Major Festivals of Nepal
Nepal is a small country in South Asia neighboring China in the North and India in the East, West, and the South. With its area of 147,516 sq. km, Nepal is home to several mountains including the highest Everest. Apart from the Himalayas and natural landscapes, Nepal is popular worldwide with its diverse culture and tradition. Despite being a small nation, Nepal is home to several ethnic groups with their own culture, tradition, language, and vibrant festivals. The festivals celebrated in Nepal have religious implications and are based on events from ancient epic literature and mythology which will be very new to tourists. There are several Major Festivals in Nepal. No matter which season you choose to travel here in Nepal, you will encounter at least one festival.
Being home to diverse ethnicities, the culture and festivals in Nepal are different. However, people gather and unite together for the celebration. The grand festivals such as Dashain and Tihar are of national significance and the whole nation celebrates the festivals. With colorful lights and vibrant, these festivals bring new cheerfulness to the nation. It falls from October to November. Similarly, the Newar community has its festivals such as Bisket Jatras, Rato Macheendra Jatra. Likewise, Gurungs and Magars celebrate Lhosar whereas a certain ethnic group of people living in Terai celebrates Chhat as their major festival.
The celebration varies from colorful lights and colors to the epic masked dance, with cultural dresses. This brings a splendid feast to one’s eyes. The several festivals here represent the glowing diversity of Nepal. The festivals in Nepal bring out joy and happiness, a sense of togetherness, respect for the elders, and new kinds of refreshment from day to day busy life.
Some of the major festivals of Nepal
Dashain and Tihar
Dashain and Tihar are some of the biggest and most popular festivals in Nepal. Almost everyone in the country celebrates Dashain and Tihar. The school’s offices and every other sector remain closed during these days. It is a festival which brings different kinds of celebration and happiness among the people. Families get to meet and end time together, friends get together, people from the city area go to their villages. These two Major Festivals of Nepal have their meaning for the celebration.
Dashain in particular is a symbol of the victory of Goddess Durga over evil Mahishasura, as per Hindu mythology. On the other hand, Tihar is a festival with colors and lights in dedication to Goddess Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Despite any religion, in particular, people of every ethnicity celebrate Dashain and Tihar with the same joy and excitement as others. The festivals fall in the Autumn season and are the longest festivals.
One of the Major Festivals of Nepal is Dashain. Dashain is celebrated for 15 days and Tihar for 5 days. The family members meet with each other enjoying delicious cuisine, playing cards, and having a feast. The main objective of the festival is elders putting Tika and Jamara and giving blessings. After 2 weeks of Dashain, the next festival Tihar occurs. These are the festivals of different animals such as dogs, cows, ox, crows. On the last day, sisters put tika on their brother’s forehead wishing them a long life. This will be a memory to witness for a lifetime. Therefore, the festivals bring different sorts of excitement and celebrations and hold deep meaning.
Nepal is known to the world as the “birthplace of Gautam Buddha”. The founder of Buddhism, Gautam Buddha was born in 623 BC as a prince of the Shakya dynasty in Lumbini, Nepal. As a symbol of Lord Buddha’s born day, enlightenment and death, Every year Buddha Jayanti is celebrated in Nepal. It is a special occasion for Buddhists as well as Hindus. Buddha Jayanti is the religion that is celebrated by the whole Nepali. It is one of the grand festivals in Nep that falls on the full moon night of either May or June. Buddha is also known as the symbol of Peace. So during this festival people make their pilgrimage to Buddha’s birthplace, Lumbini of Nepal, on this auspicious day.
The whole monasteries, Gompas, and stupas are lively during these festivals. The peaceful monasteries suddenly are filled with crowds during Buddha Jayanti. Buddhist communities celebrate this day with immense grandeur and magnificence. People from all over the world visit the Buddhist stupas and places in Nepal like Boudhanath, Swayambhunath, and mostly Lumbini, the birthplace. These places are decorated with prayer flags and butter lamps. On the occasion of Buddha Jayanti, Monks gather to offer prayers and chant Buddhist mantras. Mostly, people enjoy vegetarian dishes and perform dan- dharma. Women visit viharas to observe Buddhist sutras. Mostly, prasad, Kheer, or sweet porridge is cooked at every household during Buddha Jayanti.
