Nepal is a land of festivals and a garden of diverse cultures. Despite being small in total area, Nepal possesses some of the best, unique and amazing festivals from different ethnic communities that hold beautiful history behind. All these festivals represent the Nepali culture and traditions. These festivals are celebrated not only by the specific ethnic communities but by the whole country together.
Here are some of the top festivals that are celebrated in Nepal.
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Dashain is the longest and the main Hindu festival and is celebrated for 15 days. It is a festival celebrating the victory of good over evil. Goddess Durga is worshipped and offered sacrifices to ensure the devotees’ progress and prosperity.
She symbolizes valor and prowess. During the first ten days, pilgrims throng to various river assemble early in the morning and sacred shrines in the evening. Ghatasthapana, Phool Pati, Maha Ashtami, Navami and Vijaya Dashami are the series of events under Dashain each marked with a different set of rituals.
During Dashain, men and women along with their children in their fineries visit their elders to seek tika (a dab of red vermilion mixed with yogurt and rice). It is accompanied by blessings and Dakshina. Sword precessions (Paayaa) are also held in various parts of the Kathmandu Valley.
A large number of animals are officially sacrificed at Hanuman Dhoka during Navami which is attended by officials, invitees, and visitors.
The weather during Dashain is perfect for roaming around the city and exploring its rich cultures and beauties. It is neither too hot nor too cold. People, especially children, fly kites in the daytime and play swings. The swings are specially made up of raw bamboo. The children also get excited a lot about this festival as they get to go shopping.
You can participate in this festival with fellow Nepali locals during your visit to Nepal. They are always glad to welcome you warmly to this auspicious occasion.
Tihar is the second main festival of Hindus. It is the festival of lights and colors. Tihar falls in the month of Spring. Tihar honors Yama, the God of Death, meanwhile, the worship of Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth dominates the festivities.
The first-day Kaag Tihar is the day of the crow ‘Kaag Tihar’. It is regarded as the informant of Yama and is worshipped. Leaf dishes of rice, incense and light are set out for the dark messenger. The second day Kukur Tihar is for worshipping the dogs as the agents of Yama. They are offered goodies.
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The third day is Gai Tihar and Laxmi Puja. On this day the cow is offered prayers and food in the morning, and Goddess Laxmi is offered elaborate prayers and puja in the evening. Also, during the evening time, groups of people gather together and visit different houses playing ‘Deusi’ and ‘Bhailo’.
The fourth day is Goru Tihar where the bulls are worshipped. The fifth and last day is called Bhai Tika. On this day, the brothers are worshipped by their sisters and are prayed for their long lives. They put seven coloured tika on their forehead and are offered ‘Bhai Masala’ along with many other sweets and fruits. The brothers also offer gifts to their sisters in return.
Houses all over the country are lit up with extra colorful lights, diyo and decorated with garlands. People make rangolis out of different colors and decorate the front of their houses. A great view is rewarded of the brightly lit-up Kathmandu city from the Swayambhunath Stupa. People make sweets, Sel rotis and delicious foods in their houses.
Thus, tihar stands as a vital festival in the lives of Hindus as it holds many believes and represents the historical culture of the Nepalese.
Holi is a famous Hindu festival that is celebrated in every part of the country with the utmost joy and enthusiasm. Holi, also known as “Fagu Purnima” falls on the month of Falgun. It is at the end of the Nepalese year.
Holi is known as the festival of colors. It takes place on the full moon day. Following Dashain and Tihar festival, Holi is celebrated for the victory of good over evil and the coming of spring.
During this colorful festival, Nepalese and foreign tourists will throw each other with dry powder and colored water to express their sincere blessings and good wishes. The vibrancy of multi colors is something that brings in a lot of positivity in our lives. Therefore Holi, being the festival of colors, is actually a day worth rejoicing.
The ritual starts one day before the day of Holi by lighting up the bonfire. This process symbolizes the triumph of good over the bad. While you’re in Nepal during Holi you get to celebrate this amazing and authentic festival with the local people. You can participate and play with colors with friends and local people. In the evening, you will witness how the people show love and respect to their close ones with Abeer.
In recent years, Holi has become popular with non-Hindus as well in many parts of South Asia, as well as people of other communities outside Asia.
Gai Jatra is one of the most popular festivals in Nepal. It is generally celebrated in between the month of August-September. Gai Jatra, despite having its presence throughout the country, it has most strongholds in the Newari community of Kathmandu valley.
This is the festival of cow, celebrated in the Kathmandu Valley to commemorate the death of loved ones. The family members of the deceased of the past year send people mostly children on the streets dressed as cows to parade as a part of this festival.
The date for this festival is set according to the lunar Nepafalls on the first day of the dark four nights of the month [Gunla]. This festival has its roots in the belief that the god of death, Yamaraj, must be feared and hence worshiped.
The king who started this festival was from Kathmandu city. Therefore, Kathmandu is considered to be the main source of this festival. Gai Jatra is a festival that has been passed on from generation to generation. The festival is celebrated in different unique ways in different parts of the valley i.e. Kathmandu, Patan, Kirtipur and Bhaktapur.
