymaking that may be observed in Boudha and in Tibetan settlements such as the Tibetan Refugee Camp at Jawlakhel, Patan, and Pokhara.
Celebrating the birth of Lord Buddha in the first week of May.
Chhath Puja is one of the popular Hindu festivals celebrated in the northern and eastern states of India and Nepal. In Nepal, this festival is celebrated by the natives of the Mithila region mainly Janakpur. The festival is mainly celebrated by the Bhojpuri and maithali speaking people of Nepalese community. The festival is celebrated on the sixth day of the month Kartik more specially on the day of Kartik Shukla Sasthi and a smaller version is celebrated during summer few days after holi which is popular by the name of Chaitra Chhathi.
Chhath is the festival that is celebrated to honor the sun god “Surya” and Chhathi maiya the consort of Surya. It is said that the rituals of Chhath have been prevailed since the ancient vedic period. The earliest Veda namely Rig Veda contains hymns which worships the sun god. Surya was one of the powerful gods that is worshipped since the vedic period. Even during the epic period, the Mahabharat also mentions of Draupati and the Pandavas who worshipped chhath puja after which she got immense power which helped her to solve some immediate problems and also helped Pandavas during war. Even Ramayan mentions of lord ram along with his consort Sita who performed Chhath puja. It is believed that from that period chhath as a festival is celebrated every year and was started in Janakpur the ancient capital of Mithila as well as the maternal home of Sita and in some parts of Bihar. The festival is celebrated by the period of four days.
Chhath festival is mainly characterized by the riverside rituals where sun is worshipped. It is also called “Suryasasthi” which is basically a thanks giving ceremony to the sun god who fulfills every wish of the earthlings. It is considered one of the most difficult festivals as serious and difficult fasting and puja are performed by the women of the family. The pujas and offerings are performed in the ponds, ghats or river banks. Women get dressed up in their best outfits and gather near the banks. It is a festival celebrated collectively by the women of a community. The colorful river banks and the rituals undertaken are worth viewing it.
First Day: Naha Kha or Arwain
It is the first day of the festival when the devotees take a holy bath in the river for the purpose of purification. For this day, people clean their house and their surroundings after taking holy dip. On the way back people bring back some water keeping it on their head from the same water source. The same water is used to prepare offerings to the sun god. The women undertake the puja of chhathi maiya and starts fats as they consume only one meal a day. This meal is very simple prepared without the use of meat, fish, garlic, ginger, onion etc.
Second day: Kharna
It is the second day of the festival which lies on the day of Kartik Sukla Panchami which is a day before the Chhath. Women take a whole day fast which ends only in the evening after sunset. Every household where puja is performed, a delicacy of kheer along with puri and bananas is offered to the moon god and then the same is consumed by the person fasting and even taken by all the family members. This is known as Kharna.
Third day: Chhath
It is the third day of the festival and the devotees observe a very strict fasting. People prepare delicacy “Thekuwa”, puris along with fruits in their home which will later be offered to the sun. the sweets made consists of the marks of the wheel of the sun god chariot as a symbol. The fruits such as coconuts and fruits are well arranged in the bamboo tray and in the evening, they go to the river banks along with the family members and offer puja and offering to the setting sun which is also known as Sanjhiya argha and take a holy dip in the river.
Kosi: it is another festival performed on the same evening after the sun set. A canopy is made out of five sugarcane sticks representing five cosmic elements(earth, water, fire, air and sky) inside which is a lighted wick is kept which represents the solar energy sustaining in the human beings.
Fourth day: Paran
It is the fourth and the last day of the festival where the devotees worship the rising of the sun this is known as the “Bhinsar ghat” where Bhinsar means morning, the offering made in the morning at the ghat or the river banks. Devotees take a holy bath and offer water to the sun has submerged in the water. After the offerings, the Prasad is distributed and the devotee breaks fasts and the festival ends as they return back home. However, it is compulsory that the devotee trace back the same way home which they took to go to the river bank.
During this festival, river is considered as the mother and sun as the energy responsible for the proper functioning of the whole earth. The married women pray for the longevity of her husband and the unmarried girls wish for good future husband. The festival is celebrated with great excitement as they believed that the sun god fulfills the wishes of the devotees especially the ones who keeps fasts. They circumambulate the pond 3 times while worshipping the god.
