Festivals in Nepal

FESTIVALS IN NEPAL

Nepal is known the world over for its succession of colorful vibrant festivals. It is said that “In Nepal every other building is a Temple and every other day is festival.” Nepalese are said to observe more festivals are listed in this book. There are many kinds of festivals, some honor certain Hindu and Buddhist gods or goddesses, some recreate important events from ancient mythology and epic literature. Whereas national festivals have fixed dates; religious festivals strictly follow the lunar calendar. 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.

The rice cultural heritage of Nepal is best expressed in the many large and small festivals that occur throughout the year. Though the Nepalese have diverse beliefs and ethnic backgrounds, all unite in the celebration of the year’s major festivals. Festivals such as Dashain and Tihar are of national significance; such as Bisket Jatra and Red machchhendranth Jatra, belong to the traditions of the old valley towns and still others, such as Mani Rimdu, are observed only by particular countryside community.

Visit to Nepal, no matter which time of the year promises a colorful and rewarding festive experience!

NAG PANCHAMI (July):The festival to worship Snake gods, also called the Nagas during this festival. On Nag Panchami, devotees put a picture of Nag high above their doorway and perform puja with necessary puja items. Offerings in the from of food are left in the yard and paddies for snake.

JANAI PURNIMA OR RAKSHYA BANDHAN –August:This is festival on full moon day, A red or yellow protection cord, is tied around the wrists of other Hindus and Buddhists. Pilgrims journey to Gosaikunda (sacred lake). They pray to lord Shiva by bathing in the sacred lake. Kumbheswar Mahadev temple at Patan is also crowded with pilgrims where a pond is specially prepared for the festival.

GAI JATRA: The gai or Cow is holy to Hindus as she represents Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. It is believed that she guides the souls of the departed to the gates of the heaven. Gai Jatra is an occasion for satire, jokes and colorful processions. People who have lost their family members take comfort in the fact that the holy cow has safely transported the departed souls on their afterlife journey. Children dressed up as cows, and sadhus as well as other whimsical characters of all sorts fill the streets. Special issues of local magazines are circulated full of satire and jokes o reputed and famous people.

KRISHNASHTAMI (August): Krishnashtami is the birthday of Lord Krishna the hero of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Devotees flock to the ancient Krishna temple in Patan Durbar Square to worship and receive blessings. It is celebrated across the country at the temples of lord Krishna. In Kathmandu, decorated statues and pictures of Lord Krishna are displayed at many places.

TEEJ – August: Teej is women Festival in Nepal. Both Married and unmarried women worship lord shiva for better health and long life. The blessings of shiva and Parvati ensure that family life will be joyous for all.

INDRA JATRA– September :This festival is dedicated to lord Indra and lasts for eight days with singing, mask dancing and jubilation. The chariot of Kumari, the Living Goddess along with chariot o Kumari, the living Goddess along with chariots o Bhairab and Ganesh are taken through the main street of Kathmandu with much fanfare. Masks and statues representing Vishnu, Bhairab, and Shiva are shown to the public. Various masked dances like Pulu Kishi (Elephant dance), Lakhe, Sawa Bhaku and Mahankali dances are performed at various places. Indra is thanked for the rains and assured once again that he is respected in the Kathmandu Valley.

DASHAIN– September: Dashain is the longest and most popular/ biggest festival of Nepal. Animals like buffaloes, goats, ducks and chickens are sacrificed to the goddess Durga on the Kal Ratri (The dark night) to celebrate her victory over evil. Following day, on Nawami, People clean their vehicle and sacrifice animals or eggs for safe journey throughout the year. The next day, on dashami (tika), people dress up well and visit elders to receive large red Tikas of vermilion paste on their foreheads. In the following days of Dashain, families and friends unite, feasts are consumed, blessings are imparted and gifts are exchanged.

