A British scholar well said: In Nepal, there are as many temples as many houses, as many gods as many population and as many festival as many number of days in a year and this is not an exaggeration! In Kathmandu valley, you will see every second house is a temple and every other day is a festival! While the national festivals have fixed dates, based on Soloar Calendar, religious festivals are set by astrologers following the lunar calendar. The best part about the festivals in Nepal is that all the events are celebrated with the same enthusiasm and galore the way it used to be hundreds of years ago when people had no other means of entertainment.
Nepali New Year ( Bikram Era) and Bisket Jatra Festival
It is known as "Navavarsha" in Nepal. Nepal has its official calendar that begins from the first day of the first month Baisakh. This very first day is observed as Nepali New Year which usually falls in the second week of April. People go for picnics, have get-togethers and celebrate the day socializing in various ways as this day is also a national holiday. The Bisket Jatra Festival of Bhaktapur coincides with Nepali New Year. There is a legend that every man who married the Bhaktapur Princess died the honey-moon night. So, one brave prince stayed a wake the night to see that two serpents came out of the two nostrils of the princess when she was asleep. The prince quickly took out his sword and chopped the serpents head off the body. The next day morning, the serpents were displayed in a pole and the Bhaktapur amidst the celebration which continues till today in the form of Bisket Jatra Festival. Still the symbolic pole is erected in Taumadhi Tole of Bhaktapur during this festival. After two days of the erection of the pole, images of Lord Bhairab and his female counterpart Bhadra are enshrined in two large chariots and pulled through crowds of cheering onlookers. When the chariot reaches a sloping open square, there is a tug-of-war between the inhabitants of the upper and lower parts of the town. Winners are considered to be blessed with good fortune for the coming year. The festival concludes with several days of dancing and worship. Thimi, another ancient town of the Valley, also celebrates the New Year with special festivities.
Buddha Jayanti (The Birthday of Lord Buddha)
Buddha Jayanti is a great day for the Nepalese. This day which falls on the full moon of the month of Baisakh is celebrated to commemorate the birth, attainment of knowledge, and the death of Lord Buddha the founder preacher of Buddhism, more than 2500 years ago. It is a thrice-blessed day. It is the day when he attained Nirvana (salvation). Prayers are sung and worship is offered by the Buddhist in leading Buddhist shrines throughout the country. At Swayambhunath temple for example, devout Buddhists gather to chant prayers and burn butter lamps. The next morning, a small shrines are visited and worshipped. Parading groups walk through the streets of Katmandu and Patan while special flags fly from all Buddhist households.
Tiji Festival of Mustang
The Tiji festival is a three-day ritual known as "The chasing of the Demons" that centers on the Tiji myth. The myth tells of a deity named Dorje Jono who must battle against his demon father to save the Kingdom of Mustang from destruction. The demon father wreaked havoc on Mustang by bringing a shortage of water (a highly precious resource in this very dry land) and causing many resulting disasters from famine to animal loss. Dorje Jono eventually beats the demon and banishes him from the land. Tiji is a celebration and reaffirmation of this myth and throughout the festival the various scenes of the myth will be enacted. It is of course timed to coincide with the end of the dry winter / spring season and will usher in the wetter monsoon season (the growing season for Mustang). Tiji comes from the word "ten che" meaning 'the hope of Buddha Dharma prevailing in all worlds' and is effectively a spring renewal festival.
The festival of "Gai Jatra", the procession of cows, is generally celebrated in the Nepalese month of Bhadra (August-September). The festival of cows is one of the most popular festivals of Nepal. The whole complex of Gai Jatra festival has its roots in the ancient age when people feared and worshipped Yamaraj,"the god of death". However, the ironical sessions synonymous with the Gai Jatra festival came into tradition in the medieval period of Nepal during the reign of Malla Kings. Hence, the present form of Gai Jatra is a happy blending of antiquity and medievalism.
