Nepal's identity is not confined to mountains alone. It is equally famous for its different festivals too. Nepalese celebrate more than 50 festivals around the year. National holidays have fixed dates but religious festivals are celebrated according to the Bikram Sambat (B.S.) lunar calendar. Some of the major festivals celebrated in Nepal.
Dashain is the longest (15 days) and favorite festival of the Nepalese. In preparation for Dashain people clean, decorate and paint their home to welcome godess Durga, so that she may visit and bless the house with good fortune. Dashain is celebrated in the lunar month of Kartik, which falls in late September and early October. The first 9 days signify a raging battle when the goddess Durga fought a terrible demon; good triumphed over evil on the tenth day when she slew him. She must be worshipped with proper rituals in the first 9 days to receive her blessing rather than her wrath. From the 8th day goddess Durga is worshiped with thousands of animal sacrifices, drenching the goddess in blood for days. From the 10th day, ‘Dashami’, everyone puts on new clothes and goes to visit their family elders, where they receive large red tikas of vermilion paste on their foreheads. In the following days of Dasain, families and friends unite, take part in the feasts, impart the blessings and exchange the gifts.
Nepal nearly grinds to a halt as shops, government offices and schools are all closed for celebration. After receiving the blessing of goddess Durga, people are ready to work and acquire virtue, power and wealth, but a few working days later, they stop to celebrate ‘Tihar’ festival.
Tihar is the festival of lights celebrated a few days after Dashain. For Five Days people decorate with tinsel and marigolds by day and candles at night. Different animals are worshipped on each day of festival; crows, dogs, cows and oxen. On the night of Lakshmi Puja intricate color designs mark and oil lamps guide the Laxmi, the goddess of wealth into the home. Maha Puja is the day they celebrate self, when people give themselves blessings to remain healthy and happy for the rest of the year. Bhai Tika is the last day, when sisters make offerings to their brothers and brothers bless their sisters.
Hindu women celebrate this three-day festival by fasting, singing, and dancing in remembrance of the goddess Parvati's devotion to her husband Shiva. They dress up in their fine red saris and visit the Pashupatinath temple of Shiva. It takes place in August or early September.
Married women pray to Lord Shiva for the long, healthy and prosperous life of their husbands and their families. The unmarried women pray to get good husbands. During these days the women fast until midnight, and then enjoy a feast. On the third day,women bathe with red mud as a purification ritual to absolve them from all sins.
Indra Jatra Festival:
Indra Jatra is festival of Kathmandu Valley celebrated in late August or early September. Indra refers to the Hindu’s Lord Indra, the Lord of Rain and Jatra means the procession. In this eight day festival people worship the Lord Indra who blesses the valley with rain.
Legend holds that Lord Indra was caught by the people of the valley for picking a special type of flower for his mother. When his mother found out what had happened, she punished the people. As a result, the people dedicated this colorful festival to Indra to appease his anger. Indra Jatra also honors of deity Bhairab, a manifestation of Lord Shiva who is believed to destroy evil.
A thirty-six foot long wooden flag pole is erected at Hanuman Dhoka in the Durbar Square in Kathmandu. This is also the day when the Newar community remembers their ancestors by burning small oil lamps throughout the old city. The living goddess, Kumari, is brought out into the streets in her special chariot from the Kumari Ghar accompanied by two boys representing Lord Bhairav and Lord Ganesh. The President of Nepal as well as other government officers pay homage to Goddess Kumari and watch the masked dances.
Dancers wearing the masks of demons perform the traditional Lakhe dance throughout the Kathmandu Valley.
Gai Jatra Festival:
Gai Jatra is a festival of fun, gaiety, humor, satire and entertainment celebrated mostly in the Kathmandu Valley. Gai Jatra, or ‘cow festival’, usually falls in late August. The festival’s name comes from the Hindu belief that the deceased, during their journey to heaven, cross a legendary river by grabbing the tail of a cow.
The festival began when an eighteenth century king rallied his people to cheer the queen upon the death of their son. It became a yearly festival where those who experienced the death of close ones during the past year could share their sorrow and comfort, so that the cow would safely transport the departed souls.
People have fun by dressing up in comical ways and also by publicly mocking the political and social problems. In Bhaktapur there is a special stick dance called “Ghintang Ghising” that is performed on this day. It has also become a day for gender minorities to express themselves freely with a ‘Gay Pride’ parade.