Therefore, Buddha Jayanti itself is one of the national festivals in Nepal. It is a symbol of peace and the birth of Lord Buddha.
Gai Jatra is one of the biggest festivals, mostly inside the Kathmandu Valley. It is the traditional festival in Nepal where Gai means Cow and Jatra means festival in Nepali. These are mainly the festivals of the Newar community that falls in the month of Bhadra (August–September). Gai Jatra is celebrated in different ways in different places of the valley. The capital city Kathmandu is the main source of this festival because the king who started this festival was from this city. People of Kathmandu celebrate it with much happiness and programs. The procession goes around Kathmandu to present devotion to their loved ones.
On the other hand, it has less involvement of people than Kathmandu. However, people here celebrate another festival called Matya with great joy and entertainment like that of people who celebrate Gaijatra. Thus, for people in Patan, the procession is the same as in Kathmandu, however, the involvement of people is less. Likewise, people in Kirtipur have their way of celebration. The farmers finish their work in the field and return home to celebrate. They gather and enjoy the feast and men dress as women and go around the city calling the neighbors and people around to join them in the feast. Kirtipur celebrates it with great joy and has more diverse beliefs and stories relating to Gaijatra than any other city in the valley.
Finally, Bhaktapur celebrates Gai Jatra more diversely as it has its peculiarities in the ways of celebrating the festival. The people walled a chariot made of bamboo, with a photo of the dead person hung at the center, and took it through the street. Therefore, there will be a long line of Chariots is in Bhaktapur during this festival.
Janai Purnima or Rakshya Bandhan
Different festivals in Nepal have different meanings and importance. Likewise, Janay Purnima or Rakhsya Bandhan is another important festival in Nepal. Every year, this festival falls on the full moon day of Shrawan. This festival holds different meanings to different ethnic groups. People living in terai celebrate it as Rakshya Bandhan whereas the Newar community celebrates this day as Kwati Purnima. For Brahmins and Chhetri it is Janai Purnima.
During the festivals, men from the Hindu community perform their annual ritual of changing the thread “Janai in Nepali”. Janai means the holy threat and the word Purnima means full moon. Besides, this is the day when brahmins chant mantras with a firm resolve to follow the path of truth and tie knots or thin colorful thread in the hand. On the occasion of Janai Purnima, thousands of devotees visit the Kumbeshwar temple of Patan that including other temples such as Bangalamukhi, Ulmanta Bhairava, and two hit ponds. People believe that the water spring in the ponds is from holy lake Gosaikunda, which is 43km north of Kathmandu.
Janai Purnima is the day when people from Nepal as well as India visit the holy lake Gosaikunda. They believe that bathing in this holy river will wash away their sin. Besides, families gather together during Janai Purnima and have a feast of varieties of items with the main dish of sprouts lentils, commonly known as ‘Kwati’ in Nepali. Furthermore, Raksha Bandhan is on the same day as Janai Purnima. Rakshya Bandhan is a ceremony where sisters tie a thread on their brother’s hand and receive gifts.
Teej is the biggest festival of Hindu women in Nepal. Generally, the festival falls in August or early in September. The festival is mainly dedicated to the goddess Parvati, wife of Lord Shiva. During these festivals, women take fast for a whole day wishing for a long and healthy life for their husband. Similarly, girls fast to get an understanding husband in the future. Women from all over the country wear red saree with gold ornaments, they dance, sing and worship lord Shiva during these festivals. According to Hindu mythology, it is said that Parvati’s father wants her to marry Lord Vishnu but because Parvati since her childhood wants to marry Lord Shiva, she escapes from her father’s house and marries Lord Shiva. So, Teej is a special day taken as a union of Lord Shiva and Parvati. Teej is also the Major festival of Nepal.