Bisket Jatra is the only festival in Nepal that is celebrated on the basis of the Solar calendar and falls in the month of April every year on the day of Nepalese New Year. The festival is celebrated for the total of eight days starting at the end of Chaitra till the beginning of Baisakh as per the Nepali Calendar. The term Bisket is derived from a Newari word ‘Bi’ meaning snake and ‘sakyo’ meaning slaughter a festival celebrated to commemorate the death of two serpent. The main highlights of the Bisket Jatra festival are the erection of the lingam as a sign of victory over the evil serpents, chariot pulling of God Bhairav and Goddess bhadrakali, Palanquin circumbulation of Lord Ganesh, Lakshmi and Mahakali in Bhaktapur. The other highlights are parade Balkumari and sindure jatra at Thimi and the unique tongue boring ceremony in the temple of goddess Mahalaxmi at Bode. The celebration of Bisket Jatra used to prevail long before. Later on the erection of lingam and chariot pulling of Bhairav was added.
According to the popular legend, there was a beautiful princess in Bhaktapur/ Bhadgaun. However each man died after spending a night with her. One day a foreign prince came to the valley and heard the story. Later on he insisted and took place of the man who was supposed to be presented to the princess. Later that night when the princes was in the sound sleep the prince stood awake with his sword and saw two black thread coming from each nostrils of the princess. The thread turned into the monstrous serpents and the brave prince slashed both the serpents to death. On the next day, whole town rejoiced with joy learning the death of the serpents. The serpents were hanged in a pole and kept for the display to the locals. Later, king bestowed honor to the prince and introduced a festival on the day of chariot pulling of goddess Bhadrakali. The erection of poles with a piece of cloth symbolizing the evil serpents is still carried out now-a-days.
Another legend suggest that God Bhairav also known as the wrathful form of Lord Shiva once came to Bhadgaon disguised himself as a mortal man to observe the chariot procession. The priest recognized him and through the tantric practice tried to capture him. The priest was only able to attain the head which is believed to be placed in a wooden box at a temple which was constructed later in the Taumadi square. Every year the shining mask of Bhairav is taken to the chariot procession.
The festival of Bisket Jatra officially starts when the images of Bhairav and Bhadrakali are enshrined in their respective chariots. The chariots are pulled by the numbers of young energetic boys along the narrow streets of Bhaktapur. A tug of war is carried out between the people of the lower and the upper part of the town. It is believed that one who is successful to drag the chariot to their part of the town brings good fortune amongst the towns men in the coming year. Thousands of spectators gather at the square to observe the festival. For several nights there is celebrations in the streets. People from various parts of the town comes to offer rice, red vermilion powder, lighted oil wicks, holy water, flower and garlands to Bhairab and Bhadrakali at the places where the chariot rests for the rest of the night. One can hear the traditional music and costumed masked dancers performing the cultural dances with the flaming torches. The Newars who are the major inhabitants of Bhaktapur observe great feast during that period. The festival ends with the lowering of the lingam. On the second day of New Year, variations of the Bisket Jatra can also be seen in the villages of Thimi and Bode. At Thimi, the parade of Goddess Balkumari takes place in which the deity is taken out from the temple with the indigenous band and the villagers throw red powder over the deity and themselves. Due to this, the festival is commonly known as “Sindhure jatra” (Vermilion Powder Festival).
In Bode, an awesome tongue-boring ceremony takes place at the temple of goddess ‘Mahalaxmi’ in which a man from the same village volunteers. For this process, a strict rule of cleansing has to be performed. The priest pierces his tongue with a long metal thrust and then the person walks through the lanes of the village shouldering a bamboo structure of several sacred flaming torches. Upon his return to the temple, the priest removes the needle and fills the wound with mud from the floor, believing it to have special healing powers. The festival allows you to learn about the traditional Nepalese culture and traditions that has been prevailing in the society for long time.
Dumze is one of the most stunning Sherpa cultural festivals that are performed in the monasteries at the Himalayan region. Dumze is celebrated in the monastery of Tengboche, Namche Bazar, Pangboche and Junbesi. It is a yearly festival that falls in the month of May or June. The festival is celebrated to honor the anniversary of Guru Rimpoche’s birth on the lotus flower. Guru Rimpoche is also known as Padmasambhav who established Tibetan Buddhism.
