Nepal is known for its numerous grand festivals that are colorful and vibrant. Most of the major festivals celebrated in Nepal have a religious connection based on ancient mythology for several millennia. The majority of these festivals are Hindu and Buddhist, but in recent years as a secular nation, it has included Muslim and Christian holidays into the national calendar.
Despite the diverse ethnic background and practices, most citizens unite to celebrate the major festivals. Dashain and Diwali (Deepavali) are the most prominent celebrations for the Hindus throughout the nation while in the old towns of Kathmandu valley festivals such as Bisket Jatra, Rato Machendranath, Seto Machendranath is celebrated by the Newar community.
Here are some of the principal/main festivals of Nepal.
Dashain and Tihar
These two are the biggest and most popular festivals of the Hindus in Nepal. Like in many religious festivals the world over, Dashain is a celebration of Goddess Durga’s victory over evil. It has symbolic meaning that is deeply rooted in the Nepalese society. Tihar or Diwali is a festival of lights and color dedicated to Goddess Laxmi – who is the goddess of wealth.
Buddha Jayanti or Vesak Day
Buddha Jayanti is celebrated to mark the triple celebration of Lord Buddha, his birthday, the day of his enlightenment and Nirvana.
It falls on the full moon night of May mostly and occasionally in June. The Buddhist communities make a pilgrimage to Buddha’s birthplace Lumbini and Swayambhunath and Boudhanath Stupas situated in Kathmandu valley.
The festival of cows is another very popular festival celebrated between August / September. Cows are marched on the streets of Kathmandu on this festival to commemorate the dead. Even though Gai Jatra is honored by the Tharu community as well, the Newar community of Kathmandu valley celebrates it with most vigor.
Janai Purnima is the festival when the Brahmin and Chettri men change their Janai (sacred thread) after bathing in a river in Nepal. It is also known as Raksha Bandhan where sisters pray for the long life of their brothers. It usually takes place during early August.
Teej is celebrated by women of Nepal annually. The women in Nepal celebrate it with dedication and love. Preparations for the festival begin well in advance. Shops that sell sarees, fabrics, and shoes are stocked up with most things red as it is the color of life. When Teej approaches, women go on a shopping spree followed by sumptuous feasts.
On the day of Teej, women dress up beautifully in their red outfits, glass bangles and display their heavy ornaments, like traditional Nepalese brides. This festival is held for three days. On the first day, they feast, fast on the second day and perform the “Rishi Panchami” puja for marital bliss and long life for their husband.
Krishna Ashtami is observed to mark the birth of Lord Krishna. He is considered to be one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. The Hindus celebrate this festival with much fanfare in Nepal and neighboring India.
Devotees of Lord Krishna fast or only consume fruits and dairy products on this day.
They visit temples dedicated to him in large numbers by carrying idols and images of Krishna. Traditional musicians often accompany them. It usually falls in August / September.
Fagun Purnima or Holi
The ancient Hindu festival of Holi falls on either late February or on early March. It is in celebration of the death of the mythical demoness Holika. It is a weeklong celebration. All observe the last day with colored powders and water sprays.
Maghe Sankranti also called Makar Sankranti. It is observed every year on the first of the month Magh, usually, falls around January 15. The celebration marks the end of the supposed ill-omened month Poush in which all religious ceremonies are forbidden for the Hindus.
Even though 1st of Magh is considered the coldest day of the year, the celebration is to welcome warmer and better days for health and fortune. The festival is famous not only in Nepal but amongst Nepalese communities the world over. It also is a celebration of the days getting more prolonged than the nights.
People take holy dips in rivers all over Nepal, despite the cold. The special delicacies of the festival are yam, chaku (sweet prepared from boiled and hardened molasses), chaku-sesame candy, and ghee.
Indra Jatra is the festival to worship Lord Indra. He is considered to be God of Rain and King of Heaven. Celebrating this festival is believed to thank Indra for rain and to make him happy. It is an eight-day long festival that takes place at the end of August or early September.
During the eight days long festival, it also coincides with the Kumari Jatra - the procession of the Living Goddess.
Another significant event of this festival is Kumari Jatra (the procession of a living goddess). King Jaya Prakash Malla started this tradition in 1756 AD. Three chariots of Ganesh, Bhairav, and goddess Kumari are pulled along the festival route of Kathmandu for three days accompanied by musical bands and dancers. The three days of the chariot pulling procession covers different festival routes and each day’s celebration ends back at Basantapur
It is also known as "The Night of Shiva." This is a Hindu festival celebrated annually with deep respect of Lord Shiva. Devotees sing devotional songs to honor and worship Lord Shiva along with sanctifying rituals throughout the night. For the devotees of Shiva, this is the most auspicious day of the year. It is believed that whoever worships him with true devotion will rid of all sins and is blessed with Nirvana or Moksha (liberation from the eternal cycle of life and death).
Shivratri is the night when he is believed to have performed a divine dance of primordial creation, preservation, and destruction. This festival is commemorated for a whole day and night.
Lhosar is the celebration of the New Year among various Buddhist communities in Nepal. The word meaning of ‘Lho’ is year and sar, the new. This celebrates the beginning of New Year and bidding farewell to the old. Lhosar is marked by the practitioners of Mahayana Buddhism like Sherpa, Tamang, Gurung, Yolmo, and Bhotia. The Buddhists throng the monasteries in Kathmandu during this festival.
There are three types of Lhosar, namely Tola Lhosar, Sonam Lhosar, and Gyalbo Lhosar. Tola Lhosar is familiar amongst the Gurung community, and it usually is at the end of December. The Tamang and Yolmo communities celebrate Sonam Lhosar, and it takes in February. Gyalbo Lhosar is the festival of the Sherpa, Bhotia and Tibetan communities.
Chhath is a very popular celebration amongst the Madheshi community in the Terai region of Nepal and India. Chhath puja is performed the sixth day of the month of Kartika in the Hindu calendar. This usually falls during October or sometime in November on the Gregorian calendar. It is the only Vedic Festival dedicated to the Hindu Sun God, Surya, also known as Surya Shashti. The Chhath Puja is performed to thank Surya for the sustenance of life on earth and to request the granting of specific wishes. The Sun is considered the source of energy and the life force. Sun worship, in Hinduism, is believed to help cure a variety of diseases, including leprosy, and helps ensure the longevity and prosperity of family members and friends.
The festival is rigorously observed throughout four days.
Along with these famous festivals, the young Nepalese in cities and big towns celebrate Christmas, the Gregorian New Year and Valentine’s Day.
Photo courtesy: Yusha Pun
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