Hindu Festivals of Nepal
- Wednesday July 31, 2019
The Hindu Festivals of Nepal below follow the lunar cycle and, therefore, have no fixed yearly date but are determined by monthly moon phases.
Magh Sankranti (official government holiday)
mid-January, the first day of the Nepali month of Magh
Winter’s ending is heralded, and the sun is honored as it approaches northward from the southern hemisphere. Sankranti means `sacred transition,’ and people celebrate by taking ritual baths in rivers throughout the country. Devghat, just north of the city of Narayanghat, where the Kali Gandaki and Narayani rivers flow together, sees some of the largest crowds. Patan’s Sankhamul Ghat, along the banks of the Bagmati River, is Kathmandu Valley’s focal point for ablutions. Due to the pollution of the Bagmati, most participants nowadays sprinkle a little water on themselves rather than fully submerging.
Sweets made of sesame and jaggery (unrefined brown sugar) are popular today, as is a dish named kitchari (rice and lentil mixture) and foods with ghee, molasses, and yam. Tharu people celebrate this day as their new year with feasts, traditional attire, and song and dance.
Basanta (Shree) Panchami
The birthday of Saraswati, Goddess of Education and Wisdom. Students mainly celebrate this day. They make a point to bathe, wear new clothes and pay respect at a Saraswati Temple. Parents will escort toddlers to a shrine to have them write requests in chalk on temple walls requesting Saraswati’s blessings. On this day, spring’s arrival is foretold at Kathmandu Hanuman Dhoka (and Vajrayana Buddhists take occasion to honor Manjushri, Slayer of Ignorance).
The new moon in February/March
A night consecrated to Shiva and celebrated the night before and day of the new moon in February/March with activities a few days before as well. All-night vigils with sacred bonfires are held at Shiva shrines, and the largest takes place at the World Heritage Site of Pashupatinath Temple, which lies along the banks of the Bagmati River in eastern Kathmandu. Pashupati is another manifestation of Shiva, considered the “protector of animals.” Shaivites and onlookers crowd into the Pashupatinath grounds, where a hearty mix of Brahman priests, ash-smeared yogis, wandering ascetics, beggars, vendors, and sight-seers mingle. Rudraksha (seeds of Elaeocarpus ganitrus), worn by many followers, are a sign of respect to Shiva.
Ardent Hindus consider it auspicious to visit Pashupatinath Temple at some point during the festival. Pilgrims travel from afar in the rituals, which include fasting, singing, tabla, and sitar music, praying, chanting, reciting of holy text, and meditating (along with conspicuous consumption of bhang, aka, cannabis, which is overlooked during this devotional time).
Although Pashupatinath is the focal point in Kathmandu, celebrations occur throughout the valley and country. Devotees around Nepal and India enjoy prasad, an offering of food that has been blessed and pays homage to Shiva by building sacred bonfires and holding vigils on this night.
Holi (also known as Fagun Purnima)
Countrywide trench warfare with water balloons. The festival heralds the arrival of spring and the legendary defeat of demoness Holika by Vishnu. Happy Holi or holy hell? Be fairly warned, exuberant groups of young people take over. They roam about throwing water and brightly colored powder on everybody, and bucketfuls of water and water balloons are launched from balconies above the streets.
Being feted with water and colored powder is meant to be an honor. Enjoy the fun or hideaway indoors until it’s over. If you join the raucous free-for-all, wear clothes that can be ruined by color stains and leave valuables in your room or cover them in plastic to keep them from being soaked. The commotion lasts only a day, whereas India undergoes a merciless multi-day event.
Initially a Newari event centered on Kathmandu’s Bhadrakali and Kankeshwari temples, it now showcases a military pageant with horse racing at Tundikhel Parade Ground. According to legend, the pounding of hooves keeps the demonic fiend Gurumaa hidden underground for another year. Other activities at Tundikhel include mounted mock warfare and acrobatics on horseback.
Dasai is celebrated biannually. This much smaller version of the 10-day fall affair features a public ceremony at Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, where the Nepal Army ceremonially decapitates goats and water buffalo. The rites begin around 8 am and end a few hours later when military banners are doused with sacrificial blood.
