Nepal is famous for its spectacular festivals. Your visit is almost certain to coincide with at least one celebration. Most of the festivals are a blend of Hindu culture and Buddhist traditions and all are celebrated with great enthusiasm. They are ceremonies in temples, traditional dances or colorful processions, such as Gaura, the biggest festival in Farwest Nepal.
The official calendar adopted in Nepal is called the Bikram Sambat (BC). Its New Year begins with the month of Baisakh (mid-April) and is 57 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar. The dates of most festivals are fixed by famous astrologers after consulting Nepal‘s lunar calendar. Some festivals are of national significance, while others are celebrated only in the Far Western region of Nepal. We warmly invite you to experience Nepal‘s festive Far West with us!
SAHID DIWAS (MARTYR’S DAY)
Sahid Diwas or Martyr’s day is an annual public holiday. It is celebrated by the Nepalese as a way of remembering and honoring people, who sacrificed their lives to fight the country and its people. This holiday is especially in memory of the four martyrs’, who were executed in 1941: Dharma Bhakta Mathema, Dashrath Chand, Gangalal Shrestha and Shukraraj Shastri. They gave their precious, young lives to overthrow the autocratic Rana family. The four youths were a great threat to the tyrannical regime of the Rana family, because they demanded human rights for the Nepalese people. Shukra Raj Shastri and Dharma Bhakta Mathema were hanged and the other two were shot.
The former royal regime built a gate called “Sahid” with the statues of these four martyrs.
MAGHE SANKRANTI / SONAM LHOSAR
Maghe Sankranti is a Nepalese festival that is celebrated on the first day of the month of Magh in the Vikram Sambat calendar. It marks the end of winter and signifies a new holy season. The Nepali people celebrate the end of this phase that ends with the month of Poush.
How is Maghe Sankranti celebrated by Nepalese people?
The first day of Maghe is also celebrated in the Terai by the Tharu community as Maghi or New Year. The Maghi celebrations last from the last week of Poush until the third of Maghe. Families get together and dress up in traditional Tharu wear, eat, drink and enjoy themselves.
Sonam Lhosar / Tibetian New Year
“Lho” means year or age and “Sar” means new or fresh. Hence, the word Lhosar means New Year or the beginning of a new era. In Nepal, Sonam Lhosar falls on the first new moon of the month called “Magh” in the Vikram Sambat calendar. The Tamang, that make up eight percent of Nepal’s population, celebrate this festival. The Tamang also celebrate the twelve animal symbols associated with particular years, as the Chinese do. It is important to them whether it is the year of the rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog or boar. Tamang is a very old tribe and they are the original people of Yambu. Tamang is made up of two words, “Ta” means horse and “Mang” means rider. It is assumed that they were connected with horse trading or riding.
Large numbers of Tamang people live in the Mid Mountains of the Himalayan range and also in the capital city, Kathmandu. Tamang have a very rich tradition and culture. They have their own language, culture, clothing and social structure. It is said, 90 % believe in Buddhism.
How do we celebrate Sonam Lhosar:
The Tamang begin to prepare for Sonam Losar on the final day of the 12th month. They clean their houses and welcome the New Year. In Buddhist monasteries rituals are performed, which also include masked dances, which are supposed to drive out negative forces. The New Year celebration is celebrated differently, some people go to monasteries, stupas or chaityas and perform ceremonies there. People wear new clothes on New Year’s Day and decorate their houses. Another tradition is to sweep the house, to sweep away bad and negative forces. Doors and windows are decorated for a long life and happiness. The day’s feast has pork, duck, chicken and sweet dessert. There is music played with traditional instruments, called Damphu.
SHREE PANCHAMI / SARASWATI PUJA / BASANTA PANCHAMI
Shree Panchami, Basanta Panchami or Saraswati Puja is one of the most important festivals in Nepal. Basanta Panchami is the day when winter ends and spring starts. It is celebrated in January-February (Magh-Fagun). Goddess Saraswati is regarded as the Goddess of Knowledge and is worshipped on this day. She is the creator of art, music, science and all education. Saraswati is one of the greatest creations of Lord Brahma. She is also believed to be the most beautiful creation of Brahma. Saraswati is a four handed Goddess, seated on a white lotus wearing a white sari. She is depicted as sitting on a white swan, holding a veena (a musical instrument), a book and a garland. Saraswati Puja is celebrated on Magh Sukla Panchami, on Panchami (the fifth day of the fortnight). Thus, the day is called Shree Panchami.
How do we celebrate Saraswati Puja in Nepal:
It is a day filled with celebration! Many children start writing their first letters on this day. They are taken to a Saraswati temple and asked to read and write their very first letter. Across the country, Nepalese letters, numbers and shlokas are written onto the walls of Sawaswati temples. Children use white chalk to write onto a slate or wall. Therefore, it is a very important day for every child.
It is believed, Shree Panchami is the best day to start learning new things. Thus, on this day, students worship their books, pens and notebooks. Musicians worship their instruments and professionals worship their tools. In short, this is the day when the source of knowledge, art and education is worshipped.
Students worship Goddess Saraswati for more diligence and respect. Schools and colleges have special holiday traditions for this day. In the Madhesh and Terai region of Nepal, money is collected. They build idols of Goddess Saraswati at town avenues. People visit these idols and honor them. Sometimes, they organize idol competitions. The community who builds the best idol, wins. The winner is awarded a prize, which makes the celebration even more fun!
On this day, people get married or start new businesses. There are many holy Saraswati temples across Nepal. In every temple area, there is always a small separate temple for Saraswoti. It is a tradition to have Saraswati in every temple in Nepal.