The first person to start the festival was lama Sangwa Dorje, who is also the founder of the earliest monastery in the Khumbu region. It is a four days long festival when people pray, dance and eat together. Amongst the festival in Namche Dumze is the most interesting and popular one. During the festival various tantric dances, initiation, burning and throwing are performed to dispel the evil spirits. Dumze is the seasonal festival celebrated as a periodical attempt to express and resolve problems through a complex juxtaposition of sexual, aggressive and ecological metaphor and symbols. The earliest recorded event of Dumze festival is recorded some 360 years ago coinciding with the birth anniversary of Guru Rimpoche. The main theme of the festival is to subdue all the veil spirits that are believed to harm the sentient beings.
The first few days of the festival is simple as it consists of the local family and friends visiting each other exchanging the gratitude. The chanting of the mantras and spinning of the prayer wheel is the common sight that is seen in the region. The mantra “Om mani Padme Hum” is so sacred that it helps in changing the environment into peace and calm place. The other day is followed by the various dances and the feasts. Many spectators from different parts of the world visit the place to witness the festival.
Dumze is the occasion that serves as a religion and community to help bring the villagers come together. Each year six families takes the turn to finance the food and liquors that is required for the functioning of the festivals to all the villagers. The ceremony is carried out in the monastery itself.
Seto Machindranath Jatra is a chariot festival celebrated each year in Kathmandu during the month of March/ April. This is the holy month for all the Nepalese, as three of the major festivals namely Chaite Dashain, Ram Nawami and Seto Machindranath falls in the same week. Seto Machindranath is regarded by many names by the devotees such as ‘White Machindranath’. ‘Karunamaya’, ‘Aryaavalokiteshwar’ as well as ‘Jamaleshwor’. The temple of seto Machindranath is located at Janabahal in-between Indrachowk and Ason. Both Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims pay homage to the deity. Hindus’ regard it as the rain god whereas the Buddhist regard it as Aryaavalokiteshwar, who attained the stature of Buddha in the past. The idol, temple and festival is under the responsibility of the Buddhist Newar priests (Gubaju), it is believed that Seto Machindranath bestows the priceless gift of longevity especially upon children and removes the cause of sterility in women.
According to a popular legend, the idol of Seto Machindranath was once stolen from Kathmandu by the invader. Ever since the invader suffered from chronic cold ad painful body swelling. One night in his dream, he was instructed to return the idol to the Kathmandu valley. As instructed he threw the idol and years later, the idol of Machindranath was found at Jamal by a porter who was digging land for the clay. Later the king installed the idol at Janabahal and inaugurated both bathing festival and annual chariot procession in his honor.
The annual bathing festival is celebrated every year in the month of December/ January. During this occasion, the deity of Seto Machindranath is bathed and re-painted every year in the platform near the temple. The idols of ‘Green Tara’ and ‘White Tara’ is also displayed to the followers. The living goddess Kumari is also brought to the sanctrum of Janabahal to observe the bathing ritual. The festival ends on the full moon day after several rituals and offerings the idol of seto Machindranath is placed back to his temple. The women then distribute yomari- a newari dish as an offering from the god. Every last year of the month as per the Nepalese calendar, the chariot procession of Lord Machindranath is held. Thousands of devotees from the valley gather and worship the idol expecting the prosperity and their longevity. The festival is celebrated for the period of five days during which the idol is placed in his tall chariot made especially for cane and timber through the streets of the valley. The chariot is pulled by the young energetic boys. Alongside the roads one can find hundreds of spectators eagerly looking forward to take a peek of the lord. On the first day (04th April’2017), the chariot is pulled from Jamal to Ason. People offers the red vermilion powder, flowers, fruits, and burning butter lamp as a respect to the god. Similarly each day the chariot is pulled through the streets and taken to different destinations for a night stay. The fourth day is considered the most important one as the chariot at the Lagan Tole Circumnutates three times his mother’s temple. On the fifth day i.e. the last day the idol of Seto Machindranath is brought back to the temple at Janabahal in his small palanquin and is placed inside the temple. This marks the end of the festival.
Gai Jatra is the procession of sacred Cows that takes place in different parts of Nepal. The festival is celebrated in honor of the deceased family member. It is believed that when one persons’ time in the earth as a mortal being is over, Yamaraj the god of the death sends a crow to see that the released soul sits out for the judgment gates of Patal (underworld) which are opened once each year on the day of Gaijatra. On the basis of a popular puran namely “Garud Puran’, the soul of the deceased before reaching the Yama’s gate has to pass through a very difficult being. Thus, cows being the very sacred being can easily pass through every hurdles on the way. By performing different rituals the soul will cling itself to the tail of the cow and reach to the Yama’s gate who then decided the punishment or reward the soul on the basis of the deeds he/she has done when alive.