According to the traditions since times immemorial, every family who has lost one relative during the past year must participate in a procession through the streets of Kathmandu leading a cow. If a cow is unavailable then a young boy dressed as a cow is considered a fair substitute. In Hinduism, a cow is regarded as the most venerated among all the domestic animals. It is believed that the cow, revered as a holy animal by Hindus, will help the deceased relative's journey to heaven.
The birth anniversary of Lord Sri Krishna, believed to be the 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu falls sometime in August/September. All the devotees assemble in Krishna Mandir, the ancient Krishna Temple in Patan Durbar Square and other temples with the idol of Sri Krishna and offer prayers, flowers, food, sweets and chant hymns too. Teej ( Aug 26, 2006): This is a Hindu married woman's day for her man. This festival is celebrated in August/September. Women clad in beautiful red saris with shining potes (glass beads), singing and dancing is the sight almost everywhere in Nepal during the festival of Teej. On this day women observe a fast and pray Lord Shiva for the long, healthy and prosperous life of their husbands and their families. The unmarried women also observe this festival with unabated zeal with the hope that they will get to marry good husbands. From early dawn, women queue up in the multiple lines in Pashupatinath to offer their prayers to Lord Shiva.
The festival is celebrated by both the Hindus and Buddhists with great enthusiasm. The festival continues for eight days during which time there is much rejoicing, dancing and feasting. On the first day, along wooden pole is erected in front of the ancient Royal Palace at Hunuman Dhoka, in order to propitiate Indra, the god of rain. Classical dancers also assemble at the spot wearing different kinds of masks and dancing around the courtyard of Hanuman Dhoka to celebrate Indra's visit. On the third day of the festival, the Living Goddess or "Kumari" is taken out in a procession in a chariot. Three chariots of Kumari, Ganesh and Bhairav are taken round the city for three days. The King also pays homage to the Kumari during this time. The festival's many other interesting dances including the Mahakali, Mahalaxmi, and Dasha Avatara masked dances, are staged on the plinth of Narayan temple, just opposite the Kumari temple. On the last evening of the festival, the long wooden pole erected on the first day is lowered amid religious ceremonies and animal sacrifices.
During the month of Kartik (late September and early October), the Nepalese people indulge in the biggest festival of the year, Dashain. Dashain is the longest and the most auspicious festival in the Nepalese annual calendar, celebrated by Nepalese of all caste and creed throughout the country. The fifteen days of celebration occurs during the bright lunar fortnight ending on the day of the full moon. Thorough out the kingdom of Nepal the goddess Durga in all her manifestations are worshiped with innumerable pujas, abundant offerings and thousands of animal sacrifices for the ritual holy bathing, thus drenching the goddess for days in blood. The festival is celebrated for 15 days but the main celebration and festivities are on 7th day ( Fulpati), 8th Day ( Maha Ashtami), 9th Day ( Mahanavami) and 10th Day ( Vijaya Dashami).
This festival of lights that falls between October/November is the second biggest festival after Dashain. This festival lasts for five days and people worship Laxmi - the Goddess of Wealth. All the houses are cleaned and decorated with the belief that Goddess Laxmi will enter the house that is the cleanest and people lit candles, oil lamps and other lights and the whole place looks illuminating. During the five days, crows, dogs and cows are worshipped and honored with vermilion, garland and delicious food for what they have done in the lives of humans. Crows are regarded as the messenger that brought news even during the times when there were no postmen and no postal services. Dogs are the most obedient animals and they guard our house as true guardians. Cow is also a symbol of wealth in Hinduism and she is also the national animal of Nepal. During Tihar, the Newari community in Nepal also observes Mha puja - a ritual of worshipping one's own body and life. On this very day, the Newari New Year which is also known as Nepal Sambat begins. The festival ends with Bhai Tika - brothers' day when his sisters worship him for his long and healthy life to safeguard the lives of his sisters. This is also a gambling time in Nepal as gambling is not illegal during this festival.
