Five Major Festivals of Nepal: – Nepal is one of the countries with more festivals and popular festivals around the world. In addition to the extremely open and cheerful nature of the Nepalese, the fact that more than 30 different communities live in this small territory is two of the factors that fill the street with fun and joy.
Nepal, a predominantly Hindu and Buddhist nation, is endowed with a variety of festivals that mostly takes place during the post-monsoon season. Thanks to the cultures and indigenous inhabitants that reside in the greater northern region of the Indian subcontinent, there is always something interesting to observe in Nepal.
Most festivals do not have a fixed date of celebration because they depend on lunar cycles. And astrologers’ predictions and always refer to one of the different calendars that live together today in Nepal. With this regard, the five Major Festivals of Nepal have been explained below.
5 Major Festivals of Nepal – The Celebrations When Nepali Feels More Happier
It is the most important and popular holiday of the year for Hinduists and is considered the National Nepal Festival, celebrated by both Buddhists and Hinduists.
It lasts 10 days, from the black moon to the full moon of the month of Ashwin, at the end of September or beginning of October. And is celebrated throughout the country, except in some indigenous Buddhist-Lamaist communities (Tibetans, Sherpas, Tamang, Thakali, Gurung …) who either do not celebrate it or only celebrate certain aspects.
The Dasain, is the happiest time of the year for Nepalese. The whole family gathers to exchange gifts, do religious rituals, decorate houses and vehicles and share the lavish and abundant meals that take place.
The Dasain is also a special party for children: a popular saying points out that if the sky is full of comets it is that the Dasain has arrived. Indeed, during these days, children fly thousands of paper kites and play for hours with the splendid swings that adults build with bamboo rods at the entrances of the villages. Schools and the government close for ten or fifteen days.
The Dasain is also called Durga Puja because during these two weeks offerings are made in temples and sacred rivers. And thousands of animal sacrifices are made in honor of the goddess Durga in all its forms, manifestations and Names.
The Dasain commemorates the victory of Good (represented by Goddess Mother Durga and the various gods that fight the devil) over Evil. Each home is painted in a mural, decorated and cleaned to receive the visit of Goddess Mother Durga. And also of all family members who are away from home during the year.
During the first nine nights of Dasain (the Nawa Ratri ) devotees, especially women, get up before daylight. Literally, while there are still stars in the sky, to go to the river and to the temples to do the morning offerings.
Tradition mandates that the sacred bath be done in one of the nine sacred rivers of Nepal and in the tirtha or confluences of two rivers. The baths are accompanied by songs and offerings of rice, flower petals and other seeds and oil lamps are lit that the current carries downstream.
Nowadays, especially in Kathmandu, women do not bathe since the rivers are heavily polluted and just throw some water on their foreheads.
The first day of Dasain, one day after Ashwin’s black moon, is called Ghatasthapana, literally establishing the jug with sacred water. This day a Brahman priest or the oldest person in the family places a jug, the kalasha, which symbolizes the Shakti or energy of Devi Durga, in the sacred space of each house.
It is a jug full of water and sand in which barley seeds are planted, which are watered and venerated during the ten days of Dasain. When the seeds have germinated yellow flowers appear, the jamara, which is used in offerings and distributed among family members to decorate their ears and head.
The seventh day of Dasain takes place the ceremony whereby the Fulpati (Saptami), literally flowers and sacred leaves is taken from Gorkha. The ancestral homeland of the Saha kings, to the sacred place of the former royal palace in Hanuman Dhoka.
The Fulpati is carried by Brahmin priests under a red umbrella and accompanied by three or four women of the royal family and music bands. When passing through Tundikhel, where the kings review the troops and receive Dasain’s congratulations from the foreign representatives.
The entourage is received with military greetings and a goat is slaughtered. With the arrival of the eighth day, Maha Ashtami increases the fervor of offerings and sacrifices in Durga and Kali. This day there is also a family gastronomic celebration, especially in newar homes.
Animal sacrifices are made in each house and in all temples dedicated to Goddess Durga. Throughout the day, from very early until late in the afternoon five types of animals are sacrificed. Aigua buffalo, which symbolize demonic rage, kids, which symbolize desires.