The festival is celebrated with the carnival of singing, dancing, laughter and amusement. During this festival, the family members gather and have a feast of their success. Men dress up like women and travel around the city. They go to all the houses calling up the owners and asking them to come down and join in the feast with them. This helps to create harmony among the neighbors and the city members.
Various comedy shows, acts and dramas are also organized during Gai Jatra in different places including televisions and radios.
Mahashivaratri is a festival dedicated to the Lord Shiva. It falls in the month of February or March. This festival celebrates the birthday of supreme god of Hindu mythological figure. Thousands and thousands of visitors make their pilgrimage visit in Kathmandu on this day. The meaning of Mahashivaratri is “The Great Night of Lord Shiva”.
Temples of Lord Shiva have excessive number of devotees during this festival. Especially in Pashupatinath temple, Makkhan Pashupati etc. have crowds of devotees of all ages from both inside and outside the country. The festival is celebrated on the new moon day of Maagha according to the Hindu calendar.
The day is celebrated to cherish Lord Shiva, an important deity of trinity in Hindu culture. The specific night came to be known as Maha Shivratri and people began worshipping Shiva with great enthusiasm. Holy rituals are performed all over the nation. Artists from various classical music and dance forms perform through the night.
On Maha Shivaratri, married women pray for the well being of their husbands. The unmarried women pray for a husband like Shiva as he is considered as the ideal husband. Shiva is also worshipped as the Adi Guru (first teacher) from whom the divine wisdom originates.
Special attendance camps are set in the courtyards of different temples. During the daytime, children are seen collecting donations from passersby on this day preparing for holy meal and bonfire in celebration of the special night.
Shree Krishna Janmashtami
Shree Krishna Janmashtami marks the celebration of the birth of Lord Sri Krishna. Lord Krishna is regarded as the 8th avatar or ‘incarnation’ of Lord Vishnu. His is a promise of the ultimate triumph of good over the ever-present evil in the souls of men.
Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated on Ashtami tithi, the eighth day of the dark half or Krishna Paksha of the month of Bhadra in the Nepali calendar of Bikram Sambat. It falls in August and September of the English calendar. This festival is hugely celebrated throughout the country.
It is thought that Sri Krishna was born on a bleak, stormy and rainy evening to stop his uncle’s reign and violence, Kansa. Hence, the real Janmashtami festival requires position at noon. This day is marked throughout the country with devotional music and rituals, pujas, arti, the Conch blasting, and the child Sri Krishna cradle swinging.
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Devotees stay wary and fast until midnight, the traditional hour of his birth, on the previous day. Then Krishna’s picture is clothed and adored in fresh garments after being washed in rain and dairy. Temples and household shrines are decorated with leaves and flowers. First sweet, meats are offered to the god and then distributed to all household members as prasads.
About eighty percent of the population of Nepal identify themselves as Hindus and celebrate Krishna Janmashtami. The devotees recite the Bhagavad Gita and sing religious songs called bhajans and kirtans. The temples of Krishna are decorated. Shops, posters and houses carry Krishna motifs.
The maids take fasting and wear new clothes and ornaments. They worship god Krishna to demand good husband. People have a belief that by fasting on this day, Lord Krishna will give us everything we want. All the girls worship god Krishna with different types of fruits and flowers.
Maghe Sankranti is the indicator of the holy month usually in mid January. Neplai people celebrate it as the beginning of an auspicious month of Magh. The festival hopes to bring end of cold season and expect to coming of warmer weather and better days of health and fortune.
Hindus celebrate this festival by taking ritual dip in holy river confluences with spiritual purpose. Some of the famous rivers are Devghat, Dolalghat, Baraha Kshetra, Ridi (Kaligandaki river), The Sachi Tirtha at Trivenighat and other rivers.
Maghe Sankranti festival is the festival of God, Sun. It is also known as the symbol of power, wisdom. The menu on this day includes Chaku, Tilko Laddu, Tarul and ghee that we can see in most of the houses. Families get together during the day and eat meals together. People worship Lord Vishnu during the month by offering him pujas and reading the sacred Bhagavad Gita, also known as The Song of the Gods.
Maghe Sankranti is also known as Maghi. It is the New Year of Tharu community of Nepal. Maghi had also been declared as the National festival of Nepal. Tharu people celebrate this festival with their family together, celebrate with dance and have a delicious feast.
Taruka village of Nuwakot organizes Bull fight (Ox fight) every year on the occasion of Maghe Sankranti. It is also believed that people dying this day will directly go to heaven without suffering and get a rebirth.
Traditionally, Tharus make plans for the entire year on this day. Each member of the family is given responsibility. If any member of the family makes mistakes, the case is discussed on this day. In case anyone is not satisfied with the performances of the individual, the individual will have to carry their duties for a year.
Similar like Tharu community, on the day of Maghe Sankranti people from Magar community also celebrate the beginning of their New Year.
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Teej is a celebration of fasting in which women pray for marital bliss, well being of their spouse and children and purification of their own body and soul. It takes place in August and September. In the present context, the festival has connotations with rights of women. This festival represents the glory of sisterhood.