This night is celebrated as the birth-night of Lord Shiva, it is also called Bhaolenath.
The story behind the celebration of Shivaratri:
At Samundra Mantha, poison spilled out of the ocean and began to cause destruction everywhere. To protect the universe from destruction, Lord Shiva drank the poison and managed to keep it in his throat. His throat turned blue and from then on he was known as Nilkantha.
So, Shiva protected the world from the dangerous poison. Therefore, people started celebrating the day as Shivaratri and thanking Shiva for saving the world. It is also believed that Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati on this day. In some places, Shivaratri is celebrated as the marriage anniversary of Shiva and Parvati, too. All three things happened on the same day, thus, the day is also called Falgun Sukla Chaturdashi.
How do we celebrate Maha Shivaratri:
According to the Shiva Puran, six items are regarded important in order to worship Lord Shiva in Maha Shivaratri. The items are: Bel leaf (Marmelos), varmilion paste (chandan), various food items (Prasad), incense (Dhoop/Batti), lamp oil (Diyo) and betel leaves.
Shiva devotees fast all day and night. Shiva Linga Puja (a tradition ritual of worshipping a symbolic representation of Shiva) is performed at night by chanting mantras, offering bell leaves and pouring water onto the Shiva linga. Fireplaces are set up in avenues and in temples at night to keep Lord Shiva warm. Children search for wood and sing “Shivaji lai jado bhayo aago deu” (Shivaji is feeling cold, give him some fire). In villages and towns big logs are burnt and people sing “Shiva bhajans” the whole night.
Pashupatinath is the biggest temple of lord Shiva in Nepal. On Shivaratri, this temple has a big appeal. Hindu worshippers from all over Nepal and India visit Pashupatinat and even a large number of Sadhus come here. The Sadhus are covered with bhibuti (ashes). They are said to have mastered the pain of heat, cold and suffering, as they have devoted their life to Lord Shiva. They stand naked and bless the devotees and smoke weeds as a divine gift from Lord Shiva.
There is always a big fair and market setting around the Pashupati temple area in Shivaratri. Large numbers of people visit the temple and buy things. The various public speeches, music, dances, sadhus, markets and a large number of tourists make Shivaratri even more fun. Women and children put Mehandi (henna) onto their hands. Snakedances, a circus and other fun activities can also be seen in the surrounding areas of the Pashupati temple.
FAGUA / HOLI
Holi is the festival of colors. In Southern Asia, this festival also marks the end of winter and welcomes summer. Holi is celebrated on the full moon day in Falgun. Hence, it is also called Fagu Purnima and Sanskrit Dhuli.
The festival is celebrated with colors, water, sweets and music. People paint color on each other as a symbol of love. In groups, people visit the homes of relatives and friends, paint color on each other, eat sweets, play music and dance around the whole day. The people in the Terai celebrate Holi one day later than in Kathmandu Valley and other hilly regions of Nepal.
Many years ago people used to make Pichkari (water guns) out of bamboo and throw colored water on each other. Nowadays, balloons and plastic water guns (Pichkari) are used. The balloon filled with water is called “Lola” in Nepali. One week before the main Holi day, children start throwing Lolas at each other. Burning wood logs in villages and town avenues is a very important part of the Holi celebration. This event is called Holika Dahan, the end of Holika. Furthermore, Holi is an official holiday in Nepal.
Holi (Fagua) is also one of the most important and biggest festivals of the Tharu people. Like other communities, they celebrate Holi with full enthusiasm. They wear their traditional dresses and also perform Sakhiye Naach. A big feast is organized at night, where they have traditional dishes like Dhikri, Ghongi, Jaad (wine made of fermented rice) etc. In the Terai, most people wear white dresses during the Holi festival, so the different colors are more visible.
Stories behind the Holi celebration
Lord Krishna and Radha:
Lord Krishna was complaining to his mother Yashodha that all his girlfriends were teasing him, naming him “the black one”. He didn’t understand why all his girlfriends (Gopini), including Rhada, were not black. One day, his mother suggested that he could paint Rhada’s face to change her complexion to any color he wanted. So he did. As the Gopinis were all in love with Lord Krishna, they enjoyed being painted with color. This day is considered to be the beginning of the Holi festival.
Death of Holika:
Prahladh was the son of Hiranyakashyapu, a demon who wanted to be the only lord in this Universe. However, his son Prahladh became a worshipper of Lord Vishnu. He wanted to convince his son numerous times to worship him instead, but failed. Prahladh never stopped worshipping Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashyapu then planned to kill his five-year-old son. He ordered his sister Holika to kill Prahladh. Holika was blessed with a fire proof dress and the son was supposed to sit on her lap while they were lit on fire. However, as the flames grew, the fire proof dress flew off of Holika to protect Prahladh. From that day on, Holi was celebrated as the death of Holika.
Krishna and Draupadi:
Another legend behind the Holi festival is the friendship between Lord Krishna and Draupadi. When the Kauravs tried to rip of her clothes, Lord Krishna took his sari off to protect her. The day Lord Krishna saved Draupadi is celebrated as Holi day.
In the Far Western and Mid-Western region, Bisau Parba symbolizes the beginning of the harvest season. Thus, it is an important festival of the region. On New Years, several popular delicious dishes of the Far West, like Gatani Dupka, Batuk, Babar, Mada, Nisose are prepared in every household. Some people go to the banks of rivers for a holy bath. In some villages the youth of the village gather together. They carry small bundles of sticks and worship the sticks, which are known as “Latthi Pujne”. On Bisau, an annual worship (Puja) – locally known as Jaat, is also held in some temples.