Women from all over the country go to the Pashupati temple during these festivals. Those who couldn’t make it to the Pashupati temple gather around at the nearest temple in their area and enjoy among themselves by dancing and singing. Hindu women dress all in Red Sari and worship Lord Shiva & pray for the long life of their husband and their happy married life. Teej lasts for three days, which is a feast day, fasting Day, and Rishi Panchami. During the 1st day of this special occasion, women go to their parent’s house and have several dishes, meet their relatives and sisters, friends and families, sing folk songs and enjoy till late at night. Then during the second day, they fast and go to the nearby Shiva temple. Dancing and singing continue on the 2nd day as well.
Finally, On the last day of the Teej (Rishi Panchami), women take a holy bath after waking up and offer food, money, and various other offerings to seven Rishis of the Hindu pantheon with a pure soul.
Shree Krishna Janmashtami
Shree Krishna Janmashtami is another important festival for Hindus in Nepal. The festival falls in August or September and the day is also popular as Gokulashtami, Ashtami Rohini, Sri Krishnashtami, and Srikrishna Jayanti in various parts of India. Krishna Janmashtami falls on Ashtami tithi, the eighth day of the Krishna Paksha of the month of Bhadra according to the Nepali calendar of Bikram Sambat.
Every God and goddess birthday is marked as an important day according to Hindu Mythology. Therefore, the birthday of Krishna becomes an important day for Hindus. Lord Krishna is the 8th avatar ” incarnation” of Lord Bishnu, one of the Trimurti deities of Hinduism. He was the 8th son of King Vasudev and Queen Devaki of Mathura. Hindus believe that Lord Krishna was born to end the evil doings of Kansa, his maternal uncle Kansa. Despite being born to Vasudev and Devaki, he was raised by Nanda and Yasoda Maiya.
On the other hand, Krishna is a name that comes from the Hindu epic Mahabharata as well. Being a Chariot Rider of Arjun, he supported Pandavas against Kauravs to win the holy war Mahabharat. According to Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says, “Whenever evil is prevalent, I will reincarnate again and again to end the evil and to save the Dharma (good). People celebrate Krishna Jayanti as the celebration of the victory of good and Dharma over the devil and bad power. Likewise, Hindus celebrate Krishnashtami by going to the nearby Krishna temple. Most of the devotees visit the Krishna Mandir of Patan during the festival. They worship Lord Krishna and perform Puja.
Fagun Purnima, also known as Holi, is another national festival in Nepal. This festival is the festival of colors. Likewise, the festival falls in the month of Feb-march according to the calendar. It is a day when the whole country is playing with colors and water. Holi falls in March which is in the month of Falun in Nepal. Because the festival falls in the month of Falgun, it is popular by its name Fagun Purnima in Nepal.
This is also the Major festival of Nepal. As per the Hindu mythology young boy Prahlad, a devotee of Lord Bishnu, whose father was a demon king Mahisasur considers him as a mortal enemy. Because the boy Prahlad was a devotee of Lord Vishnu, Mahisasur ordered his sister Holika, who was blessed with fire immunity to kill his son. Holika sat on fire holding Prahlad to kill him but in return, she was the one who perished in the flames while the boy lived. To celebrate the victory over evil, people start celebrating Holi.
Festival of Color (Holi)
On the other hand, people also believe that the tradition of playing with color and water is a symbol of the love story between two Hindu gods Radha and Krishna. Krishna who has blue skin was downcast as he didn’t have a fair complexion like Radha. So, his mother suggests he smear Radha with paints instead of wishing for fit skin. Hence, the tradition of trying to color others comes from the ancient story of Krishna.
These colorful festivals bring bonding among strangers as nobody rejects the Holi color if colored nicely. People put colors on each other wishing Happy Holi. Friends gather, families gather playing Holi with each other, putting colorful colors, and soaking each other with water. People of every age enjoy Holi as they go into the streets throwing paints and water. Mostly, people at terai celebrate Holi more joyously. They perform several cultural dances with colors, playing traditional musical instruments. People at Kathmandu gather at Basantapur during this festival. The whole country enjoys playing colors during Holi. On the other hand, festivals in Nepal are incomplete without enjoying traditional food items. Therefore, people enjoy several traditional dishes at this festival.
