Festivals in Nepal
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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 day marks the division of the Winter and Summer solstice. Bathing in rivers is prescribed for this day, especially at the river confluence and feasting with rich foods of special preparation is common in the family.
Maha Shivaratri : (February)
Shivaratri, this 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 very name suggests, is consecrated in honor of Lord Shiva. It is observed by bathing and holding of a religious fast. All Shiva shrines become the places of visit for dracaena, but the greatest attraction of all is held by the temple of Pashupatinath in Katmandu. One gets to see hundreds of thousand of devout Hindus coming to visit the temple of Pashupati on this day. 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 vigilance 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 Nepalese Army as its inauguration day and also concidered as a part of Army of Lord Shiva.
Phagu Poornima or Holy : (March-April)
Holi is the festival of colour. It is observed for eight days just before the full moon of Phalgun during which time townsmen indulge in colour throwing at each other. The festival of colour is always heralded by the sticking of wooden pole known as chir with colourful streamers beside the old royal palace at Basantapur by the 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 is terminated with the burning of the pole on the night preceding the Phalgun full moon.
Ghodejatra : (March-April)
Ghodejatra or the festival of horse is held on-the fourteenth of the dark half of the Chaitra (sometime in March or April). The festival has two sides of 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 race and acrobatic shows are presented at this time in which His Majesty the King is present. A meeting of lumadi, Bhadrakali, Kankeshwari and Bhairav takes place during the day time 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 in the old part of city. There is such a spontaneous and heavy turn out of the devout people to pay obeisance of 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 manner 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 in his 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)
GaijatraIn this festival teen-aged boys dressed up in the attire of a cow parade in the streets of the town. This custom spring from the belief that cows help the members of the family, who have died within that year, to travel to heaven smoothly. Some are also dressed up as an ascetic or a fool for achieving the same objective to their dead family members. Groups of mimics improvise short satirical enactments on the current sociopolitical scenes of the town to the entertainment of the public. The week beginning from Janai Poornima actually unfolds a season of good many religious and cultural activities. All the Buddhist monasteries open their gates to the visitors to view their bronze sculptures and collection of painting for a week. At Patan, one observes the festival of Mataya at this time. The festivity of Gaijatra itself lasts for a week enlivened by the performance of dance and drama in the different localities of the town. The spirit of the old festival is being increasingly adapted by Cultural Centres, newspapers and magazines of fling humour and satire on the Nepalese social and political life.
Teej and Rishi Panchani: (August-September)
TeejTeej or Haritalika is purely a women's festival. These two days follow in close succession and are the days of observing religious fast for womenfolks of Nepal. On the day of Teei all the women observe fasting for twenty-four hours for the longetivity of their husbands' life 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 bath in rivers for any sin or impurity the womenfolks may have committed during the past year. On this day women worship the seven Rishis in reminiscene 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 seen wearing red garments invariable and decked in all sorts of jewellery on these two days.
Indra JatraLike Gaijatra it also heralds a week of religious and cultural festivity in Kathmandu. There are several foci of this festival. On the night when this 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 groups of religious dance like the Devinach, Majipat Lakhe, Bhairav and Bhakku and Mahakaii Nach come into life during this week. The week also commences the dragging of chariots of Ganesh, Bhairav and 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)
DashainIt is truly the national festival of Nepal. Every Nepaii is stirred by the prospects of the joy this festival is supposed to bring with it. The change of mood is also induced psychologically by the turn off autumn season after blue sky and a green carpet of fields. The climate is also put ideal at this time, it neither being 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 worship 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 the nine days 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 the animal sacrifice in 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 the 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)
TiharThis festival comes just after a fortnight of the departure of Dashain from the scene. The earlier festival mood helped on by the turn of a genial weather continues to glow the mind of the Nepalese during this festival also. The festivity lasts for five days and is marked by worship to 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 the duskbreak on the day of Laxmi Puja. In the evening of this day, the goddess of wealth, Laxmi, is worshipped at 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 brother's long life to Yama, the Hindu god of death.