AAMA KO MUKH HERNE DIN (MOTHER’S DAY)
Mother’s Day in Nepal is also known as “Mata Tirtha Ausi”. People pay their mothers respect, presenting her with her favorite food, clothing and various gifts on this day. “Mukh Herne” means to pay someone – especially our relatives – respect and cherish them. This is the day, we recognize and pay respect to our mothers for her care and unconditional love to us, so we call this day “Mother’s Day”- “Aama ko Mukh Herne Din” (the literal meaning is “to see Mother’s face”). Mother’s Day is not attached to a certain religion or a particular community. This occasion is celebrated by many communities across the nation.
The story behind celebrating Mata Tirtha:
According to legend, a boy used to take his cows to graze at a nearby pond. Whenever he started eating his lunch, a bit of the food fell into the pond. This kept happening for a long time. One day, the boy looked into the pond to find out what was going on. Surprisingly, he saw his dead mother in the pond. The boy wanted his mother to go home with him. He insisted on it and started to cry. However, his mother replied that she had already passed away and that is wasn’t possible to return. She said she would appear in the same pond every year on Baishak Krishna Aushi (the new moon day of Baishak). The boy agreed and went home. He started visiting the pond every year on the same day to see his mother. Many other people started visiting the pond to see their mothers that had passed away, on this day. It is said that there once was a woman who visited the pond to see her mother, but couldn’t see her. After a long time, she jumped into the pond in frustration and died. Ever since she committed suicide, no one has been able to see their mothers that had passed away.
RAM NAWAMI / CHAITE DASHAIN
Rama Nawami is a Hindu festival, celebrating the birth of the god Rama to king Dasharatha and Queen Kausalya in Ayodhya. Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu, is one of the oldest avatars of Lord Vishnu and has a human form. The holy day usually falls in the Shukla Paksha on the Navami, the ninth day of the month of Chaitra in the B.S. Hindu calendar. Rama Nawami is one of the most important Hindu Festivals. In some places of Nepal, the festival lasts nine whole days, thus, the period is called ‘Sri Rama Navaratri’. A large number of Hindu worshippers from different parts of the country and from India make a pilgrimage to the Ram Janaki Temple in Janakpurdham. Likewise, worships are also held at temples dedicated to Ramchandra, the Hindu deity and incarnation of Lord Vishnu across the country.
Hindu scriptures such as the Ramayan are recited. The worshippers hold a vigil and fast. This is believed to fulfill one’s wishes. Born as the 10th incarnation of Lord Vishnu and the oldest son of King Dasaratha of the Ayodhya, Sri Ram married Sita, the daughter of King Janak of Mithila. The festival commemorates the victory of Sri Ram over the demons and his inspiration to follow the path of truth and of highest moral standards.
NEPALI NEW YEAR
New Year in Nepal starts on Baisakh, he first month of the Bikram Sambat (B.C) calendar. Bikram Sambat is the official calendar of Nepal. Baisakh 1st falls in mid-April. Nepal has more than 60 ethnic groups with their own unique culture and most of them have their own language. In other words, Nepal is a living example of unity in diversity. A lot of people with different casts and cultures live in Nepal. Each of them celebrate with the same devotion and enthusiasm. Baisakh 1st is regarded as the national New Year. People plan picnics, tours and travel on this day. The parks across the country are full of people celebrating.
The Buddha Purnima Festival or Buddha Jayanti Festival is the most sacred day in the Buddhist calendar and also the most important festival for Buddhists. It is celebrated with great enthusiasm. Although Buddhists regard every full moon as sacred, the full moon of the month Vaisakh / Baisakh (April-May) has a special meaning. On this day, Buddha was born, attained enlightenment and reached Nirvana. This strange, three-fold coincidence, gives Buddha Purnima its unique significance.
Buddha Jayanti is the birthday of Lord Gautama Buddha. Buddha’s original name is Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha Gautama was born at around 543 BC in Kapilvastu in Nepal. Siddhartha was the son of King Suddhodhan Gautam and Queen Maya Devi. He was born in a garden of sal trees (shore robusta), situated in the beautiful and peaceful Lumbini zone in the Rupandehi district of Nepal. UNESCO has listed Lumbini in Nepal as a world heritage site and birthplace of Gautama Buddha.
The biggest festival celebrated in Khaptad National Park is the annual Khaptad Mela – Ganga Dashahara. Pilgrims come to take a holy bath at the park’s sacred Tribeni wetlands, where the Sailenge Khola and the Kausiya Khola rivers meet. Over 5000 people come together for this celebration! The festival is very important for cultural exchange among the population of Nepal‘s Far West. The religious rituals are accompanied by performing traditional dances and other cultural activities.
Guru Purnima is the day to show gratitude to one’s Guru, who removes inner fears and shows the path to Pararambha, the Supreme One. Guru Purnima is celebrated on the Full Moon day during the Ashadh month (June/July). Guru Puja or Guru Worship is performed on this day in order to pay one’s Guru or teachers respect on this day. A Guru is a teacher, a spiritual master and the one who guides you through your personal, professional and spiritual development.
It is the day to revere teachers and mentors, (predominantly) males who are a valuable part of your life. The Guru removes darkness from within his students and leads them to enlightment, wisdom and ultimately introduces them to God. The ones who convey temporal wisdom such as school teachers and college lecturers are also revered on this day.
Muslims of Nepal celebrate Eid-al-Fitr, one of the most important Islamic festivals. The festival is celebrated for one to three days, marked by the end of Ramadan, the month-long fasting by the Muslim community. The date of the festival varies every year according to the Islamic calendar. On this day, the Islamic community prays and calls for unity among all. The Nepalese government has made this festival a public holiday.