The festival of Gaijatra falls on the full moon day of August every year. The Newar Community of the valley mainly celebrates this festival. The bereaved family honors the soul of their dead by sending a religious procession through the streets along the prescribe routes of the valley. The family of the deceased who have lost their family member in the past year sends the cow or a young boy dressed as a cow to ensure the position of the lost one in the heaven. The festival started during the regime of King Pratap Malla during 17th century. The festival started as per the order of the king who was trying to convince his beloved queen after the death of their son. King then invited people who have lost their loved ones in the past to march in the costumes and start a procession with a conclusion that no matter what happens life needs to carry on.
The parade generally starts in the morning after continuing the rituals at the home of the dead by the priests. Later the boys dressed as a representation of cows, Radha Krishna, sadhus and a real cow are taken out in the streets together with their family members. Later on they are joined by hundreds of other people along the way. The procession also consists of the traditional chanting of the mantras, traditional dances and music glares in the whole city. People also volunteer by distributing biscuit, juice, sweets to the boys. The festival is later concluded ones they have finished the circumambulation of the city and return back to their respective houses. Cities such as Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur, Kirtipur, Nuwakot, Gorkha, Thankot etc celebrate this festival in their own ways. This is also the time when people perform different types of street performances and makes their controversial comments on the political scenario of the country as well as comic carry catcher of the politician.
The ancient festival of holi is celebrated after a mythical demines ‘Holika’. The festival generally falls in the month of February or March as per the Georgian calendar. The festival is regarded as ‘Fagu Purnima’ in the local dialect. As per the popular legend the demon named Hiranyakashyap had a son namely Prahlad who was a great follower of Lord Vishnu. The demon tried his best to persuade the prince and worship a demon but the later did not agree. After numerous attempts to kill his own son he ordered his sister holika to kill the child. The wicked aunt Holika who had the blessings to remain immune to the fire took her nephew onto her lap and into the blazing furnace. Later when the fire was down Prahlad came out unburnt whereas holika got perished into the fire. This festival is also celebrated to commemorate the defeat of the evilness over the good deeds.
The festival of holi generally starts with the installation of the tall ceremonial pole made up of bamboo with three tires around covered with the colorful strips of the cloth in the center square of Basantapur Durbar after many religious practices. The pole is termed as Chir. Holi is celebrated by throwing different colorful powders towards friends, family and even passersby. People also play holi with water and even smearing the colors onto one another face. People despite of their respective ages tends to enjoy this colorful festival to the fullest. Later in the evening the chir is lowered and people gather to attain the piece of cloth that was hung in the tires as there is a belief that one who wears that piece of cloth will be immune of any sort of diseases. The chir as a representation of the evil holika is dragged to ‘Tundikhel’ the nearest parade ground and is burnt. People believe that the traditional bonfire during holi commemorate the fiery death of holika.
There is also an addition to the festival as the people of Newar caste group especially living at itumbahal a bihar comes to offer rice and meat of a whole buffalo to the demon named Gurumapa. Legend says that the demon used to take away the small children of that bahal every day and eat them. Troubled with the deeds the people negotiated the demon to provide rice and meat every year the demon lived in the tundiklel ever since. People of the bahal with the traditional musical band goes to offer food every year. The festival concludes leaving the positive energy in the people and lots of excitement until next year.
Indra Jatra is a festival that is celebrated in honor of Lord Indra, the ruler of heaven, the controller of the clouds and storm. The eight-day long festival is celebrated from Bhadra dwadsahi to Ashwin Krishna chaturdashi according to the lunar calendar, which falls during the months September or October as per Gregorian calendar. This festival is called as YanyaPunhi in local language means the festivals of Kathmandu and the festival is remember for two special occasions: IndraJatra (About Rain God) and the Living Goddess Kumari.
