Nepal – The Land of Festivalson Friday, August 27, 2010
It is said that there are more festivals in Nepal than there are days in the year, and it is certainly true that Nepalis love to celebrate!
Festivals are scheduled in accordance with the Nepali calendar and the phase of the moon, so they can vary over a period of almost a month in relation to the Western calendar. The main festivals celebrated in Nepal include:
Dashain – the longest and the most important festival of Nepal. Generally Dashain falls in late September to mid October, right after the end of the monsoon season in Nepal. It is “a day of Victory over Demons”.
Tihar, also known as Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is the second most important festival of Nepal. It is usually in October or November.
Buddha Jayanti (the celebration of the birth of Buddha) takes place in April and May and is usually celebrated in Lumbini, Budhha’s bithplace in south central Nepal..
Maha Shivaratri, a festival dedicated to Lord Shiva, takes place in February or March, and is celebrated by hundreds of thousands of saddhus (holy men) at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu. Hashish cakes and marijuana smoking are legal across the country during this festival day.
Mani Rimdu is celebrated by Sherpas in the Everest region and can be observed at the Tengboche monastery that is at 3800 meters along the Everest Base Camp route.
Nepal’s water-throwing festival is a merry affair during which people douse each other with buckets of scarlet liquid and daub red powder on their faces. The youngsters nowadays use acrylic paint and sewer water to enjoy themselves. Bhang (a cannabis flavoured drink) islegally sold on this day.
Baisakh April – May
Bisket Jatra & Naya Barsa
The Nepali New Year always falls in mid-April. The people of Bhaktapur celebrate the Bisket Jatra (Chariot Festival) on this day. Two chariots are drawn pell-mell through the narrow alleyways of the town and a mighty tug-of-war ensues between men from each side of the town. The winners draw the chariots to their locale. A huge lingam pole is erected in the middle of the town by revelers, and wild celebrations ensue.
Other festivals and their approximate dates according to the Nepali and western calendar include:
Mata Tirtha Aunsi
Mother’s Day is the day when children offer gifts, money and sweets to their mother and literally look at their mother’s face. Those whose mother is dead make a ritual pilgrimage to Mata Tirtha Aunsi near Thankot.
Rato Machhendranath Jatra
The Red (Rato) Machhendra festival, also known as Bhota Jatra or the Festival of the Vest, is held annually in Patan Just before the monsoon on a date decided by astrologers. Both Hindus and Buddhists celebrate the festival. The idol of Machhendra is brought from Bungmati village to pulchowk and paraded on a huge, tottering chariot through the alleys of Patan to Jawalakhet to catch a glimpse of the jewel-encrusted bhoto (vest) that Machhendra has been safeguarding for centuries.
The main festival celebrating the full moon of Buddha’s birth is held in Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. Similar festivals are held at the same time at Swayambhunath and Boudhanath. Processions carry the Buddha”s image and, all through the night, glowing butter lamps and blazing electric lights celebrate the Buddha’s birth.
Shrawan July – August
Ghanta Karna or Ghatemangal
On the Night of the witch, street urchins set up barricades all over the city and solicit donations from motorists, cyclists and even pedestrians. A mock funeral procession is held later in the day, followed by a feast. Effigies of the devil, made of bamboo poles and leaves, are erected on every crossroads of the city.
On the Day of the Snake God, Brahman priests are hired by all households to cleanse their houses by pasting a picture of the naga (snake) over their doorways. Pujas (prayers) are performed and offerings of milk and honey are left for the snake gods. The nagas are pacified through prayers and their protection and blessings are sought.
Father’s Day is similar to gifts to their fathers and lool at their father’s face. Those without fathers go to the Bagmati River at Gokarna to bathe and have their father’s soul blessed.
The Festival of the Sacred Thread is also known as Raksha Bhandhan and is celebrated on the full-moon day of August. Higher-caste Hindu men change the sacred thread they wear around their chests. In the hills of Nepal, devotees descend upon Shiva temples with a jhankri (medicine man) leading the throngs from each village.
During the Festival of the Sacred Cows. Children and adults dressed as cows pass through the city streets to honour the souls of their relatives who have recently died. It is also the day on which newspapers are legally allowed to defame and slander any and all people.
Bhadra August – September
Krishna‘s birthday is celebrated with a huge festival at the stone temple of Krishna in Patan Durbar Square. Hymns and religious songs are sung all night by devotees. The king and queen of Nepal pay their respects to Krishna at the Krishna Mandir.
On the day of fasting for wives, all Nepali wives fast from sunup to midnight to ensure that their husbands have good fortune and a long life. Heavily bejeweled women wearing red saris descend upon Pashupatinath to dance and sin the day away. Colourfully attired hill women trek down to Kathmandu for this festival.
The Festival of the King of Gods is an eight-day festival at Kathmandu Durbar Square. The purpose of the festival is to ask Indra for postmonsoon showers for the harvest of the rice crop. This is the day the Living Goddess, or Kumari, of Kathmandu presides over a colourful ceremony attended by the King and Queen, government officials and foreign diplomats.
Kartik October – November
Dashain (Durga Puja)
The 10-day festival of Dasain, celebrating Durga’s triumph over evil. Is Nepal’s biggest festival. All creeds and castes participate. People visit their families all over the country to rejoice over the goddess Durga’s triumph. Banks and government offices are closed and most of the country comes to a standstill for the duration of this festival. It is difficult to start a trek during Dasain because all the buses and planes are jammed and porters are totally unavailable.
The Festival of Lights is the second-most important festival in Nepal. During Tihar, people pay homage to Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. Houses are given nen coats of paint, hundreds of oil lamps and candles adr lit, firecrackers are recklessly tossed into the streets and most houses are packed with men gambling the night away. The goddess blesses gamblers who have made her happy.
PoushDecember – January
Seto Machhendranath Snan
Kathmandu’s version of Patan’s Rato (Red) Machhendra is the Seto (White) Machhendra. The chariot of Machhendra is built on Durbar Marg and dragged to Ratna Park. On the day deemed auspicious by astrologers, the Living Goddess presides over a function where Machhendra is bathed by priests.
MaghJanuary – February
The first day of the Nepali month of Magh, marking the end of winter, is an important festival all over the country. The Sankhamul Ghat in Patan is alive with devotees taking ritual baths in the Bagmati River, even though this is one of the coldest days of the year!
FalgunFebruary – March
A two-week festival of revelry commemorates the Tibetan New Year in February.
Although it’s strictly aBuddhist affair, Hindus (such as Tamangs) who believe in both religions also participate.
On the sacred night dedicated to Shiva, thousands of pilgrims descend upon Pashupatinath, the holiest Hindu temple in the world – the abode of Shiva. Bonfires burn throughout the night to seek Shiva’s blessings. All wood that is not nailed down is stolen by glow of Shiva’s glorious bonfires.
Nepal’s water-throwing festival is a merry affair during which people douse each other with buckets of scarlet liquid and daub red powder on their faces. The youngsters nowadays use acrylic paint and sewer water to enjoy themselves. Hashish cakes and bhang (a cannabisflavoured drink) are legally sold on this day.
ChaitraMarch – April
The Nepal army takes over the Tundikhel parade ground in Kathmandu on horse-racing day to display its skills in warfare, acrobatics, motorcycle stunts and horse racing Legend has it the horses are raced to trample devils who may rise from the ground to create havoc.
Thousands of pilgrims keep an all night vigil at the Swayambhunath temple. The following day they trek to the 22 waterspouts at Balaju for a ritual bath.