Rato (Red) Machhindranath
April/May, the first day of the Nepali month of Baisakh
Rato Machhindranath is considered a God of Rain and Crops and has ties to Tantric Buddhism. The idol is ritually bathed and put on a chariot and honored as human resources pull it throughout the city of Patan. The chariot is three stories high and tremendously heavy, requiring up to a hundred or more people to move it. Music with drums and cymbals accompany the chariot, which stops overnight at four symbolic locations. People offer plates of food to the icon, signifying gratefulness for harvest blessings. The festival is a vibrant jamboree with feasts and merrymaking. Kathmandu has a similar chariot procession, Seto (White) Machhindranath, presided over by Kumari, the living goddess who resides in Durbar Square.
Mostly a Newari festival for boys. Ancient in origin, it commemorates the victory over Ghantakarna, a demon defeated by the natives of Kathmandu Valley. On this day, effigies of Ghantakarna are erected along walkways and roadsides, and groups of boys take a toll from passersby for the demon’s mock funeral. In the evening, the figure is beaten and dragged to a river, where it is burned and thrown into the water. After that, the boys sing and celebrate the victory on the way home.
The full moon of July/August
The name refers to a sacred thread worn by higher castes (Brahmin and Chhetri). A new thread is put on at this time, representing renewal and cleansing of body and mind. The cord is three-ply, with separate strands representing the energies of Brahma (creative), Vishnu (preservative), and Shiva (destructive). People also wrap the thread around a wrist as protection from harm until Laxmi Puja (the third day of Tihar, see below), when it is removed and, if possible, tied to a cow’s tail for good fortune. The thread was traditionally soaked overnight in 108 herbs by a priest. Nowadays, turmeric is used, which turns the cord golden and has antiseptic properties.
At this time, many people participate in the celebrations, not just the high caste. Devotees pilgrimage to a sacred location, often a high-altitude lake such as Gosainkunda (4,381 m, 14,374 ft), where one form of righteousness is to take a plunge into the chilly waters.
The new moon of July/August
It usually falls on the first two days of the new moon of July/August and is marked by a procession from the palace squares of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. `Gai’ means ‘cow,’ and `Jatra’ means ‘journey.’ Gai Jatra is a celebration of cows (representing the deity Laxmi) leading a procession to heaven for the deceased to follow. Entertainers paint their faces and join parades to amuse onlookers with satire, drama, and comedy. Some of the performers are hired by relatives of recently deceased people. They are joined by accomplices in masks and wearing unusual garments who represent departed souls in need of guidance by the celestial cows.
Krishna Janmashtami (also known as Krishnashtami)
A celebration of the birth of Krishna, a hero of the classic Mahabharata and regarded as an avatar of Vishnu. He is often depicted with blue-hued skin, reminding followers that he is as eternal as the blue sky above. Devotees celebrate by flocking to Patan’s Krishna Temple in Durbar Square (as well as Krishna temples across the nation) and singing hymns.
Teej (transliteration, tip (also known as Hari Talika)
According to legend, Parvat Raj, Lord of the Himalayas, decreed that his daughter Parvati would join Vishnu in matrimony. Parvati’s heart was elsewhere, and friends spirited her away to a forest where Shiva was abiding the night before her nuptials. Shiva became enamored with her but only after trials to verify that the love was mutual.
Single women fast on this day in the hopes of being blessed with a suitable husband, while married women also fast and wear red (the color of matrimony) saris. They pray and perform rites for marital harmony and the well-being of their families. Pashupatinath and other Shiva temples are especially crowded on Teej. It has become a modern tradition for female friends to get together and celebrate just before Teej.
Ganesh Chaturthi or Chatha- Hindu Festivals of Nepal celebrate in mainly Terai Region.
She is celebrated as the birthday of Ganesh (“the elephant god”), son of Shiva and Parvati. Ganesh is beloved as a divinity auguring good luck and removing obstacles.