As per the legend, Lord Indra disguised as an ordinary mortal descended in the valley to collect the “parijat” flower. While plucking the flower he was caught and was imprisoned by the locals. During the festival an image of Indra with his outstretched arms are bound alike a thief and kept for display. A white elephant symbolizing Indra’s vehicle is seen wondering in the streets of the square looking for his master. Legend also mentions that, Indra’s mother too came down to earth to investigate her son’s disappearance and learned that he was kept prisoner. Indra’s mother compensates for her sons release and promised to furnish the valley with fog and dew. She further promised to lead the soul of the ones died that year to heaven. The procession of “dagini” represents the above. Likewise, various other mask dancers in the form of Lakhe, Bhairav and other can be seen performing at the different parts of the city. The god of wrath "Bhairav"is also worshipped during the festival. The other major attraction of the festival is the “Kumari Jatra” which is a chariot pulling festival of the only living goddess accompanied by the Bhairav and Ganesh. The festival occurs through various rituals on different days of jatra.
Indra Jatra officially opens on the twelfth day of the waxing moon in September with the raising of the flag of Indra before the old palace at Hanuman Dhoka in Kathmandu. The event is known as Yosin Thanegu in the local dialect which basically means Erection of a Lingam. The tree for the pole is selected by the authorized person from the forest at Sallaghari, four miles east of Bhadgaon. After selecting the appropriate pine tree certain rite are carried out and is dragged to Bhadgaon. After few days, people from Thimi pull the pole to Tudikhel “a parade ground in central Kathmandu”. Four days before the festival begins the people from Kathmandu drag the pole to the durbar square. The pole raising ceremony generally begins at around 7-9 in the morning as per the auspicious time selected by the priests. Hundreds of people gather at the palace square and the surrounding temple to witness the occasion. With the sound of the musical bands the heavy pole is slowly raised with the help of bamboos and ropes. The banner of Indra is unfurled displaying the moon as a symbol of intelligent planning and the sun for courage. The image of Indra is placed in a cage at the foot of the pole along with a golden elephant where visitors offer flowers and other offerings. This is the mark of the beginning of the festival.
In the evening, hundreds of people head the streets of Kathmandu as a procession in the name of the deceased. They visit various shrines in the old streets with butter lamps to honor their deceased family member. Some offer the lighted wicks in the small clay dish to the shrines and relatives on the way as they pass while some chants religious hymns. It takes nearly about three hours to complete the procession.
Indra Jatra is one of the biggest and historic festivals celebrated in Kathmandu. It is the same festival on the occasion of which King Prithvi Narayan Shah dethroned the Malla kings of the valley and made Kantipur his Capital. There are various mask dances that are performed during the festival. Other than this various masks of Bhairab, the god of wrath made of wood, brass and stones are placed along the streets inside elaborate canopies draped with garlands and finery.
Some of the famous mask dances are:
Majipa Lakhey is a special lakhey considered to be the protector of the children. According to the legend, a lakhey is supposed to have fallen in love with a girl from Majipa. So, the demon takes form of a human and enters the city to see his beloved. Upon knowing the fact that the person is a lakhey, the people captured the lakhey and presented him to the King. The King makes a proposal to the demon that he will grant him a place in the city if he vows to preserve the children from other demons and participate in the annual Yanyaa Punhi Jatra (also called Indra Jatra). The lakhey agrees and is supposed to reside in Majipa ever since.
Sawa Bhakku (Bhairav Dance)
The Sawa Bhhakku is the mask dance that is performed during the festival of Indra Jatra. The dancers consist of Bhairava (in blue) holding a sword and his two attendants (in red). The dance group is from Halchok, at the western edge of the Kathmandu Valley. The dancers make its rounds along the festival route, stopping at major street squares to perform and receive offerings from devotees.
Pulu Kisi (elephant) dance
This dance is performed by the residents of Kilagal Tole. Pulu Kisi is believed to be the carrier of Indra himself. Pulu Kisi goes through the streets of the ancient city Kathmandu in search for his imprisoned master. People view the masked creature with roar of excitement and laughter. From time to time it does naughty and mischievous things by running through the street knocking anyone that comes in its path and swinging its tail in an amazing manner. Like other dancers he also has team of musical band and a torch carrier in front.
Devi Dance is performed by the people of Kilagal. This is performed at Kilagal and Jaisidewal when the chariot of Kumari is pulled in the respective places. One of the dancers represents Kumari and in front of the chariot of Goddess Kumari, the mask dancer kills the demon. There are a number of dancers wearing masks of various deities.
