Everything festive in Nepal traditionally begins with something religious and moves with spontaneous spirit into a pleasant family feast. This is because, for Nepali’s, relegion has always influenced and has been the core of Nepali culture. Most of the festivals celebrated in Nepal are religious. However, they can be generally divided into four sections keeping in mind the main aspects of the festival emphasized:
Religious: These festivals are specially designed to honor a certain god or goddess. For instance, Bada Dashain, the festival of Devi Durga, the universal mother goddess also known as Kali.
Historical: The historical festivals are celebrated to keep alive memories of events of importance. Gaijatra, was introduced by Jaya Prakash Malla.
Agricultural: Since Nepal is an agricultural country there are different festivals like Laxmi Puja which mark the different seasons of harvesting, planting etc.
Seasonal: The different seasonal festivals are celebrated in order to mark the beginning of special seasons. Holi or Fagu is the festival inspired by spring, the season of colours.
Legendary: These festivals are based on legends than on any reliable historical record. Ghantakarna is a festival, which is also based on a legend. It is celebrated as a great relief from the death of a most dreaded legendary monster-Ghantakarna
One of the interesting ways to understand the beauty and richness of Nepali culture is through its festivals. During festivals in Nepal, cultural dances, songs and performances are practiced. These cultural treasures make the festivals interesting and entertaining. People find more joy participating in performances and watching others perform and so, no festivals are idle gatherings. Instead, they are lively and purposeful.
Festivals according to month :
Basant Panchami is also called ‘Shri Panchami’ or ‘Saraswati Puja’. It marks the beginning of spring and it is celebrated in the honour of Goddess Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, wisdom, arts and music.
Democracy Day celebrates the turning point of Nepal’s history: the end of the Rana autocratic regime and the recovery of the Shah dynasty’s power and authority over the country in 1951.
Shivaratri means ‘the night of Lord Shiva’ and is one of the most important festivals of Nepal. Lord Shiva is considered as the guardian and protector of everything that exists. Hundreds of thousands of followers from different parts of country and India crowd the Pashupatinath temple – one of the holiest shrines of the Hindus in Kathmandu to worship Lord Shiva on its birthday.
Ghode Jatra is the festival of the horse. There is an exhibition of horse-riding talents, perfomed by cavalry units of the Royal horse-guards.
Seto Matchhendra festival kicks off a month prior to the much larger Rato Machhendranath festival in Patan. It is an homage paid to ‘Matsyendranath The White’ by the Newar community of Kathmandu and represents Avalokiteshwara, the Bodhisattva highly venerated in countries of Buddhist communities who adopted the ‘vajrayana’.
Bisket Jatra is the Nepali New Year Festival. It is celebrated in the historic city of Nepal, Bhaktapur and the surrounding arreas. During the festival people replay a drama passed on over the centuries. God Bhairav and goddess Bhadrakali are placed in large chariots and pulled through crowds of cheering onlookers. The festival concludes with several days of dancing and worshiping. Madhyapur Bal Kumari Jatra Thimi celebrates the New Year to ensure the protection of Goddess Bal Kumari the whole year through.
Ram Navami Hindus worship God Ram as a victorious person. In memory of the victory day, all Hindus worship Ram at various temples, especially in RamJanakiTemple in Janakpur. (outside KathmanduValley)
Rato Machhendranath is celebrated in honour to the rain god, Rato Machhendranath. Until a few decades ago, the KathmanduValley was an agricultural land, which depended upon the rainy monsoon for its important rice crop. Today, though traditional farming have reduced, the pre-monsoon season still sees great worship made to the rain god.
Buddha Jayanti celebrates the Buddha’s birth (around 554 BC.), enlightenment and passing into nirvana at Gautama Siddharta’s birthplace, Lumbini. (outside KathmanduValley)
Janai Purnima is a festival to pay homage to Shiva. On the full moon, all high-caste men change the ‘janai’ (sacred thread), which they wear, looped over their left shoulder. The festival brings crowds of Hindu pilgrims to sacred Gosainkund lakes and the KumbeshwarTemple in Patan.
Gai Jatra pays as homage to cows and, simultaneously, to those who passed away during the year. 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 colourful processions. Cows are led through towns and children dress up as cows.
Mataya is a Buddhist festival in hour of the deceased and also the commemoration of Buddha’s victory over the tempter-demoness Mara who had tried – in vain – to distract Buddha during his meditation in BodhGaya’s deer park
Teej (Rishi Panchami) is the festival of Women honouring their husbands. It starts with a sumptuous meal and party; at midnight, women commence a 24-hour fast. On the second day, married and unmarried women crow Pashupatinath and other temples of Lord Shiva. Women are dressed in beautiful red saris with shining glass beads, singing and dancing, while the women recall Parbati’s devotion to her husband Shiva.
Gunla is a whole month in homage of Buddha. Each morning in the early hours (around 3 or 4 am) a huge procession of musicians and devotees gathers in the old lanes of Kathmandu and proceeds through Chhetrapati, Tengal, Yatkha and the old lanes of Kathmandu towards one of the narrow old bridges crossing the Vishnumati river and leading to the foot of Swayambhu Hill.
Indra Jatra is one of the most important Nepalese festivals and has various aspects and meanings:
- Homage to Indra, the ‘King of the abode of the Gods’
- Dedication to Bhairav, the terrifying representation of Shiva and protector of Kathmandu
- Homage to the deceased and to Dagini, Indra’s mother
- Consecration of the Royal Kumari (living goddess) for another year
The festival lasts for eight days with singing, mask dancing and jubilation. It also marks the end of the monsoon. Indra is thanked for the rains and assured once again that he is respected in the Kathmandu Valley.
Dashain is the longest and most favorite festival of Nepal and lasts for 15 days. It celebrates the victory of the goddess Durga over the forces of evil. Skies of Kathmandu are filled with kites and animals are sacrificed to the goddes Durga.
Tihar is the second most important Hindu festival in Nepal. It is the festival of lights, the veneration of Lakshmi, Goddess of wealth and a festival in homage to certain animals. In addition to all this, the Newari community celebrates the beginning of their own New Year! (Tihar has a series of other names such as Diwali, Lakshmi Puja and Yama Panchak). On different days, people worship crows, dogs, cows and oxen with vermilion, garland and delicious food for their important role in the society.
Bibaha Panchami celebrates the marriage of Lord Ram and Sita. All the people of the Hindu world know the story of the marriage of the Ram and the princess Sita, as told in the epic Ramayana. Bibaha 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. (outside Kathmandu Valley)
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