The King of the Gods, Indra, is celebrated by raising a victory banner in his honor (this happens in Kathmandu at Hanuman Dhoka temple). Among other duties, Indra is also considered the controller of rain and harvests and is especially important to people whose livelihood depends on a successful growing season. Indra is known to have gathered flowers in Kathmandu Valley for his mother and is a slayer of demons representing natural disasters. The festival lasts eight days, highlighted by appearances from the Living Goddess Kumari. The massive idol of Bhairav, a form of Shiva, in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, also figures prominently in the proceedings, which involve chariot processions, singing, and masked dancing.
Dashain (The prominent and famous Hindu festival of Nepal)
Dashin is a Hindu festival commemorating the legendary victory of the goddess Durga (Kali) over the demon buffalo, Mahishasura, and symbolizes the triumph of Good over Evil. This is Nepal’s grandest festival and generally coincides with the end of the monsoon and is a time of family reunions. The holiday pervades the nation and lasts for ten days beginning in late September or early October, depending on the lunar cycle. Schools, shops, and government offices are closed for up to two weeks during Dashain, and all transportation is overcrowded and difficult to book. There is much feasting as friends and families unite, exchanging gifts and blessings. Bamboo swings are set up around the country, and city skies are filled with kites.
The festival begins with Ghatasthapana, the formal setting of a jar of water in a place of worship in one’s house. It symbolizes Shakti, the primordial force of femininity or Universal Mother. A prominent feature of Dashain is the ritual of decapitating buffaloes at the Kot (fort) near Kathmandu Hanuman Dhoka in Durbar Square on the ninth day of the festival. Goats and sheep are sacrificed nationwide, and festive banquets are held.
The tenth day, called Vijaya Dasami, celebrates Durga’s victory, and Tikal is given (a vermilion mark of religious as well as decorative significance placed on the forehead during the festival and generally at religious ceremonies and other occasions; giving someone Tikaa express good wishes, friendship, and honor). In rural areas, village leaders administer Tikaa to the public. On this occasion, before the monarchy was dismantled in 2008, the former King and Queen received citizens at the royal palace.
Tihaar (aka, Diwali, Deepawali, Bhai Tikka, and Laxmi Puja)
Tihar is a five-day ‘festival of lights in late October or November. The lights represent Knowledge and its victory over Ignorance. During the five days of Tihar, special rites are performed. During days one to four, certain animals receive worship and positive attention with unique food offerings and sometimes flower garlands and Tikal.
Day 1: crows, messengers of Yama Raj, King of the Dead
Day 2: dogs, general protectors, and especially guardians of homes; also the vehicle of Bhairav, an emanation of Shiva revered by the Valley’s Newars
Day 3: cows, divine representations of Laxmi
Day 4: bulls are sacred animals for many reasons in Hinduism, chiefly as Nandi, Shiva’s transport and foremost devotee. Nandi is also a guardian at Shiva and Parvati’s abode.
Day 5: The final day, Bhai Tikka. Sisters ceremonially give younger brothers Tikaa and wish them prosperity and long life, and brothers offer a gift in return, usually money or clothing.
The third day of this festival is also known as Laxmi Puja, dedicated to Laxmi, goddess of wealth. Houses and shops are given a thorough cleaning. Buildings are trimmed with marigold flowers, and hundreds of tiny oil lamps and candles light up Kathmandu as dusk falls, hoping that Laxmi will visit the cleanest and brightest homes. During Tihar, public gambling is condoned, and crowds gather around groups of Juwan (cowry shell) players or card players. Among the Newar community, Tihaar marks the beginning of the New Year.
Kirat Prabh (Ubhauli Parba)
This festival is celebrated by Limbu and Rai ethnic groups, mainly in eastern Nepal, to express gratefulness for harvest blessings. The term Udhauli means migration of birds between climes, and Udhauli is also celebrated during the planting season in May/April.
Full moon in December
Yomari is a Newar delicacy, meaning “pastry that is liked.” In this event, the delicious confection is prepared with rice flour; the standard filling is khula, a milk product, brown sugar, and sesame seeds. The dumpling is steamed, and an offering is made to the goddess of harvests.
Additionally, Yomari is important in Newari culture on the birthday of youngsters. A garland with the number of Omari on the necklet represents the child’s age significant for the second birthday.