Hartalika Teej welcomes the monsoon season and are celebrated primarily by girls and women, with songs, dancing and prayer rituals. The monsoon festivals of Teej are primarily devoted to Goddess Parvati and her union with Lord Shiva. In this festival, women follow a ritual of fasting without eating anything for long life of her husband.
“Teej” refers to the “third” day that falls every month after the new moon (Amavasya), and the third day after the full moon night of every month. The festival celebrates the reward of nature, arrival of clouds and rain, greenery and birds with social activity, rituals and customs.
The festivals for women, include dancing, singing, getting together with friends and telling stories, dressing up with henna-coloured hands and feet, wearing red, green or orange clothes and sharing festive foods.
The first day of Teej is called Dar Khane Din. Women on this day assemble at one place in their finest attire and start dancing and singing devotional songs. In the midst of all this, the grand feast takes place. That is the day for women to embellish themselves in sorha singaar — dressing up and using make-up to the full extent, indulge in good food, and dance. The food served is supposed to be rich and abundant.
The second day is the day of fasting. Some women don’t eat or drink food and water while others drink liquids and eat fruit. The fasting is observed by married and unmarried women wishing for the long lives of the husbands. Unmarried women observe the fast with the hope of being blessed with a good husband.
The third day of the festival is Rishi Panchami. After the completion of the puja, women pay homage to seven saints or sages, offer prayers to deities, and perform an act of purification. It is the final ritual of Teej, after which women are considered absolved from all their sins. Recent years have witnessed an alteration in the rituals, especially concerning the severity, but its essence remains the same.
Buddha Jayanti is celebrated to mark the birthday of the Lord Buddha, which dates back to about 543 BC. It falls on the full moon night of either May or June. The peace lover and Buddhist communities like to make their pilgrimage at Buddha’s birthplace Lumbini of Nepal in this auspicious day.
Lord Gautam Buddha is also known as the “Light of Asia”. His teachings have been spread all around the world. Now, Buddhism is a religion followed by many countries in the world. The devotees dress in white dresses and offer Gautam Buddha with vegetarian food, flowers, fruits,and candles.
The devotees set the animals free which are caged, symbolizing that Buddhism care for all creatures. The scarification of the animals is not allowed during this day. Donations to persons and organizations in many forms like cash, meals or any other items are made with the main aim of helping them.
Nepal celebrates Buddha Jayanti with huge devotion. There are different events and ceremonies that are performed by the devotees around the stupas and shrines all around Nepal. In Nepal, Buddha Jayanti is declared as a national holiday since 1952. Grand celebrations occur in Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha, Swayambhunath stupa, Boudhanath stupa,and many other stupas.
Buddhism is all about serving humanity. Therefore, there are also some programs conducted to support the local students in various areas. Different competitions like essay writing, rallys, wall paintings, lamp lightening etc. are held,and prizes are given to the best ones. Similarly, scholarships for underprivileged students are also a part of the festival.
“The Great Buddha Jayanti Fair” is another special event that occurs on this day where devotees from Nepal as well as other parts of the world participate.
Indra Jatra is the Hindu festival celebrated to honor Lord Indra, the God of rain. The festival begins on the 26th of Bhadon and lasts for eight days mainly in the Kathmandu Durbar Square. Indra Jatra was started by King Gunakamdev after setting the city of Kathmandu in the 10th century. Kumari Rath Yatra was later added to the celebration in the 18th century worshipping the “The Living Goddess Kumari”.
Indra Jatra holds a history behind its celebration. The festival states that when Lord Indra was fetching night jasmine from Kathmandu for his mother, he was captured and held captive by the locals. Once they realized that it was the Lord Indra they had captured, they got scared and immediately released him. Then the Lord’s mother blessed the city for discharging her son.
The locals believe that because of this blessing, Kathmandu valley receives sufficient dew even in winter months for cultivation.
There are different parts of the procession. Such as, the propagation of this story like Dagin (Indra’s mother frantically searching for her son around the city) and Pulu Kisi (a dance depicting Indra’s elephant frantically moving around the city looking for its master).
On the first day of this Jatra, a lofty wooden pole called Yasin is erected before the king’s palace or at other Durbar sites. The pole is made from a single tree with stripped branches and bark. People light incense and candles as a homage to their deceased family members.
Dancers from all across Nepal perform with masks and musical instruments. Earthquake occurrence by any chance on the opening day of the festival is considered a bad omen. If so happens, the festival would have to be restarted.
Besides Indra Jatra, the other attraction of the Jatra is the Kumari Jatra which includes special chariots of Goddess Kumari, Bhairav, and Ganesh. It is pulled across by the horde of the locals in different parts of the city accompanied by mascots and musical bands. The chariots are built just for this purpose. Young virgins are brought before the king and worshiped and carried through Kathmandu, mounted on oars.
Pulu Kisi (elephant dance), Majipa Lakhey, Sawa Bhakku, Devi Pykhan, Mahakali pykhan are the various dance forms performed during Indra Jatra.
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