Festivals in Nepal
Click to Enlarge
Maghe Sankranti : (January)
A Sankranti signifies the first day of any month in the Nepali calendar year. Makar means Capricorn. Makar Sankranti, therefore, means the first day of the month when the sun enters that part of the zodiac which is symbolized by Capricorn. It starts on its northward journey in its heavenly course on this day, thus announcing the commencement of the Uttarayan. It is the Nepalese belief that this day marks the division of the Winter and Summer solstice. Bathing in rivers is prescribed for this day, especially at the confluence of rivers, and feasting with rich foods of special preparation is common.
Maha Shivaratri : (February)
Shivaratri is the most famous and celebrated festival of Nepal which attracts large crowds from far-flung places both in India and Nepal. The festival, as its name suggests, is consecrated in honour of Lord Shiva. It is observed by bathing and the holding of a religious fast. All Shiva shrines are visited, but the greatest attraction of all is held by the temple of Pashupatinath in Kathmandu. One gets to see hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus coming to visit the temple of Pashupati on this day. Religious Hindus worship Lord Shiva by offering flowers, garlands, 'bel patra', fruits, coins and so on and also by chanting prayers and hymns. Among them are a large number of Sadhus and ascetics. Many people like to keep awake for the whole night, keeping a vigil over an oil lamp burnt to please Shiva. Children are seen keeping awake similarly over a bonfire in many localities. In the afternoon an official function is held to celebrate this festival at Tundikhel. The Nepalese Army organises a show in which volleys of gunfire are sounded. Besides that, this day is also celebrated by the Nepalese Army as its inauguration day and also considered as a part of the army of Lord Shiva.
Phagu Poornima or Holi : (March-April)
Holi is the festival of colour. It is observed for eight days just before the full moon of Phalgun during which time local people indulge in colour throwing at each other. The festival of colour is always heralded by the sticking of a wooden pole known as 'chir' with colourful streamers beside the old royal palace at Basantapur by arrangement of the Government Religious Endowment (Guthi) Office. This festival is observed with most joy and gaity in the Terai region of the country. The festival ends with the burning of the pole on the night preceding the Phalgun full moon.
Ghodejatra : (March-April)
Ghodejatra or the 'Festival of Horses' is held on the fourteenth of the dark half of the Chaitra (sometime in March or April). The festival has two sides to its celebration. Its cultural side involves the Newars of Kathmandu who celebrate it for several days. The idols of the gods of many localities are taken in a procession in their area in portable chariots. Every household is feasting at this time. A demon called 'Gurumumpa' is also propitiated at this time in Tundikhel. This festival is called Pasachare. The other aspect of the festival is provided by the function organised by the Royal Nepalese Army at Tundikhel in the afternoon of the main day. Horse races and acrobatic shows are presented at this time, when His Majesty the King is also present. A meeting of the gods Lumadi, Bhadrakali, Kankeshwari and Bhairav takes place during the daytime at the main celebration at Ason. The deities are brought in their portable chariots. The same festival is repeated at night in Tundikhel.
Seto Machchhendranath : (March-April)
This is a four-day chariot festival held in honour of the White (Seto) Machchhendranath (to be distinguished from the Red (Rato) form of the same divinity in Patan), who is actually the Padmapani Lokeshwara, whose permanent shrine is situated at Janabahal in Kel Tole in the middle of the old bazaar in Kathmandu. A huge chariot of wood supported on four large wheels and carrying a tall spire covered with green foliage is made ready for receiving the image of the divinity on this occasion and for dragging around the old part of city. There is such a spontaneous and heavy turnout of devout people to pay obeisance to this god, who is also said to be the 'embodiment of compassion', at this time.
Janai Poornima (Rokshya Bandhon) : (July-August)
The full-moon of the month of Shrawan, the day when this festival is observed, is considered sacred ail over Nepal and is celebrated in different ways by different groups of people of Nepal. However, the most widely accepted mode of celebration is that on this day people take a ritual bath and change their sacred thread. Everyone gets a string of thread tied around their wrist from the Brahmans as a protective mark for the whole year. The Nepalese prepare a special dish called 'kwati' (mixed sprouted beans) on this day. This day is also held sacred for bathing in Gosainkunda. One can also see a pageantry of the Jhankris (witch doctors) attired in their traditional costume come to bathe at Kumbheshwor at Patan. These Jhankris also visit the temple of Kaiinchowk Bhagavati (the goddess at Kalinchowk) in Dolkha district where they go to beg for their healing powers, as they are the traditional healers of the Nepalese villagers.