TIHAR (DIPAWALI) – October: Tihar is celebrated as the second biggest festival after Dashain. It is the festival of lights tinsel decorations and sweets. On different days, people worship crows, dogs, cows and oxen with vermilion, garland and delicious food for their important role in the society. On the night o Lakshmi Pooja, Houses are cleaned and decorated with candles, oil lamps and other lights with the belief that Goddess Laxmi will enter the house that is bright and cleanest. Garlands are hung the doors and window and lamps are lit to invite Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, into the homes, shops and workplaces. Newar community in Nepal also observes Mha Puja, a ritual of worshiping one’s own body and soul to remain healthy and happy for the rest of the year. On Bhaitika, the last day of the festival is the day when sisters make offerings to their bothers for their longevity to safeguard the lives of his sisters and brothers in return putting on garlands of Makhamali flowers and encircling brothers in rings of mustard oil are performed to protect them from Yama, lord of the death.

MANI RIMDU – October : Mani rimdu is the most important festival at Tengboche Monastery. Trips to the Everest region can be rewarding if they can be organized during the day of the festival. It consists of nine days of ceremonies and meditation. This concluded by a special blessing ceremony given by Tengboche Rinpoche to the public and the world renowned Mask Dances performed by the monks at Tengboche Monastery.

CHHATH PARVA– October: This festival is mainly celebrated in Janakpur by the Maithali – speaking people as well as in the rest of the country. It has been a cultural convergence of the both the Maithali –speaking people and the people migrated to Janakpur from Hill areas. Chhath festival is marked for four days. Men and women prepare special dishes made up of special rice and molasses and taste them after an audience to the moon. They take a dip in Ganga sagar, the famous lakes of the area. During the four-day-festival, the devotees worship the rising and setting sun. They have a belief that worshipping the sun would help cure the diseases like Leprosy and bring about longevity and prosperity to their family members Local people say that the festival has become more important after migrants from the hills also adopted it as their own cultural asset.

BALA CHATURDASHI– November: It is another festival to appease the souls of the dead for any wrong committed against them while they were still alive. The rites of this Chaturdasi are in honor of Bala, a burning ghat laborer who accidentally ate a piece of burnt flesh and became a demon addicted to cannibalism.  Several different stories narrate the tale but the motif common to all is that Bala was tricked by a gesture of friendship and killed. His vanquisher then began the custom of scattering grains for the dead this day, to atone for the fatal subterfuge. The mela begins at dusk the evening, prior with devotees assembling in the vicinity of Pashupatinath for all night vigils. Ceremonies and rituals bathing begin at dawn, followed by along, 2-3 hors procession through a rough course over which the participants scatter grains. This continues until a horn sounds the termination in the evening.

BIWAH PANCHAMI November: All the people of the Hundu world know the story of the marriage of the hero Ram and the princess Sita, as told in the epic Ramayan. King Janak, Sita’s father, proposed a test of strength for the suitors of his daughter: to string the great bow of Lord Shiva. Warriors, kin-s and chieftains came from afar, but no man could even lift the bow. Ram lift the bow. Ram lifted the bow with ease and when he tried to string it, the bow shat-tered into pieces. Ram and Sita were married in Janakpur, Now in southern Nepal, and  their marriage is celebrated to this day. Each year, idols of Ram and Sita are brought out in procession and their Hindu wedding ceremony is re-enacted during a week-long religious fair. Bibah Panchami reflects the devotion of Hindus to Ram, perhaps the most popular among the incarnations of Vishnu, and to Sita the model of the ideal Hindu woman.

UDHAULI PARBA (Kirat Parba) – December: Udhouli festival is celebrated by Kirat, Rai, and Limbu ethnic groups during the harvest season which falls in the month of November/ December, mainly to exhibit the gratefulness to the nature for the plentiful harvest and to receive the approval to harvest from the land. The literal definition of Udhouli is the migration of animals and birds from northern higher region down to warmer southern low lands. This migration towards south gave the festival its name Udhouli literally meaning downward movement.