Rams, which symbolize stupidity; chickens, which symbolize shyness and ducks, which symbolize indifference. Animals have to be male without neutering and can be black. All kinds of images, chapels, and temples dedicated to Durga are sprayed with the blood of the slaughtered animals.
The animals’ heads are left to the temple watcher, while the body is taken by the family that has offered it in sacrifice. The meat is distributed among family and friends and is consumed during the abundant family meals that take place these holidays.
The night of the eighth to the ninth day is the Black Night, during which 54 buffaloes and 54 kids are sacrificed at the Taleju Temple. Inside the Hanuman Dhoka, in a ceremony that lasts all night and only open to Hinduists.
The ninth day, the Maha Navami, offerings of animals, gifts and prayers continue to be made in the temples of Durga. But the ritual sacrifices that the Newar make in front of all types of mechanical vehicles are especially relevant, to request protection against accidents during the year.
The ritual is done in the middle of the street and in the presence of the whole family. Offerings are made in cars, trucks, motorcycles …, which are decorated with flowers.
The ritual culminates with the sacrifice of a kid with the blood from which the vehicle is sprayed. It is believed that the sacrifice quenches the thirst for accidents and blood of the vehicle and thus obtains the desired protection.
Throughout the morning, near Hanuman Dhoka, the military sacrifices buffalo and kids to ask for a blessing for their weapons. This day also honors Vishwa Karma, God of all instruments, tools and mechanical devices, inventor of the arts and crafts.
All factories and workshops close, take their machinery to the street and bless them by sacrificing a kid or a duck.
The tenth day, called Vijaya Dashami and, it is the day of Durga’s Great Victory over demons. This day is mandatory for Hinduists to visit their older relatives, in order of antiquity, and always starting with a visit to the parents.
The purpose of this visit is to receive from them the tika, a red paste mixed with rice that is placed on the forehead in blessing. And is an ancient emblem of victory and power; exchange gifts and share the splendid meals that are prepared. These celebrations, in which personal disputes are forgotten, continue for five days, until the end of Dasain, the full moon day.
In the afternoon, the Kharga Jatra takes place, particular processions in which Buddhist priests parade solemnly. Dressed in Kali, Bhairav, Ganesh Kumari and other divinities with traditional music bands through the streets of Thamel (Kathmandu) and Mangel Bazaar (Patan).
Lamaist Buddhist communities of Tibetan origin residing in the Kathmandu Valley, celebrate Dasain in their own way. Although they share with the rest of the communities the joy of the holidays and family reunification.
They are distinguished by performing acts of peaceful protest against animal sacrifices. Therefore, A characteristic of Dasain among Tibetan people is to perform acts in their sacred spaces, Stupas, and Chortens, to pray for the souls of slaughtered animals.
Thus, the Sherpas are grouped together in the monastery of the Sherpa community in Boudha for fasting, silences. And prayers for a whole day, in an act that is prepared with the help of private donations.
The Tihar or Festival of Lights is a Hindu holiday that is celebrated five days usually at the end of October or the beginning of November. Tihar literally means a row of lamps and although during the five days that the festivities last.
The lighting of lamps, candles, and lights of all kinds in every corner is the most widespread and practiced tradition. The Tihar, today it is a succession from different parties celebrated for different reasons. The Tihar is also called Yama Panchak because at this time Yama god of death is also venerated.
During the Tihar Festival, you focus on something different every day. In the eyes of the Hindus, crows, cows, and dogs are animals with which humans enter into particularly intensive relationships. And therefore these animals are pampered and honored on special days.
The first day, Kag Tihar is the Raven Day in which offerings (small plates with green leaves containing food, coins, incense, and oil candles) are made to the crows, which are the messengers of death sent by Yama. During the first day, Kaag Tihar, the crows are honored.
In Hinduism, crows are seen as the ambassadors of Yama, the god of death. The cawing of the crows is seen as an expression of grief. In order to banish death and grief from the houses, the crows are offered on the first day offerings in the form of food.