Mahakali dance is performed by the people of Bhaktapur. During the festival period, the dancers from Bhaktapur perform at Durbar Square and Major Street squares around Kathmandu. There are various dances/ acts in their performance.
Besides the dances the famous masks of Bhairav are displayed are:
Chronicles says that the Akash Bhairab is the Kirati king Yalambar who is believed to have gained the powers through tantric worshipping. During the famous battle of the Mahabharat, the first king of Kirat Dynasty went to the battlefield to help the antagonist party. When Lord Krishna heard of it, he promptly chopped Yalambar’s head, which reached Kathmandu through the sky, hence the name given as the Sky God or the Akash Bhairab. The head sits in a Hindu Temple in Indrachok, Kathmandu. It is taken out once a year on the occasion of Indra Jatra Festival. The mask is draped with multiple garlands and finery for the festival.
The large mask of Swet Bhairava; the wrathful representation of Lord Shiva is revealed to the public only during the Indra Jatra festival. A pipe coming out of the mouth of Bhairava dispenses traditional Nepali liquor (aila) and rice beer (thon) which the youngsters struggle to drink it as a form of blessing from Bhairab.
The idols of Indra with his outstretched arms bound like those of a thief placed on the high scaffolds are also displayed around the town. As per the legend, Indra came to valley disguised as a normal human being in search of Parijat (a kind of flower). Unaware of this fact the people of the valley took him under captive and bound his hands with the ropes. Each night of Indra Jatra, the shrines and masks crowd the palace square.
Chariot Pulling of Goddess Kumari along with Bhairav and Ganesha (Kwaneya) is the main highlights of the festival. Kumari or Living Goddess of Nepal is the tradition of worshiping young pre-pubescent girls as the manifestations of the divine female deity as per Hindu religion. On this day a chariot festival is held in the palace square which has been in continuation from the period of King Jaya Prakash Malla of Kantipur. On the day of Kumari Jatra, a chariot procession of Goddess Kumari, God Bhairav and God Ganesha in the human form is drawn in the streets of Kathmandu. For her annual chariot pulling procession, thousands of people gather from all over the valley completely filling the square before Kumari House, the stairs of the surrounding temples, the windows, balconies and roof tops of the nearby houses. The head of the state along with the foreign dignitaries line up at the balcony of the old administration building to witness a glimpse of the Gods and Goddess.
The chariot pulling starts at around three in the afternoon through the southern part of the town known as “Kwaneya” in the local Newari dialect. The route extends from Basantapur, Maru, Chikanmughal, Jaisidewal, Lagan, Hyumata, Bhimsenthan, Maru and back to Basantapur. After the goddess returns back to the Kumari House the chariot pulling ends for a day.
Mata Biye means to offer butter lamps. On the day of Kumari Jatra, the newars specially the followers of Vajrayan Buddhism offers the butter lamps along the processional route and also to the relatives and friends on the way as a mark of respect in honor of the family members deceased in the past year. The procession starts in the evening and follows the following route:
Maru, Pyaphal, Yatkha, Nyata, Tengal, Nhyokha, Nhaikan Tole, Asan, Kel Tole, Indrachowk, Makhan, Hanuman Dhoka, Maru, Chikanmugal, Jaisidewal, Lagan, Hyumata, Bhimsenthan and back to Maru.
In the evening, only after Goddess Kumari reaches her home, a Newari farmer masked and costumed as a female deity namely “Dagin” emerges from the dark streets of Maru supported on each side by the attendants. Dagin is the representation of mother of Indra who has come to earth in search her son. Legend mentions that she has promised to furnish the valley with fog and dew and also to lead the souls of the deceased person to the heaven as a compensation of her son’s release. With respect to this, the family members where death has occurred within the past year form a procession behind Dagin. Bau Mata is the representation of the holy snakes made up of bamboos with a row of oil lamps made by the Newars belonging to the Manandhar caste group. The effigy is suspended from poles and are carried on the shoulders and taken along the festival route. The procession starts when the Dagin returns from the upper part of the town and reaches Maru. It is believed that these two processions should never meet each other. The procession follows the following route:
Maru, Pyaphal, Yatkha, Nyata, Tengal, Nhyokha, Nhaikan Tole, Asan, Kel Tole, Indrachowk, Makhan, Hanuman Dhoka, Maru, Chikanmugal, Jaisidewal, Lagan, Hyumata, Bhimsenthan and back to Maru. On the second day of the chariot pulling festival. The festival is carried out alike the previous day but the route is different. The procession follows the following route: Basantapur, Pyaphal, Yatkha, Nyata, Tengal, Nhyokha, Nhaikan Tol, Asan Tol, Kel Tole, Indra Chowk, Makhan and Basantapur.