Gaijatra : (July-August)
In this festival teenage boys dressed as cows parade in the streets of the town. This custom springs from the belief that cows help members of the family who have died within that year to travel to heaven smoothly. Some also dress as an ascetic or a fool to achieve the same objective for their dead family members. Groups of mimics improvise short satirical plays on the current sociopolitical scenes of the town for the entertainment of the public. The week beginning from Janai Poornima actually unfolds a season of a good many religious and cultural activities. All the Buddhist monasteries open their gates to visitors to view their bronze sculptures and collections of paintings for a week. At Patan, the festival of Mataya is observed at this time. The festivity of Gaijatra itself lasts for a week enlivened by the performance of dance and drama in different localities of the town. The spirit of the old festival is being increasingly adapted by Cultural Centres, newspapers and magazines of humour and satire on the Nepalese social and political life.
Teej and Rishi Panchami : (August-September)
Teej or Haritalika is purely a women's festival. These two days follow in close succession and are the days of observing a religious fast for the womenfolk of Nepal. On the day of Teej all women observe fasting for twenty-four hours for their husbands' longevity, and go to visit the shrine of Pashupati and offer worship to Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati later in the evening. The Panchami is mainly devoted to cleaning the body by taking ritual baths in rivers for any sin or impurity the women may have committed during the past year. On this day women worship the seven Rishis in remembrance of a high ascetic tradition of Hinduism and a notion of purity of descent in their lineage from the ancestral Rishis. All women whose husbands are alive are invariably seen wearing red garments and decked in all sorts of jewellery on these two days.
Indra Jatra : (August-September)
Like Gaijatra, Indra Jatra also heralds a week of religious and cultural festivity in Kathmandu. There are several foci of this festival. On the night when the festival begins, members of the family in which death has taken place within one year go round the town limits of Kathmandu burning incense and putting lamps along the route. The same morning a tall wooden pole representing the standard of lndra, the king of gods, is erected in front of the Hanuman Dhoka Palace. Wooden statutes of lndra and large wooden masks of Bhairav are put on display in the old bazaar. Several religious dance groups, like the Devinach, Majipat Lakhe, Bhairav and Bhakku and Mahakaii Nach, come into life during this week. The week also sees the dragging of the chariots of Ganesh, Bhairav and the Living Goddess Kumari in Kathmandu. His Majesty the King comes to pay homage to Kumari just before the start of the chariot-pulling.
Bada Dashain : (September-October)
Dashain is truly the national festival of Nepal. Every Nepali is stirred by the prospect of the joy this festival is supposed to bring with it. The change of mood is also induced psychologically by the turn of the autumn season, after blue sky and a green carpet of fields. The climate is also ideal at this time, it being neither too cold nor too warm. The Nepalese cherish their Dashain as a time for eating well and dressing well. The whole festival lasts a total of ten days. The first nine days are devoted to worshipping the goddess Durga Bhavani and her diverse manifestations. Each house also sets up a shrine to worship the goddess at this time.
Barley seeds are planted on the first day in every household and nurtured for nine days. During these days the goddess Durga Bhavani is worshipped and offered a lot of blood sacrifice. Buffaloes, goats and chickens are killed in thousands at the temples, at military posts and in every household. One of the main centres that witnesses animal sacrifice on a large scale at this time is the Hanuman Dhoka Palace on the night of the eighth day and the morning of the ninth. On the concluding day of the festival called the Tika, the elders of the family give tika to their junior members and to other relatives who may also come to seek their blessing. The fresh shoots of barley known as 'Jamara' are also given to wear. Family feasting and feasting of guests is a common practice at this time. On the day of Vijaya Dashami people go to Narayanhity Royal Palace to receive tika from their Majesties the King and the Queen.
Tihar : (Festival of Lights, October-November)
This festival comes just a fortnight after the departure of Dashain from the scene. The earlier festival mood helped by the genial autumn weather continues to glow in the minds of the Nepalese during this festival also. The festivities last for five days and are marked by worship of different animals such as the crow, the dog and the cow on different days. Perhaps the most endearing sight of this festival is presented by the illumination of the entire town with rows of tiny flickering lamps at dusk on the day of Laxmi Puja. In the evening of this day, the goddess of wealth, Laxmi, is worshipped in every household and it is in her welcome that myriads of lamps are burnt. On the last day, sisters show their affection towards their brothers with the performance of a puja and feed them with delectable food. They pray for their brothers' long life to Yama, the Hindu god of death.