The second day of the Tihar is the Swan or Sho Puja, the Dog Day, which pays tribute to both the domestic and the famished and lousy wandering dogs all year round the streets. It is believed that the dog is the guardian of the doors of the kingdom of Yama.
This day the dogs are treated with special respect. They are fed with delicious treats, flowers and garlands are placed around the neck and red tika on the forehead as a sign of blessing. Cows and bulls are also honored during the festival. The cow symbolizes prosperity and wealth in Hinduism.
A very spiritual festival with a lot of festivities and symbolism, above all the respect for the animals, stands out.
The third day, known as Laxmi Puja is the most important and vital day of the festival. Since it is dedicated to Laxmi, goddess of health and fortune, popularly known for her love of light. In the morning tribute is paid to the cow, the visible form of Goddess Laxmi.
The cows are bathed, fed with fruits and sweets, decorated with flower garlands and venerated. This is the day for removing the good luck thread, which during the Janai Purnima, Men and women put on the wrist.
They then tie this thread on the tail of the cow to ask for help after the death of the body. During the day the houses are prepared to receive the visit of Laxmi, which brings health and fortune for the whole year, protecting the money of the house and the grain store.
Only houses that are conveniently decorated, clean and illuminated with lights of all kinds will be visited by Laxmi. Offerings are made to the image of Laxmi that is at home, placed that day in a visible place.
During the night the walls, doors, and windows of houses, temples and other buildings are adorned with thousands of rows of traditional Nepalese lamps. A golden or mud cup with oil lit by a cotton wick.
Groups of women and children walk the streets singing the song Bhailo, collecting money and sweets around the houses, lighting flares, and firecrackers.
The fourth day is celebrated differently according to the community. Some honor oxen, like cows, the day before, in a ritual called Goru Puja. Krishna’s followers celebrate the Gobhardan Puja, a religious ceremony, in the morning. Anyway, the most relevant party is the Mha Puja, a celebration that precedes the newar new year.
The Mha Puja, literally offering to the body itself is a family celebration in the newar community. On this day, Newars purify their bodies and minds and ask for enlightenment through ancient rituals. It is celebrated at night when the whole family gathers in a room of the house conveniently neat.
And painted with earth color where the father makes a mandala for each family member. The mandalas are drawings with geometric designs made on the floor with fine soil and decorated with ocher dust.
They are created based on concentric circles made with rice and surrounded by eight oil lamps that symbolize human life and enlightenment. When Mha Puja ends, a great meal begins that welcomes the newar new year.
The fifth day coincides with the newar new year, which is celebrated in a vindictive way with a political-festive parade through the streets of the old Kathmandu neighborhood. And in which representatives of political parties, associations, schools, music bands attend.
And in that high bamboo sticks that are crowned with flags and bushes of hair move in circles. The street passes have the presence of thousands of people dressed in traditional dresses.
This day also celebrates the Bhai Tika, literally Blessing of the brother, so that any man, regardless of his age, is blessed and worshiped by his sisters. The brothers sit before the offerings and mandalas made the night before, while the women throw water and oil to protect them from evil.
And worship them with rice, fruits, flower necklaces, oil lamps, and incense. In the end, the sister puts tika on the forehead of the brother with paintings of all colors as a sign of blessing and exchanges of gifts, money and clothes begin. This day the whole family joins to share the last moments of the party, playing long games of cards.
The Teej is a holiday held by Hindu women in Nepal, coinciding with the third day of the brightest moon of the month Shraavana (July / August). This is dedicated to the goddess Parvati, commemorating her union with the god Shiva.
Thus marital happiness is celebrated, requesting, during the main puja, the blessing of their husbands and families. The Teej is the Feast of women, celebrated in honor of husbands and boyfriends by all Hindu women.
It ends the fifth day after the black moon of the month of Bhadra, at the end of August or beginning of September. And lasts three days. It is celebrated in all the towns and cities by the Hindus of Nepal.
The most massive celebrations take place in the Pashupatinath temple, next to the Bagmati river and in all the temples dedicated to Shiva and Parvati.