On the last day of the Indra Jatra festival i.e. the eight day the chariot is pulled through the streets of kilagal an old town. Earlier the festival used to be carried out for only 7 days but later it was extended for 8 days by King Jaya Prakash Malla. It is said that one of his concubines living at Kilagal Tole complained that she missed the Kumari procession after which the king ordered that the procession should also be carried out in the streets of Kilagal. Hence, the last day of the festival is named Nanichaya on the name of the half wife of the King. The route where the chariot is pulled is: Basantapur, Pyaphal, Yatkha, Nyata, Kilagal, Bhedasing, Indra Chowk, Makhan, Basantapur.
The festival is concluded by the lowering of the Linga pole bearing the Indras’ flag after the religious practice. The moment the pole touches the ground, the worshippers rush forward to get the blessings. The pole is then dragged to the Bagmati River near Pachali Bhairav temple where it is cut into small pieces to feed the sacred flame which burns perpetually at Pachali Bhairav Temple.
Maghe sankranti is celebrates on the first day of month Magh. It usually lies in mid-January every year. It marks the changing of the winter sun course towards the northern hemisphere which eventually brings winter. It is the main festival of the people of the Tharu community as they consider it as their new year.
Legend: On the first day of Magh in Bhadgaun town, a merchant seated before the pile of sesame seed noticed that although he had done a good business but the supply of seeds has not diminished. While looking for the cause, he found that the idol of lord Vishnu was inside the pile of sesame seed. Ever since, on the day of Maghe sankranti an idol of Vishnu is massaged with the oil or butter and a offering of the sweetened sesame balls is also made and offered. It is believed that doing so will bring good fortune, wealth and increment in the supply of food. Based on the story of Bhishma pitamah who had a boon of the desired death, left his soul on the day of first of Magh it is believed that a person who dies on this day goes straight to the heaven and gets released from the continuous cycle of birth and death.
As the tharu community considers Maghe as their new year, they celebrate it on a different way with even greater enthusiasm than during Dashain itself. Tharu people celebrate this festival for a total of 5 days. On the festival, sun god is worshipped and the festival starts with taking the holy bath in the rivers or ponds such as Devghat, Trisuli, Kaligandaki, Bagmati or any other holy river. On their way to rivers, they play musical instruments, sing songs and dance. The people of terai region regard this festival as “Nahan” meaning to bath. After bath a tapari (bowl made of leaves) is filled with lentil and rice which they call it “kaharna” and is offered to the sister which is considered as one of the important ritual. In the evening, all the people visit the elders and seek their blessings. Then people gather in the big room for feasts where they sing, dance, eat and drink. People starts preparing for the festivals people many days before. The pigs are slaughtered a day before Maghe which is prepared as a delicacy on the festival day. Gardhurya who is the member of traditional village assembly distributes the pigs amongst the villagers.Females prepare different varieties of foods and drinks such as raksi, Jhwar, Tapan etc. form the day of Maghi the “Maghauta dance” is also started to perform.
On the second day of the festival, female perform various folk songs and dances called Maghi devani. People visit their relatives and friends for dinner parties. Some people also collect fishes from the nearby river source to prepare food. Women prepare various foods along with Thopwa, a kind of local delicacies prepared from the dough made of flour. The newly married groom takes the fodder to his in-laws house while attending the feast. The cultural dances are performed in the evening. The famous tharu stick dance is the symbolic representation of chasing out the bad spirit from the villages. The people of tharu community have a very unique tradition. It is during this festival, the important decisions of the villages are taken. The Mukhiya (head of the village), Mahato (judge), Guruwa (person responsible for treating people), priests, shamanic healers and guards are selected during the festival. The Mahato of the village worship the house deity where animals and birds are slaughtered as a sacrifice. The tharu people close the household and economic accounts of the past year and open the new one. The Tharu bounded laborers can change their masters if they wish otherwise renew the contract for the period of one year. This tradition is known as Maghi dewani or Navanikarta. The five days of the festivals are considered as the auspicious days. The important decisions such as marriage, travel, shifting of the homes and travelling for the religious purposes are taken during the same time. People believe that they are free for the next five days and enjoy the songs and traditional dance. The married daughters are even called for feasts.