The birthday of Lord Krishna is a special occasion for Hindus, who consider him as their leader, hero, protector, philosopher, teacher and friend. Krishna was born at midnight on the Ashtami or the 8th day of the Krishnapaksha in the Hindu month of Shravan (August-September). This auspicious day is called Janmastami. Lord Krishna is regarded as the 8th avatar or ‘incarnation’ of Lord Vishnu. Krishna belonged to the Vrishni clan (Yadu Vansa) of Yadav’s from Mathura. He was the eighth son of King Vasudev and Queen Devaki of Mathura and he was born exactly at midnight. He was the biological child of Vasudev and Devaki, but he was brought up by Nanda and Yosadha Maiyya. Krishna’s childhood was full of fun and love. His youth was full of romance, love and friendship. He married Rukmini.
Krishna had a very important role in Holy Battle of Mahabharat. He was the Chariot Rider of Arjun and also the main character in supporting the Pandavs against the Kauravs to win the Holy War. His holy advice is known as “Bhagwat Gita”. He also taught Arjun about Dharma (Good) and Paap (Sin). He did not physically take part in the battle, but he was the heart and the soul of the Pandavs. Thus, the Pandavs would never have won the war without his help.
He is known and revered by so many names: Krishna, Murari, Hari, Gopal, Shyam, Nanda Lala, Makhan Chor and hundreds more. In fact, Krishna said “just remember me, no matter what name; I will be with you when I know you are calling me”. He is named Krishna, because his complexion is dark. In Sanskrit Krishna means “dark” (or “black”). He is regarded as the inventor of the Basuri/Murali (flute). Hence, he always had a flute in his hand and mainly played the flute in the regions of Brindaban and Mathura. It is said, the vibration of his music is still floating around in those places.
Reasons behind the celebration of Krishna Janmastami:
In the Bhagwat Gita, Krishna says: “Whenever there is a predominance of evil and a decline of good doing, I will reincarnate again to end evil and to save the Dharma (good)”. This day is celebrated to remember that when the pot of sin is filled, God will come to the rescue and put an end to evil. Krishna Janmastami reminds the Nepalese people of these stories, of the battles between good and evil and says that good always wins.
All around the world, Hindus celebrate Krishna Janmastami. The tradition is to fast until midnight. They chant shlokas from the “Bhagavad Gita” (the most important Hindu scripture) and sing religious songs (Bhajans). The temples of Lord Krishna are decorated and Bhajans and Kirtan are sung or played. On Krishna Janmastami, numerous worshippers gather around the ancient Krishna temple in old Patan Durbar Square in Kathmandu to stay awake through the glorious night of his birth. As they sit huddled together, the women chant the many names of the Lord, like ‘Narayan, Narayan’ and ‘Gopal, Gopal’. Some sing ancient hymns, others clap their hands, while some pray.
In Far West Nepal:
Krishna Janmastami is also one of the famous festivals in Far West Nepal. The people do not only celebrate the birthday of Krishna, but they also celebrate Dol Jatra. Dol Jatra is the second day of celebration of Lord Krishna’s birth. People dress up like gods and goddesses and go to a parade at Dahangadi Bazar. Many people take part in this parade! Dol Jatra is very famous in Far West Nepal and it has been celebrated for many centuries.
“Gai” means cow and “Jatra” procession. The Gai Jatra festival, the procession of cows, generally falls in the month of Bhadra, which corresponds to the month of August / September in the Gregorian calendar. The festival of cows is one of the most popular festivals in Nepal. It is said that people in ancient times started worshipping Yamaraj, “the god of death” on this day. The modern form of Gai Jatra came into existence in the medieval period of Nepal, during the reign of Malla Kings. Today’s celebration of Gai Jatra with its humorous acts, parody and comedy, was started by the King of Kathmandu, Pratap Malla.
Traditionally, every family that had a family death in the past year must attend the procession on the streets of Kathmandu with a cow. If a cow is unavailable, then a young child, dressed as a cow, is considered a fair substitute. This was the beginning of the tradition of having children lead a cow in funny costumes.
The story behind the celebration of Gai Jatra:
Pratap Malla (a king), lost his young son. His wife was in great misery and her husband couldn’t make her smile again. So, Pratap announced that the person who could make the queen laugh again, would be rewarded adequately. He asked the people to hold the cow procession for the queen. So, the people tried their best – with various costumes and humorous acts. Eventually, the dances and the cow procession managed to make the queen smile again. At first the smile was temporary, but the procession gave the queen great relief. She knew that she was not alone in losing someone she loved.
Hence, from that day on, King Pratap Malla started the tradition of the cow procession with boys in different funny costumes. The boys even dressed up like monkeys. They walked through the city, to show people that death is the one truth in life everyone has to face one day. The Gai Jatra tradition slowly developed into a day of humorous acts, including jokes, satires, mockery and lampoon.
In the afternoon, after the cow procession is over, everyone takes part in another tradition, in which the participants dress up and wear masks. The people also enjoy performing and watching songs, jokes, mockery and humorous acts until late in the evening.
Gai Jatra is a festival, which enables people to accept the reality of death and to prepare for the life after death. This festival helps a little to heal sorrows by letting people know they are not alone in having lost a loved one.
Modern Day Gai Jatra:
Today’s Gai Jatra added various things to the festival, in consistence with the traditional values Pratap Malla had established. In the past, during the Shah’s regime, people were not allowed to speak openly about the political system and its leaders. Gai Jatra was regarded as the day, when people were given liberty to talk skeptically and satirically about the system, government and the leaders. Nowadays, there are still various comedy shows, acts and dramas organized in different places on this day. Even Newspapers publish special editions on this day with different cartoons and comedy articles.