YOMARI PURNIMA – December: People of the Kathamndu valley offer worship to Annapurna, the goddess of grains, for the rice harvest on this full moon day. According to the legends Suchandra and Krita, a married couple, first experimented with fresh yield of rice from their field at present day Panauti in ancient times. And what took shape turned out came to be known as yomari. The new delicacy was eventually distributed among the villagers. As the food was liked by all, the bread was named yomari, which laterally means ‘testy bread’ in Newari language. A Yomari is a confection of rice – flour (from the new harvest) dough shaped like fig and filled with brown sugarcane and sesame seeds, which is then steamed. This delicacy is the chief item on the menu during the post –harvest celebration of Yomari Punhi Groups of kinds go neighborhood to beg yomari cakes from housewives in the evening. Sacred masked dance are performed in the villages of Hari Siddhi and Thecho at the southern end of the valley to mark the festival

LHOSAR– December / January/ February: Abiding the lunar calendar Tamang, Magar, Gurung, Sharpa, Bhote and other Himalayan communities of Nepal celebrate Lhosar as their New year during the month of December to February, The dates are different for different societies mainly the four Lhosars for 4 different communities. Monasteries are attractively adorned with colorful decorative items. People take blessings from monks for their progress, prosperity and happiness. Each home raises a flag on top of its roof a Party is organized at home and invitations are forwarded to realties and friends. Delicious food, music and dance become the essence of party. Greetings and gifts are exchanged.

TIJI FESTIVAL AT MUSTANG: The Tiji festival is a three-day ritual known as “The chasing of the Demons” and it is centered on the Tiji myth. Tiji tells the story of a deity named Dorje Jono who must battle against his demon father to save the Kingdom of Mustang from destruction. The demon father wreaks havoc on Mustang by creating a water shortage which, in this extremely arid land, is the most precious life-sustaining resource. Dorje Jono eventually defeats the demon and banishes him from the land.

Tiji is a celebration and reaffirmation of this myth. Throughout the festival the events and story of the myth are re-enacted. The festival is timed to coincide with the end of the dry season (late winter/spring) and ushers in the wetter monsoon season. Tiji comes from the words “ten che” meaning “the hope of Buddha Dharma prevailing in all worlds” and is a spring renewal festival that also celebrates the triumph of good over evil. In 1964 Michel Peissel was the first westerner to observe the Tiji festival.

At this time, the Mustang region was still completely closed off to foreigners and he had to obtain special permission from the government of Nepal in order to enter the region. Despite his arrival on the last day of the celebration (he was unaware of the observance of Tiji) the experience left a lasting impression on him. “The scenes I witnessed were so extraordinary and so unexpected that I dared not believe my eyes and even today I have some trouble in believing in the

MAHA SHIVARATHRI DAY (March): The Hindu festival of Maha Sivarathri is celebrated in late February or early March. This is the most important religious festival of the year for Hindus. It is a deeply symbolic occasion celebrating the winning of Lord Shiva by his consort Parvati, through the efficacy of penance. All-night poojas are offered in the temples, and devotees keep an all-night vigil by singing bajans and prayers. You can visit any Hindu temples on the night of Mahaivarathri and observe the rituals and invoke blessings.

There is no such deity probably in any religious pantheon on the earth as folklorishly popularized as Rato Machhendra. There are many fascinating legends and rates -woven around Buddhist deity. And this deity also has awful lots of names such as Karunamaya, Bodhisattwa Padmapani, Awalokeswara, Lok Nath, Bunga Dyo, etc. The multiplicity of its names also speaks a lot for his popularity. One might wonder and ask what made this deity so popular. One of the most strongly supporting elements in the composition of its popularity is that it has been a long tradition to worship him as the all-compassionate god of rain and food grain.