Gai Jatra is a festival promoting the acceptance of the reality of death and to prepare oneself for the life after death. It is a chance for the grieving to laugh and remember they are not alone in their loss.
Janai Purnima (Raksha Bandhan) Festival:
Janai Purnima or Raksha Bandhan festival is celebrated on full moon day in the month of August. On this ‘Sacred Thread’ day, Hindu men, especially high caste Brahmins and Chettris perform their annual change of the cotton string they wear across the chest and put a scared thread around their wrist.
A day before the festival the men purify themselves by restricting their diet, and in the Purnima (full moon) morning they usually go to rivers and ponds nearby, to bathe and break their old janai and wear the new one.
Buddha Jayanti is the most sacred day in Buddhist calendar and is celebrated with great enthusiasm. It falls on the full moon day in the month of May. Buddha Jayanti has special significance because it was on this day that Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, and Nirvana. This incredible, three-fold coincidence, gives Buddha Purnima its unique significance.
The Lord Buddha was born in Nepal and he preached Buddhism, the second most popular religion in Nepal. Before the festival the stupas of Swayambhunath and Boudhanath are cleaned and decorated with colourful flags and flowers. Buddhists observe the day by prayer, group meditation, listening to sermons about Buddha, and recitation of Buddhist scriptures. They eat rice cooked in milk and sugar, which they share with the poor. They set up stalls in public places to offer others clean drinking water and also show kindness to animals
Holi or Fagu Purnima is a colorful and playful festival celebrated in several South Asian countries. The Holi festival is celebrated in the month of March and is the welcoming of spring and summer and to ask the blessing of God for the fertility of the land and coming harvest.
The week-long festival begins when a long bamboo stick covered with pieces of different color cloths is erected in Bashantapur Durbar square, Kathmandu. The final day of Holi is a public holiday, on the full moon. People go houses of relatives and friends in group. People throw water balloons (lola), put color on each other as a token of love, eat sweets and dance and play music. People in Terai celebrate Holi the day after it is celebrated in Kathmandu Valley and other hilly regions of Nepal.
Losar Festival, the Nepal New Year is celebrated in February. Sherpa,Tamang and Tibetans welcome the New Year with feasts, family visits and dances. The people wear their finest clothes and jewelry and exchange gifts. Colorful prayer flags decorate the streets and rooftops. Buddha and Swayambhu stupas are brilliant with color.
Lhosar begins on the 29th day of the 12th month of the Tibetan calendar and lasts for almost 2 weeks. The main celebrations take place during first three days.
The first day is celebrated by cleaning their houses, especially the kitchen. On the second day, the main New Year Day, people visit the monasteries, chant mantras and give gifts to the monks. Buddhist monks offer prayers for good health and prosperity, and perform traditional dances representing the struggle between demon and god.
On the third day, people get together and have feasts.One of the special dishes is a soup made from meat, wheat, rice, sweet potato, cheese, peas, green pepper, vermicelli noodles and radish. For fun, the soup may be served with a type of dumpling with a surprise filling: like chilies, wood, paper, iron or pebbles. What you get in your dumpling reveals something about your character. If one finds wood means he has wooden heart, etc.
Nepali New Year:
The Nepali New Year starts on the first day of the first month of Bikram Sambat Calendar, the official calendar of Nepal.The first day of Baishak falls in mid-April. There are 9 different New Years celebrated in Nepal by different ethnic groups. However, Baishakh 1st is regarded as the Nepali New Year, and the country’s official calendar year starts this day.
Nepali New Year is an official holiday. Hindu devotees visit the Pashupati temple, take a dip in the holy Bagmati River and seek blessings from family priest and one's elders as well. Many celebrate by having picnics, get-togethers and celebrate the day by socializing in various ways.
While most festivals are based on the lunar calendar, Maghe Sankranti is a solar event, the festival of the Sun God. Maghe Sankranti is celebrated in the month of January on the occasion of the sun entering the southern hemisphere; according to Hindu Astrology the Sun leaves the Sagittarius zodiac sign to enter Capricorn. People celebrate Maghe Sankranti by taking an early morning bath in a holy river and worshipping the Lord Vishnu by presenting flowers, incense and food to him. They read the Holy Scripture, rub mustard oil over their bodies, and enjoy feasts of rice cooked with lentils, yams and sweets made of sesame and sugarcane.