Teej is celebrated on the 3rd of Bhadra Shukala Paksha. It generally falls on late August or early September. The festival is traditionally dedicated to the Goddess Parvati and her union with Lord Shiva. It is a three-day long celebration that combines splendid feasts, as well as rigid fasting. The festival also welcomes and celebrates the arrival of the monsoon after a season of summer heat. Teej is a festival which is celebrated mainly by Nepalese women all around the world. Women sing, dance and pray to goddess Parvarti for the well-being and long life of their husband, children and their self.
Thus, Teej is celebrated to welcome the monsoon season, to receive marital happiness, for the well-being of one’s spouse and children, as well as for the purification of the own body and soul. Teej is the most famous festival among Nepali women. The folk music and dances make Teej a more traditional festival. It is fascinating to see women wearing all red, dancing and singing on the streets anf going to temples. Teej is also called “Hari Talika Teej”.
The eve (first day of Teej):
This day is called “Dar Khane Din”. On this day, all the family members, especially the married and unmarried women, gather in one place in their red dresses (Saubhagya) and begin to dance and sing devotional songs mixed with Nepali folk and Dohori songs. The grand feast takes place on this day. It is called “Dar”. The celebration often goes on until midnight. After midnight, the 24-hour fasting starts.
The second day:
This is the main day of Teej (the fasting day). Some women follow this very rigidly, without any food or water. Married women wear traditional silver Nepalese jewelry and other jewelry and visit a nearby temple dedicated to Lord Shiva singing and dancing all the way.
Most of devotees in Kathmandu go to Pashupatinath Temple. At the Shiva temple women worship the Shiva Lingam – a symbolic representation of the Lord Shiva – by offering flowers, sweets and coins, asking for blessings for their husbands and families. The most important part of the Puja (religious ceremony) is done mainly in the evening. An oil lamp (108 Sute Batti in a Diyo), which should burn all night, is lit. It is a tradition that the mother-in-law hands over the oil lamp (Diyo von Teej) to the daughter-in-law.
What is Dar:
Women who fast eat a very big feast the next day called “Daro Khana” meaning heavy food in Nepali. They go for a big party in the evening with desserts, Mithai, Nepalese foods like sel, puri, fruit and some communities even have non-vegetarian foods like mutton and chicken. Dar is just the short form of Daro Khana.
Third day morning:
Women get up at dawn, wash themselves and perform a puja once again for the Diyo and the goddess Parvati. The Puja is performed with a banana and a holy basil leaf (Tulsi Patta). This third day of Teej is called “Ganesh Chaturthi”. Women eat colocasia leaf curry (Karkallo ko Tarkari) with pure food (chokho) made with pure ghee.
The fourth day of festival:
This fourth day is called Rishi Panchami. After the previous day’s Puja, women pay homage to various deities and bathe with red mud from the roots of the sacred Datwan bush, along with its leaves. This act of purification is the final ritual of Teej, after which women are forgiven for their sins.
Today, many women are boycotting Rishi Panchami Puja, because they think it goes against their right to dignity as a woman.
In Nepal, menstruation is considered impure. Women who are on their period are not allowed to touch anything, they are not allowed to go into the kitchen and they have to sleep in a different room. This shows the discrimination towards women who are on their period! Women who take part in Rishi Panchami Puja also ask God to forgive them if they have touched anything holy while being on their period. Hence, some women disagree with the concept of this Puja, because menstruation is a very natural biological process. It is not related to any religion or culture.
JANAI PURNIMA / RAKSHA BANDHAN / RAKHI
Janai is a cotton string worn across the chest by Hindu men. This thread is only given to males during a long and impressive religious ceremony, called Barthabandhan. Almost all religions have a type of Barthabandhan known by different names. Barthabandhan is basically a formal process of accepting someone into one’s religion.
The Janai initiates the transition from youth to manhood. It reminds them to faithfully follow the religion and the path of truth. The Janai must be worn every day after having listened to the guru’s mantra during Barthabandhan. It is regarded as a symbol of body, speech and mind. A person wearing these tied knots, is supposed to gain complete control over them. It is forbidden for the Junai to become untidy or dishonored and thus, it must be changed. However, Janai can only be changed without failure on Raksha Bandhan.
Rakshya means “to protect” and Bandhan is “tie” or “bond”. Rakshya Bandhan is a bond or tie of protection. This thread which is tied around the hand is called “Doro”. Some people even use “Janai” for “Doro”. On Rakshya Bandhan, men, women and children regardless of their status and caste, get a Doro (sacred colorful thread) tied around their wrist. Generally, males get thread tied around their right and the women around their left wrist. They believe that the Doro brings good luck and if you have enough faith, it will always come true. People keep the Doro on until Laxmi Puja day of Tihar (also known as Deepawali). On this day, the thread is taken off of the wrist and tied around the tail of a cow during the cow worship day (Laxmi Puja) of Tihar in October.
This festival is also marked by tying a Rakhi or a holy thread around the wrist of a male by his sisters. Duing this time, the market is full of different colored Rakhis. This festival is equivalent to Bhai Tika of Tihar, which is celebrated by some communities across Nepal. The brother, in return, offers a gift to his sister and swears to look after her, as she presents sweets to her brother.
In Nepal, in the Newar community, a special menu for Janai Purnima is called Kwati. Kwati is a soup of different beans. Punhi means the full moon day. Thus, this day is also called Kwati Punhi. Newari people also tie the sacred thread around their wrists. It is also to be taken off on the day of Laxmi Puja of Tihar. On Janai Purnima, Newari farmers offer different foods to frogs, because they believe that worshipping frogs – who are considered an agent of the God of rainfall – helps to increase the production of crops.