Aslike Tharus, Newars and other ethnic and caste groups also celebrate the festival with great enthusiasm. On this holy day sesame seeds, sweet potato, green leaf spinach, khichadi, meat along with home brewed wine and beer are shared with the family. These foods are considered vital for good health and fortune. The senior members of the family member bless the young ones with the patting of the mustard oil on the head and some money. People also take oil massage on the day, it is believed that the disease and the dirt goes away if done so.
Maha Shivaratri is one of the famous festivals that is celebrated in Nepal. It falls in the month of Falgun on Krishna Chaturdasi i.e. February/ March as per the Georgian calendar. It is believed that the great Jyotir lingam of Pashupatinath originated on this day. Lord Shiva is also known as the destroyer one of the Hindu Trinity of which Brahma is the creator and Vishnu the preserver. He is also regarded by various names such ‘Shanker’, ‘Nilkantha’, ‘Mahadev’,’ Rudra’, ‘Nateshwar’ etc. Shiva is widely adored as the threatening, long-haired ascetic, body smeared with ashes, animal skin clothes, snake garlands, rosaries garland and holding a prominent garland.
Pashupatinath is one of the most sacred bathing places as per the Hindus. It is an important pilgrimage site where sadhus, yogis, ascetic and holy men came in ancient tie still come till date for meditation and penance in the ancient quest for divinity. Shivaratri literally means ‘the night concentrated to Shiva’. On the basis of Linga Puran, ‘the person who takes a holy bath early in the morning and fast the whole day staying awake in the night will receive the blessings of lord Shiva’. Thousands and thousands of pilgrims stream into the valley from all over Nepal and India arrive the vicinity of pashupati to pay their homage to the lord.
One of the popular myth about Maha Shivaratri is that Parvati (Shiva’s wife) prayed and meditated on the 13th night of the new moon to ward off any evil that might befall her husband. Hence, hundreds of married and unmarried girls fasts on the day with a belief that they will get a better husband and the married ones fast for the prosperity of the family members. Shivaratri is one of the most enjoyable and celebrated festivals of the year. Devotees chant “Om Namah Shivay” and “Mahamritunjaya” all night praying for light over darkness. Tourists are seen enjoying the ambiance with curiosity, as colorful and naked sadhus are seen meditating, posing for photographs and interacting with disciples. For the tourist it can be a little overwhelming in many aspects. But all in all it’s a memorable one that many tourists enjoy. The area of Pashupatinath offers the great celebration at night. Bonfires are lit and feasts of food are put out for all to enjoy well into the night. Special attendance camps are set in the courtyards of the temples. Children are seen collecting donations from passersby on this day preparing for holy meal and bonfire in celebration of the special night. Besides Pashupatinath temple, people visit many temples dedicated to lord shiva placed around the city.
Nepal as a country is a perfect blend of different cultures and religions. People of different religion live in the country with perfect harmony respecting each other’s culture and norms. The major religion of Nepal is Hinduism followed by Buddhism, Christianity and a minor population of Muslims. People of different ethnic groups reside in different part of the country.
Culture of polygamy is acceptable and it is in practice whereas traditions like widow re-marriage and polyandry are not accepted in most of the societies yet it still prevails in few places in Nepal.
Temples and monasteries, churches and mosques are considered as the sacred places so one is required to remove shoes while entering such places. Foreigners are not allowed to enter inside many Hindu temples, nor are they allowed to take photographs. However they can watch freely from outside. People visiting any Hindu or Buddhist temples must remove their leather shoes, wallet and belts outside before entering.
People in Nepal are amicable and pleasant. People greet each other whenever they come across saying “Namaste”. They respect the newcomers and foreigners and treat them in a friendly manner since people from every corner of the country are acquainted of the norms of treating their guest nicely.
Most of the western cultures are accepted here except for the ones that exhibit vulgarity or trends displaying affection in public. Smoking in all the public areas, swimming naked in rivers or lakes, Eve teasing are not entertained by the society.
Government offices are closed on Saturday. Some private organizations are close on Saturday and Sunday. Working hour for government offices are 10am to 5 pm. Most of the Banks are open from Sunday through Friday while few of them are open on Saturday for few hours.
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