The festival falls on the first day of Magh. Magh is the tenth month of the year according to the Nepali calendar. Maghe means Magh and Sankranti is the 1st day according to tp Nepali calendar. So, together the 1st day of Magh becomes Maghe Sankranti. Maghe Sankranti is also one of the festivals of Hindus. Maghe Sankranti is also popular as Makar Sankranti.
During this day, people generally take bath in the holy river. The bath is generally taken in tribunals (Triveni – the place where three rivers meet). The popular rivers tribunals where people take baths during Maghe Sankranti are at Shankhamul, the bank of Bagmati river in Patan, Dolalghat, Baraha Kshetra, Ridi, the Sachi Tirtha at Trivenighat (Panauti), etc. Similarly, fairs are held at the bank of Kali Gandaki and Trishuli rivers at Dev Ghat. People near Jhapa take a holy dip at the Kankai River. Besides, even the Hindus from India come to take a holy dip at Devghat and the Kankai river during the day.
On the other hand, Maghe Sankranti is a Major festival of Nepal celebrated in Madhesh and Tharuhat Nepal. that community celebrates Maghe Sankranti as their major festival. They call it Maghi and all the family members gather together to have a big feast during the festival. They celebrate it very grandly starting from the final week of the month of Paush to 3 of Magh. Besides, other Hindus celebrate it by meeting their family members’ relatives and enjoying several varieties of dishes.
Nepal is a multiethnic, multilingual, and multicultural country. Different ethnic groups have their customs and traditions and the same goes with festivals as well. Nepal has several festivals which people celebrate in a different way carrying specific meaning behind their celebrations. From Jatras in the capital to the Chhat in the bordering area, to the national festival like Dashain, we have it all. The Jatras are popular, especially inside the valley within the local community residing here since ancient days. Likewise, one of the significant festivals in Nepal celebrated by the particular community is Indra Jatra.
Indra Jatra is a festival for the Newari community in Nepal. People celebrate it with great joy and excitement. People from different places inside the valley such as Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Patan, Kirtipur, Banepa celebrate this festival in their way. It is a Jatras which is a major annual festival inside the valley. Indra means the God of heaven, while Jatras refers to the celebration. Therefore, Indra Jatra carries the meaning of the celebration of Lord Indra. People celebrate Jatras in honor of the Hindu god Indra. People celebrate Indra Jatra as the symbol of thanking Lord Indra, who is the lord of rain. During the time of harvest, people believe that Indra was the one who showers the field with rain.
Therefore, holding a significant meaning, every year people from the Local near community inside Kathmandu celebrate Indra Jatra in a great way. They perform Lakhe dance, out in the street. Playing their traditional instruments people gather together and dance out on the road making the festival more attractive wearing cultural dresses.
Mahashivaratri is one of the biggest festivals for Hindus, mostly is a festival of Lord Shiva. By its name Mahashivaratri, the day belongs to one of the Trimurti gods of Hinduism, Shiva. Shiva is the destroyer and recreator according to Hindu Mythology. The festival is to celebrate the Grace of Shiva who is the Adi Guru from whom the Yogic tradition begins. Mahashivaratri is a day when Lord Shiva performs the heavenly dance. This festival marks a remembrance of “overcoming darkness and ignorance” in the world.
Unlike most Hindu festivals, people celebrate this festival during the nighttime. It is a day, when people fast, meditate, self-study, and perform all-night vigil at Shiva temples. Besides, performing meditative yoga, worshipping lord shiva, staying up all night singing in the name of Lord Shiva, offerings of fruits, leaves, sweets, and milk to Shiva are some of the common activities during this festival. During this day, the whole nation has a national holiday in Nepal. During this day, devotees from all over the world visit the Hindu temple Pashupatinath. Nepal army celebrates this day by holding a spectacular ceremony at the Army Pavilion, Tundikhel. Firm devotees perform various classical music and dance throughout the night. The Pashupati area becomes lively with lights and people singing and dancing.
Mahashivaratri has a great impact on Hindus’ life as it is the day for Lord Shiva who is popular as the God of God. The night of Shivaratri is the night for self-reflection and soul-searching to grow and leave behind all things that hinder our success. People fast during the festival to observe one’s determination as well. Therefore, Maha Shivaratri is one of the greatest festivals for Hindu believers.