Indra Jatra is traditionally known as Yanya Punhi, the “Kathmandu festival”. It’s also known as Kumara Jatra. So, in truth, this event contains two or three celebrations, all in one. Indra is the Hindu Lord of rain and god of heaven, while the word Jatra means procession or festival.
What happens on Indra Jatra?
Actually, Indra Jatra is an eight-day festival, but most people only celebrate on the penultimate day, commonly known as “Indra Jatra”. The festival usually starts at 1pm at Kathmandu Durbar Square, with several groups of tribal and local musicians arriving into the main area. The music is loud, with cymbals and drums. A thirty-six-foot wooden pole, selected during a ceremony from the Nala forest in Kavre, in east Kathmandu, is brought to represent Shiva’s Linga (Yasingh). The pole has a flag on its tip and is balanced by a man. It is believed, Indra received this flag from Lord Vishnu for protection. The massive Bhairab statue is unveiled (usually on the day before and on the main day) in Durbar Square, where alcohol pours from his mouth.
People, dressed as demons, enter the square and reenact mystical fights between the creatures. Then young men reach the square, followed by a team elaborately dressed as a white elephant called Tana-Kishi.
This elephant is looking for his master Indra and thus, it runs through the streets creating mischief. A man walking beside him, leads the crowd with a little torch flame. Finally, after the worshippers get their blessings, the living Goddesses enter the square in special ropes and a drawn chariot. Handlers hand out sacred carnations to the visitors. The Chariot is pulled by men and passes massive crowds.
KUSHE AUSI (FATHER’S DAY)
Father’s Day is the day of paying respect to one’s father. It is also known as “Kuse Ausi”, “Pitri Tirpani Aausi” or “Gokarne Ausi”. On this day, Nepali people pay their fathers their respect for his care and love, with their father’s favorite food, clothes and other favorite things. “Mukh Herne” means “to pay someone – especially your relative – respect or to recognize their achievements”. Father means “Bubā” in Nepali. Hence, this day is called “Buba ko Mukh Herne din”. People who have already lost their fathers give Sida Daan – a holy mixture of rice grains and other pure food materials – to a scholar or teacher (Pandit).
How do we celebrate Buba ko Mukh Herne din:
Nepal has over 70 ethnic groups and almost all of them have their own traditions and languages. So, the people of different communities and tribes also have their own way of celebrating Father’s Day. Some communities celebrate in the morning with an empty stomach and some celebrate in the evening. However, all the communities prepare foods and tasty dishes and serve them it to their fathers. The celebrations vary according to location, climate and ethnicity.
Gaura is the festival which falls in the month of Bhadra, according to the Nepali calendar (August/September). Especially most of the Mid-West and Far West regions of Nepal celebrate this festival. It starts on the day of Krishna Janmastami (birth of Lord Krishna) and lasts for three days. On this day, people worship Shiva, Parvati and Ganesh. The Deuda dance is a major part of this festival. Participants hold hands, form a circle and step to traditional music. Apart from the many ceremonies that happen during this festival, there is also the tradition that married women wear the sacred thread called Dub Dhago. Deuda is a type of music that has a variety of genres including Thadi Bhaka. This type of music is especially popular in Sudur Paschim and many regions of Madhya-Paschim. The Gaura festival is celebrated by the Hindu people residing in the far-western parts of Nepal. There are many tales regarding the origins of Gaura but mainly, on this day, the women worship goddess Gauri (the wife of Lord Shiva). They especially pray for their husband’s health and a long life.
The main theme of this festival is to worship goddess Gauri, so, on this day, many temples dedicated to the Goddess have different rituals. After finishing the worship at the temple, fasting women return home and bless their families with Biruda. This is supposed to give them a long life and good health. On the day of Krishna Janmastami, women fast. Later, they form a grass-made idol of Shiva and Parvati. They also offer a mixture of five kinds of grains, known as Panchbirudi. This festival is also called Biruda Parva. Women wear new clothes and enjoy singing their traditional songs.
During the month of Kartik (late September and early October), the Nepalese people celebrate the biggest festival of the year, Dashain. Dashain is the longest and most auspicious festival in the Nepalese annual calendar, celebrated by all castes and throughout the whole country. The fifteen days of celebration take place during the bright lunar fortnight and end on the day of the full moon.
Throughout Nepal, the goddess Durga was worshipped with innumerable Pujas (religious ritual), abundant offerings and animal sacrifices for the holy bath, which soak the goddess in blood for days. Dashain commemorates a great victory of the gods over the wicked demons. The main celebration glorifies the triumph of good over evil and is symbolized by goddess Durga slaying the terrible demon Mahisasur, who terrorized the earth in the guise of a brutal water buffalo.
Preparation – During the preparation for Dashain, every home is cleansed, beautifully decorated and painted as an invitation to the mother goddess, so that she may visit and bless the house with good fortune. During this time, every household has a reunion of distant and close relatives. The market is filled with shoppers who buy new clothes and gifts. Ror ten to fifteen days, people bring luxurious and enormous amounts of offerings to the temples for the gods: ducks, chicken and water buffalo. It is almost impossible to find workers during this time of year – from the poor to the rich, everyone is enjoying the festival’s atmosphere. You can feel the atmosphere of ‘Vijaya Dashami’ everywhere.