On the first day of the festival, the dar khane din, the women prepare a great banquet with abundant and all kinds of food for their friends and family.
Women, married and single, mainly of the Khas ethnic group, gather in one place, with their best clothes and begin to dance and sing devotional songs. In the midst of all this, the big party takes place, continuing often until midnight, after which the 24-hour festival begins.
The main bid takes place on the second day, in the temple dedicated to Shiva. You can see groups of women arriving at the temple with offerings of flowers, fruits, coins and milk for the deities, asking for the happiness of marriage.
An important part of the bid is the oil lamp, which must be on all night. During this second day, women fast, some do not taste a bite for 24 hours, others only eat fruit. At night, music and dance are once again the protagonists.
Tradition says that all married Hindu women and all girls in puberty must participate in this fast and rites. Throughout the morning and all afternoon, the streets of the towns and cities are filled with women who go to the temples singing and dancing.
To ask Shiva and his wife Parvati what they want: health, a happy and prosperous marriage. Good luck and long life of the husband, and the purification of body and soul.
Married women wear saris of the red and gold color of their wedding and they are adorned with the best jewels. While the unmarried young women put on their most colorful dresses.
Then they wet their hands or take a ritual bath in the Bagmati River in honor of their present or future husbands. And go to the temple where the lingam or phallic symbol that represents Shiva is.
The women make an offering of rice, petals, and fruit to invoke the gods in favor of the husbands in one of the 108 phallic figurines of Shiva in the Pashupatinath area.
The third day of the festival is the Rishi Panchami. After the completion of the puja of the previous day, women pay homage to various deities and bathe with red mud that is found in the roots of the sacred datiwan bush, along with its leaves.
This act of purification is the final ritual of the Teej, after which women are considered to have been acquitted of all their sins. The last few years have witnessed an alteration in rituals, especially in relation to their severity, but their essence remains the same.
On the third day, women complete this puja when, very early, they offer food to the husband, wash his feet. And, following a tradition still in force, drink the remaining water. It symbolizes the supplication of Shiva to grant them the blessing of her husband and her family.
Then the sacred River is filled with women loaded with their clothes and piles of the sacred datiwan bush that they will use to purify themselves. These are baths with red mud and then bathe in the river.
The purification ritual consists of brushing the teeth 360 times with water from the sacred river. And cleaning the body with the herbs up and down, finishing it with a pleasant bath in the river where they wash their body as a symbol of purification. This act of purification is the final ritual of the Teej.
Three days of Teej, three days of music, dance, and colors. Three days that give thinking about the situation of women in Nepal.
Gai Jatra is one of the most popular holidays celebrated by Nepalese Hindus and dedicated to the cow. Translated from Nepali, gai means – a cow, and yatra- a festival. Gai Jatra is a Nepalese version of Halloween.
This festival is celebrated with a series of events full of humor, satire, jokes, etc. Since it is legally allowed to make jokes about anything and anyone that day. Several magazines, television shows, and plays show comic plots.
It is believed that the sacred animal accompanies the soul of a deceased person to another world, so the festival is dedicated to seeing off dead relatives. At the festival, the image of Krishna is popular – the protector and master of the cows.
The divine shepherd, who in his youth spent all his time with cows and cowherd boys and girls – gopis. The festival is especially popular in the Kathmandu Valley. In Nepal, a day off is declared and therefore government and educational institutions are closed.
The festival is usually held on the first day of the second two weeks of the Hindu month of Shravan. At this time, the moon begins to wane. The date of the festival is changing all the time.
This holiday is rooted in the deep past. The inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley once a year reassured Yama Raj, the god of death. In the Middle Ages, the festival was filled with humorous notes.
Each family that lost its member in the year that has passed. Since the previous festival had to join its cows in a procession that runs along the streets of cities or villages. And the one who did not have cows, he adorned the young boys as a cow and also joined the solemn procession.
There is one more legend. The wife of King Pratap Malla was deeply saddened by the death of one of her sons. She did not speak to anyone or smile. The king tried to bring her to her senses and did everything possible to make the heartbroken queen, smile. But he did not succeed.