The first celebration of Mani-Rimdu at Monastery of Tyangboche(Everest region) seems to have taken place some time in 1930. It originates from Rongbukh Monastery in Tibet Mani-Rimdu is a prayer ceremony where the Monks put on masks representing divine personages and perform ritual dances.The spectators of devotion come from many village to gain Sonam (merit) from the head Lama's blessing and making corn and grain contributions to the Monk's community. Mani-Rimdu normally takes place every year in the month of November (full moon, it can be changed depending upon Tibetan Calender) and at-least for three days. This period coincides with the cessation of work in the village at the end of harvesting. Mani-Rimdu is the only big social event that draws together large crowds from all villagers in the Khumbu region.
Abiding by the Lunar calendar, Tamang, Magar, Gurung and toher Himalayan communities od Nepa celebrate Tamu Lhosar as their New Year during the month of December. Monasteries are attractively adorned with colorful decorative items. People take blessings from monks for their progress, prosperity and happiness. Parties are organized at homes and invitations are forwarded to relatives and friends. Delicious foods, music and dances are the major attractions of the party. Greetings and gifts are exchanged Lhosar
This is the New Year of the Tibetans and Sherpas of Nepal which falls in February. The Buddhist monasteries in Kathmandu like Boudhanath and Swayambhunath are decorated with eye catching colorful prayer flags pulling the crowd. The people perform their traditional dances and welcome their New Year with feasts and family gatherings wearing all the new clothes and finest jewelries and exchanging gifts.
Shivaratri or the night of Lord Shiva that falls sometime between February/March is one of the major festivals of Nepal. This day is dedicated to the Lord of the Lords - Lord Shiva or Mahadeva who lived in Mt. Kailash in the Himalayas. Lord Shiva is the most worshipped God in the Hindu religion. More than 100,000 of Hindu devotees from India and Southeast Asia throng weeks ahead of the festival and gather in and around Pashupatinath temple - one of the holiest shrines of the Hindus in Kathmandu to pay their homage to Lord Shiva on his birthday. "Pashupatinath" literally means "the Lord of animals" as Lord Shiva is considered as the guardian and protector of everything that exists in the Himalayan Kingdom. On this holy day, worshippers take dip and bath in the holy river at early dawn and fast for the whole day and stay around fire to keep them warm as it is still winter in Nepal. The devotees also freely indulge in using marijuana and other intoxicating substances as these things are believed to please Lord Shiva and marijuana use is legal only on this sacred day.
Goddess Saraswati is regarded as the goddess of learning or wisdom and this festival is dedicated to her. Saraswati Puja, also known as Shree Panchami is the day basically for students and teachers. They visit the Saraswati Temple or install the Saraswati Image at home or at school and peform rituals. They also worship the books, pen etc. As one acquires knowledge and education through reading books and writing with pens, students will worship their books or school bags! People also throng around the idol of Goddess Saraswati, especially in Swayambhunath and offer flowers, sweets, fruits, etc. On this day, small children are taught to read and write and people write on the stones and slabs with chalks and pencils. This day which falls between January/February is regarded as a very auspicious day for marriages too as it is believed that Goddess Saraswati herself blesses the couples. Normally it is the astrologers who fix the marriage date and time in Nepal.
Holi or Fagu Poornima
This festival of water and colors that falls between February/March is also known as "Phagu" in Nepal. This day is observed to rejoice the extermination of female demon Holika who together with her King brother conspired to kill his son Pralhad, an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. This day, playful people especially the young ones wander through the streets in groups on foot or vehicles with various colors smeared all over them and the people in houses make merry throwing colors and water balloons at each other and also to these people on the streets.
This festival takes place between March/April and a grand horse parade takes place at Tundikhel. Although this festival does not have much of religious aspects, a large number of people, even from outside Kathmandu flock around Kathmandu to witness the horse race and other exciting sports activities performed by the Army in the presence of the King and the Royal family.
Buddha's birth anniversary is celebrated every year during May in Nepal. On this day people swarm in Swayambhunath and Boudhanath to pay homage to Lord Buddha and also visit Buddha's birth place in Lumbini and chant prayers and burn butter lamps. Lord Buddha was born as Prince Siddhartha Gautam but he abandoned his luxurious life when he realized the misery of mankind and went in search of enlightenment.
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