The first day of Dashain is called Ghatasthapana. On Ghatasthapana, the citizens in Far West Nepal celebrate another festival called Kalai Lagaune. It is regarded as an opportunity to pay homage to mother earth and is unique to the region. On this day, the Kalash (a holy water vessel), which symbolizes goddess Durga is of great importance. The Kalash is set in the praying room and is filled with holy water and covered with cow dung, in which seeds are sown. A small rectangular sand block is made and the Kalash is put in the center. The surrounding bed of sand is also seeded with grains. The Ghatasthapana rituals are performed at a certain moment determined by astrologers. The room where the Kalash stands, is called Dashain Ghar. A priest or a household man/woman worships the Kalash everyday, once in the morning and once in the evening. The Kalash and the sand are sprinkled with holy water every day and it is shielded from direct sunlight. By the tenth day, the seed will have grown five or six inches. The sacred yellow grass is called Jamara. The Jamara is taken as a symbol of Goddess Durga to pay homage to mother earth and is unique to the region.
The seventh day – Regular rituals are performed until the seventh day. The seventh day is called Fulpati. On Fulpati, the royal Kalash, filled with holy water, banana stalks, Jamara (yellow sacred grass) and sugar cane, is tied up with red cloth. Then, it is carried by brahmins on a decorated palanquin under a gold-trimmed and embroidered umbrella. The government officials also join the Fulpati parade and with this, the Dashain feasting starts.
The eighth day is called Maha Asthami: the fervor of worshipping and sacrificing to Durga and Kali increases. On this day many orthodox Hindus fast. Throughout the day, sacrifices take place in almost every household. The night of the eighth day is called Kal Ratri, the dark night. Hundreds of goats, sheep and buffaloes are sacrificed in the temples of the mother goddess. The sacrificing continues until dawn. While the Puja (religious ritual) is being performed, great feasts are held in the homes, where large amounts of meat are consumed.
The ninth day is called Nawami: Temples of the mother goddess are filled with people all day. Animals, mostly black buffaloes, are slaughtered to honor Durga and to seek her blessing. On the ninth day, the god Vishwa Karma, the god of creativity, is also worshipped. All factories, vehicles, machinery instruments and everything that enables us to maintain our living standards, are worshipped. They also give sacrifices to all vehicles, like cars, airplanes, trucks etc., to receive goddess Durga’s blessing for her protection against accidents during the year.
The tenth day is the Dashami: on this day, people receive tika and Jamara (yellow sacred grass) from the elders and receive their blessings. On this day, close family members and distant relatives come for a visit to receive the tika. This event continues for four days. After the four days of rushing around and meeting relatives, Dashain ends on the full moon day (Kojagrata, meaning “who is awake”). The Hindu goddess of wealth, Laxmi, is also worshipped.
After Dashain everyone goes back to their normal lives. After receiving the blessing of goddess Durga, people are ready to work and acquire virtue, power and wealth. Thus, Dashain is not only the longest festival, but also the most anticipated of all the festivals in Nepal.
The festival of lights is one of the most dazzling Hindu festivals. The Goddess of Wealth, Laxmi is worshipped on this day. Every house is decorated with oil lamps. At night entire villages and cities look like they are sparkling.
Tihar is a five-day celebration during Yama Panchak. After Dashain it is the most celebrated festival in Nepal. It is a five-day festival that is celebrated in late autumn and it has a unique celebration. The Five Days of Tihar are:
- Kaag Tihar – Crow Puja
- Kukur Tihar – Dog Puja
- Gai Tihar or Laxmi Puja – Cow Puja or Goddess of Wealth Puja
- Goru Tihar, Govardhan Puja, (Aatma Puja) – Ox Puja
- Bahi Tika, Bhai Dooj – Brother and Sister Puja
(Note: puja is a prayer ritual to worship deities)
The story behind Tihar:
There are various stories behind the celebration of Tihar. One of the most famous stories behind the celebration of Tihar is related to Yama, the God of death and his sister Yamuna. Yama had been away from his sister for a long time. His sister wanted to see him again. She sent him a crow, a dog and a cow. In the end, she also went to see her brother herself. She worshipped him with tika and flowers by applying five-colored tikas onto his forehead. Yamuna made a circle with mustard oil, dubo (grass) and added makhmali mala (globe amaranth – a type of flower) and asked her brother not to leave until the oil, the dubo grass and the flowers dry.
Therefore, sibings worship eachother. Tika is applied onto the brother’s forehead. Next, brothers apply tika onto their sisters’ foreheads in the same fashion and they exchange gifts.
First Day of Tihar
– Kaag Tihar (Crow Puja)
On the first day of Tihar, crows are worshipped and fed early in the morning. People give the crows different foods. The crow is considered the messenger of death. People believe the crow delivers this message in the morning. Yet, in general, a crow brings good luck.
Second Day of Tihar
– Kukur Tihar (Dog Puja)
The second day of Tihar is dedicated to the most loyal friend of mankind. Kukur, the dog. The puja is done by putting a red tika on the dog’s forehead and a flower garland around its neck, then offering him food and sel roti. It is said that a dog can sense dangers and imminent death. They are also worshipped because they are the most loyal animals and love their masters the most.
Third Day of Tihar
– Gai (Cow Puja) and Laxmi (Goddess of Wealth) Puja
On the third day, cows are worshiped in the morning with sesame oil, lights, a garland of flowers and red color. Wheat flour, sel roti, rice and daal are feed to the cows. The cow is regarded as the mother in the Hindu religion, because we grow up drinking her milk. Some people regard cows as Goddess Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. In the afternoon, the houseses are cleaned and the ground is painted with red mud (Rato Mato) and cow dung (gobar). A small circle is drwan in front of the main gate. It is decorated with colorful designs. From the main entrance to the puja kotha, small footsteps are painted onto the ground. These footsteps are believed to be the footsteps of Goddess Laxmi. Candles are lit all over the house, making it bright beautiful. There is a long tradition of going around in the evening, singing songs and asking for money and food. Generally, girls and boys go to neighbors and sing traditional songs called Bhailo.