Then he announced a significant reward to the one who can make his wife laugh. It was just during the celebration of the Gaijatra festival and the time of reverence for deceased relatives.during the reign of the Malla kings. The current form of Gaijatra is a happy combination of antiquity and the medieval era.
Residents put on funny costumes and painted their faces, begin to fool around and portray different representatives of the king’s retinue. They did it so merrily, with such a sense of humor, that the queen laughed so that she could hardly be stopped.
The king generously thanked all the participants. And another interesting story appeared in the history of the festival celebration. Dressing up in funny costumes, wearing unusual hats and satirical skits that are played on all the streets of cities and villages in the Kathmandu Valley.
After finishing the procession, at sunset, almost everyone participates in another millenary tradition, where participants dress up and wear masks. The occasion is full of songs and jokes. Mockery and humor of all kinds can be felt throughout the day.
Thus it is said that Gaijatra is the festival of health since it allows people to accept the reality of death and prepare for life after death. According to Hinduism, everything that man does in his life is a preparation for a good life after death.
With bizarre masks, costumes and elaborate decorations drag the relatives who have lost a relative last year, through the streets. Most of them are from the ethnic group of the Newar.
But it is far from a sad procession, but quite the opposite: singing, dancing, and comedy interludes are basic components of the funeral march. Not every family that has a loss has to organize its own procession, usually, several families join together.
The festival begins in each house with a series of offerings and prayers to later go out in a music and dance parade known as Ghinta Ghisi. In the city of Bhaktapur, during this parade the so-called Taha Macha, a tall and colorful figure made by each family with a bamboo cane.
And cloth and that are crowned by a cow’s head and a photo of the deceased whom they want to honor. Other families, meanwhile, carry smaller figures and carry carriages or disguise children as the cow.
In any case, throughout the day and until the night the streets are filled with music, dancing and a deep smell of incense. The fall of the sun is the moment that gives way to funny costumes and social and political satire.
During the Gai Jatra, the cow, a sacred animal in the Hindu culture, represents Lakshmi, goddess of fortune, who guides souls in the afterlife to Yama, the Hindu god of death.
Death is part of life, this incontrovertible fact must always be aware of people and spur them to selfless action, it is said. The old traditions, also in honor of Yamaraj, the god of death, are not only cultivated by the elders. But also many enthusiastic, young people are part of the festival.
Finally, in Kathmandu, all Gaijatra attendees gather in Durbar Square, the city’s central marketplace. The same happens in Patan and Bhaktapur. Along the way, people are provided by the residents of the streets with special food or small donations to show the importance of sharing, compassion, and charity. Everything looks a bit like a carnival parade, but with a different background.
Often this holiday is used as an opportunity to ridicule corrupt officials and government functionaries. As well as to demonstrate their disagreement with a particular policy or law. Nowadays, the residents of non-traditional sexual orientation demanding equal rights with other members of Nepalese society also join the procession.
Holi festival in Nepal is replete with all sorts of colors, laughter and cheerful voices are heard everywhere. People sincerely rejoice at the arrival of spring, as it always remains the personification of a new life, hopes, the birth of something beautiful.
Therefore, for good reason, festivities begin in late February – early March. The festival takes place on the full moon day, which in Nepal is called Phalgun Purnima. Because of this, it turns out that every year Holi is held on different days.
The festival points to the arrival of spring, the end of winter, the blossoming of love. It’s a festive day to meet, dance and laughs, forget and forgive, and fix broken relationships. The festival also marks the beginning of a good spring harvest.
It lasts one night and one day and starts on the evening of Purnima (full moon day), which falls in the Vikram Samvat calendar. The first evening is known as Holika Dahan (Burning Demon Holika) and the following day as Holi.
Holi is an old festival that is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts. Even the esteemed and revered Vedas contain detailed descriptions of this celebration. No less surprising is the fact that Holi found a record that dates from at least 300 years BC.
And now we will tell the story of the appearance of Holi and why the obligatory part of the celebration is the burning of a scarecrow, sprinkling with colorful paints and dousing with water.
There are at least three legends that explain where the Holi festival came from.