RATO MACHHINDRA NATH: Nepal as we all know is an agricultural country where more than 90% of people -even to this age of science and advance technology-heavily depend on agriculture for their daily grind. The method of cultivation here, except in few cases is still in primitive stage. The monsoon rain is still the main source of water. The monsoon in Nepal generally begins sometimes in the middle of June and continues until the end of August. But the Nepalese farmers long before the monsoon starts thinking about the weather and look at regular clouds wondering whether they are going to have enough rain for the farming that year. The only way to free them from this worry and stay relaxed is to pray to the rain god for the better crops.

This is one of the main reasons why the chariot festival of Rato Machhendra which begins every year on the first day of the bright fortnight of Baishakh proves in itself to be the most auspicious occasion for the entire farmers' community-specially for (the Jyapu) farmers of Kathmandu Valley. These are the most enthusiastic people who always take active part in the celebration of this chariot festival. Soon after the festival phenomenon arrives at the door these people set them to the tremendous task of making a most fascinating festival chariot as tall as an ordinary three storeyed Nepalese house which demands a great skill. They become busy doing all kinds of things from carrying the building materials to using them in their most practical way. And also it is the same Jyapus who would pull the festival chariot throughout the different routes of the Patan city during the entire period of the celebration. The chariot is so heavy that it takes at least one hundred people to make it move. Beside this, the Jyapus also have a great enthusiasm for music. No festival in Nepal is considered complete without the musical performance. Their favorite drum locally known as Dhimaya and Bhushya (a pair of big brass cymbals) is a big must for the chariot festival of Rato Machhendra. When they bang beat the Dhimaya and hit hard the big brass Bhushyas people immediately make remarks on their performance and say that here they go for festival. Such an enthusiastic music they produce that it immediately puts the entire festival-watchers into a most enjoyable mood and they just go excited with it. This is all about the enthusiastic participation of the Jyapus in the celebration of the festival that has always a great respect for this rain god, Rato Machhendra Nath.

This deity is so much involved in everyday life of the people that he is almost in their blood. There is a very popular saying. It goes this way: one should never live in the neighborhood which does not have any Sanlhoo Guthi (a kind of religious institution or a trust devoted to rendering a service to Rato Machhendra on every first day of the month). Besides this, there are so many other customs and ritual traditions which throw plenty of light on the recognition of this deity's popularity as the rain god. There is a very old tradition custom according to which every year the bathing festival of this deity takes place at Lagankhel in Lalitpur. The main feature of this festival is the pouring out of the holy water over this rain god. There will be four big silver jars set in four different directions of this deity. When the chief priest announces the right moment to pour out the jars over the deity, all four priests long standing around the deity hastily lift their respective jars and pour out the water straight over the deity. As a very popular belief has it, the direction from where the first jar was lifted and poured out will definitely have better crops this year. It is said that in order to watch this auspicious ceremony even the important Nagas from heaven (water spirits) hand around in the air. Sometimes the public blows out into such an extent that some people in the crowd even strongly claim to have seen Nagas in the air watching the festival.

BISKET JATRA (Festival): Bisket Jatra is the annual celebration of two of the most important deities of the town of Bhaktapur, the wrathful god Bhairab and the goddess Bhadrakali. The New Year of the Bikram Sambat calendar takes place at the same time as this ancient festival. A few days before the New Year, the goddess and the god are enshrined in their raths, or immense chariots,& pulled through the narrow streets of Bhaktapur by crowds of young men. The chariots rest at certain time-honored places in the city and people come out to throw offerings of flower, rice, coins and red sindur powder. On the last day of the old year a towering wooden pole is erected at the edge of town. Long banners hang from the pole, symbolizing next and conquered in a mythological battle. On New Year’s Day, contesting terms of men pull the pole to the ground, a moment of danger and excitement.

HOLI (Color Festival): One of the major festivals of Nepal, Holi is celebrated with enthusiasm and gaiety on the full moon day in the month of Phalgun which is the month of March as per the Gregorian calendar. Holi festival may be celebrated with various names and people of different places might be following different traditions. But, what makes Holi so unique and special is the spirit of it which remains the same throughout the country and even across the globe, wherever it is celebrated. 

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