People believe that Laxmi will visit homes that are clean and bright. In the evening, Goddess Laxmi is worshiped by lighting numerous pujas that will welcome her into their homes. It is believed that by worshipping and pleasing Laxmi, she will give the people wealth in return. During the night, people also play cards to welcome Goddess Laxmi.
Fourth day of Tihar
– Govardhan Pujaihar
On this day, three different kinds of pujas are performed. The Goru Puja is performed by worshipping Oxen. Govardhan Puja is done by making a hill of cow dung. Cow dung is very important in Hindu culture. Before, it was used for everything from light at night to polishing muddy floors of traditional houses. Even today in the Nepalese Hindu culture, no Puja is complete without cow dung.
During the night, the Newar community perform Mha Puja – self-worship. It is done to purify the body. A mandap (pillared outdoor hall with a gateway leading to the temple) is decorated with saipatri (marigold flowers, sweets, fruits and a special prayer beads called mala). Each member of the family offers the person sitting in the mandap a shagun (a token of good luck). A shagun usually consists of fried eggs, fruit, sweets, meat, fish, lentils and pastries. Eggs and fish are held in the left hand, Rakshi (homemade alcohol) in the right. This day is also the beginning of Nepal Sambat, Newari New year.
In the evening, many Nepali children and young men go from house to house and sing the Deusi song:
aahai bhana mera bhai ho deusi re bhana na bhana deusere
Deusi is very similar to the Bhailo song. Bhailo is primarily for females and Deusi for males. However, nowadays there is no distinction. Men and women celebrate Bhailo and Deusi together.
Fifth Day of Tihar
– Bhai Tika or Bhai Duj
The fifth and last day of Tihar is Bhai Tika. On this day, sisters apply a five-colored tika (yellow, green, red, blue and white) onto the foreheads of their brothers and pray to Yamaraj for their brothers’ long life and prosperity. Next, brothers give their sisters tikas, bow to them and promise to protect always protect them. Sisters offer their brothers shaguns of dry fruits, especially, walnuts, hazelnuts (Katus), fruits and sweets and in return, the brothers give their sisters gifts and money.
On this day, Rani Pokhari Temple (located at center in Kathmandu) is opened for those, who do not have any brother or sisters. This is the only time in the year the temple is open to general public.
Nepalese call the five days of Tihar ‘Yama Panchak’, which means the five days of Yamaraj/Yama. During these five days, people do everything they can to make Yamaraj happy, because it is believed that after death Yamaraj will judge people’s vices and virtues and treat their souls accordingly.
Neman is the ritual of honouring the new harvest, which is celebrated in November. On this day, the chirpi (dung cake) made during Shukrati (another Tharu Festival) is used to light a fire and to cook the first grain harvested from the field before it is offered to the home deity. The Tharus consume the newly harvested grain only after having celebrated Neman.
Yomari Punhi is a Newari festival marking the end of the rice harvest. It takes place in November/December during the full moon day of Thinla, the second month in the lunar Nepali calendar. Yomari Punhi, meaning the full moon of Yomari, is one of the most popular Newari festivals and is observed every year during the full moon of December. A Yomari is a sweet treat made from rice flour dough (from the new harvest). It is shaped like a fish and filled with brown cane sugar and sesame seeds, which is then steamed. This delicacy is the main item on the menu during the post-harvest celebration of Yomari Punhi.
On this full moon day, people of the Kathmandu valley worship Annapurna, the goddess of grains, for the rice harvest. Groups of kids go around the neighborhood in the evening, to ask for Yomari cake. Sacred masked dances are performed in the villages of Hari Siddhi and Thecho at the southern end of the valley.
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It is believed that Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem, six miles south of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. Christmas is celebrated in Nepal the Nepali way. Nepali Christians go to church, exchange gifts and have feasts with their friends and family. Christmas is celebrated every year on December 25. It is an official holiday in Nepal.
How do people celebrate Christmas in Nepal:
Christmas is celebrated more amongst the Christian communities in Nepal. However, other communities also participate in parties and non-religious celebrations during Christmas, just as they celebrate any other festival.
Beginning in early December, people start shopping and putting up Christmas trees. The trees are decorated with bells, stars, reindeer, gift boxes and many other decorations. The Christmas trees are lit up with twinkling lights. People go to a church mass at mid-night. In the morning, people visit the houses of friends and convey their best wishes. Gifts are exchanged. In the evening, the Christian homes host special Christmas feasts. The Christmas feast usually has roasted chicken, vegetable salad and other Nepali foods along with Turkey, pumpkin pies and Christmas pudding.
There are many functions organized in Thamel, Kathmandu and other Nepalese cities with lighting, music and concerts held in restaurants. Some even offer a discount and lots of different food during Christmas.
History of Christianity in Nepal:
From the mid 18th century until the early 1950s, Nepal was closed to Christians. Christianity (Protestantism) came to Nepal, primarily, by the Nepalese, who were living outside of Nepal during the Rana dynasty. After the collapse of the Rana dynasty in 1950, Nepali Christians living in India came in, along with some Western missionaries. Unites Mission to Nepal and International Nepal Fellowship are two of the earliest Western mission agencies that came in and brought Christianity. According to the government data, Protestantism (a form of Christianity) accounts for about 0.5 % to 1 % of Nepali population.