A) The first legend says that the holiday got its name in honor of the name of the demoness Holika. Being the sister of the evil king Hiranyakashyap, she tried to convince her nephew Prahlada, the son of the same ruler, to go up to the fire in the name of Vishnu.
Prahlada worshiped his god, and nothing could make him give up his faith. The king’s son was forced to enter the fire and, to everyone’s amazement, was saved by Vishnu. At the same time, Holika, who was not supposed to be afraid of the flames, burned down.
Since then, it has been the case: on the first day of the holiday, bonfires should be made. And an effigy of an evil witch, trying to deceive a true believer Prahlada, should be incinerated.
B) The second legend is again connected with Holika, the sister of the evil king. But, in this giving, she was kind, beautiful and sacrificial. The king, who received a valuable gift from one of the gods – immortality – imagines himself to be a god and ordered everyone to worship him.
But, these orders and threats did not act on his son, therefore, as if nothing had happened, he continued to believe in the true god. It would be very difficult for a young man if it were not for his kind aunt Holika. She strongly supported her nephew, for which the king ordered the burning of his sister and son.
And then the prince began to pray even more to his god, that he would help save his beloved aunt. And prayers were heard – the young man received a multi-colored scarf as a gift from all the gods, which is able to protect him from fire. When the day came to burn the rebellious, the prince covered his aunt with a bright scarf.
But, suddenly the wind blew and the scarf covered the prince himself, thanks to which he was saved. As he did not try to save Holika, it was too late. Even when the flame gripped the unfortunate woman, she continued to look at her nephew with love.
The Holika could not be saved, but the prince’s faith became even stronger. God could not stay away and decided to defeat the cruel king, piercing his icy heart with lightning. So evil was punished.
C) There is a third legend. According to this, God Shiva, with his third eye, incinerated the god of love Kama for trying to bring him out of deep meditation. Because of this, he did not die but lost his body.
But the wife of Kama, Rati, and the wife of Shiva, Parvati prayed that he would return the body of the god of love. And then Shiva gave Kama the opportunity to regain his bodily appearance for three months a year. At this time, everything around blossoms becomes beautiful. Joyful people celebrate this event as a celebration of love, rebirth, spring.
During the festival, the followers of Hinduism unite in order to celebrate the holiday together, get vivid emotions, have fun and enjoy the upcoming spring. Perhaps this is how people find the strength in themselves to hope for a better future, despite the possible hardships of life.
Since the Holi festival is special for all followers of the Hindu religion and is of particular importance, preparation for it is carried out in advance. Elated reigns everywhere, the desire to have fun from the heart, to rejoice in the coming spring. Preparations for the holiday begin a few weeks before it begins.
Various materials are prepared that are useful for the festival, raise funds, concerts and ritual games begin. The walls of various buildings are painted in colorful shades, everything is decorated with flowers. In the eyes straight ripples from incredible color.
But that’s not all. It is necessary to prepare paints and spray guns for water. They are freely available for sale, so neither locals nor visitors have problems with this for the holiday period.
On this day, caste and class differences play almost no role, all celebrate together. The colors are blessed before playing and each color represents something different. Red stands for fertility, beauty and love, green for new beginnings and good harvests, yellow for strength, etc.
Holi is a festival that can take up to ten days, depending on the region. The most important day, however, is the full moon day, which is played wildly with colors and water. Families smear each other with color powders in different colors and hunt each other through the neighborhood.
Often the colors are mixed with water and then filled in balloons – so you are often hit from the top of a paint bomb. Children often hide in strategically chosen places to throw off careless passers-by. The color powder is smeared or thrown on the cheeks – in the end, you are over and over colorful.
There are many more festivals celebrated in Nepal which are the main reasons that bring the people of various ethnicity together.
I am Jitendra Sahayogee, a writer of 12 Nepali literature books, film director of Maithili film & Nepali short movies, photographer, founder of the media house, designer of some websites and writer & editor of some blogs, has expert knowledge & experiences of Nepalese society, culture, tourist places, travels, business, literature, movies, festivals, celebrations.