Festivals of Nepal

  • Dashain (the festival of triumph of good over evil)
Dashain is the most celebrated festival all over Nepal. It is the longest and the most auspicious festival. The fifteen days of celebration occur during the bright lunar fortnight ending on the day of the full moon. Goddess Durga is  worshipped with innumerable pujas and sacrifices of thousands of animals. It is said that Dashain festival is celebrated when goddess Durga attained victory over the terrible demon called Mahisaaur. So, it is celebrated as the triumph of good over evil.

The first day of the festival is called 'Ghatasthapana'. On that day, people plant seeds of maize (Jamara) in earthen pot at their home. From the day, Navaratri (the first nine nights) starts. During the Navaratri, people visit various deities of power and worship. Navaratri signify the nine days of battle between goddess Durga and the demon 'Mahisasur'. The tenth day is the day when Mahisasur was killed and last five days symbolize the celebration of the victory with the blessing of the goddess.

The seventh day of ' Navaratri' is called 'Phulpati'. During the Phulpati, the royal kalash (a traditional bucket to keep holy water), banana stalk, Jamara and sugarcane tied with red cloth is carried by Brahmans from the ancestral palace of Shah dynasty at Gorkha. The royal Phulpati is taken inside the Dashain gharr in Kathmandu Durbar Square. With this, the Dashain feasts start. The eight day of Dashain is called 'Maha Asthami'. The night of the eight day is also called 'Kaal Ratri', the dark night. Hundreds of animals are sacrificed at the temple of goddess Durga at midnight.

The ninth day of Dashain is called 'Maha Navami'. Taleju temple at Kathmandu Durbar Square is opened on that day for public only once in a year. Thousands of people visit the temple and worship the goddess. On this day, 'Vishwo Karma', the god of creativity is also worshipped. All factories, vehicles and machinery equipments are worshipped and sacrifice animals to get the blessing from goddess Durga for protection for vehicles and their occupants against accidents during the year.

The tenth day is called 'Vijaya Dashami'. People take tika and jamara from elders and receive their blessings. The action takes place till the fourteenth day.

And on the last day of Dashain, a full moon or fifteenth day, people stay at home and rest. The full moon is also called 'Kojagrat Purnima' means 'who is awake'.

  • Tihar (the festival of lights and flowers)
Tihar, the festival of lights and flowers is another celebrated festival all over the country. The festival is meant for life and prosperity. It is also called 'Yema Panchak' which literally means five days of the under world lord'. During the festival,  people decorate their house with oil lamps and marigold flowers. People places oil lamps on the both sides of each door & window as well as hang flowers, sewed by thread.

The first day of Tihar is known as 'Kaag Tihar', crow's day. It is believed that crows are an underworld henchman. People offer food on the plate made by leaves in the morning before anyone in the house takes in food. Crows are not killed in Nepal because it is said that one crow had happened to drink a water of life. Crow, the messenger of death, is duly honored on the first day of Tihar.

The second day is called 'Kukur Tihar', or dog's day. It is said that the dog guards Yama's gate in the under world. The dog is also the steed of wrathful Bhairav, the god of destruction. Dogs are worshipped by putting tika on forehead, a beautiful garland around the neck and offering delicious foods.

The third day is the most important day of the festival. The day is called 'Laxmi Puja'. On the morning of the day, cows are worshipped. People repeat similar rituals with cows.

In the evening goddess Laxmi is worshipped according to traditional rituals. The goddess Laxmi is taken as a goddess of wealth. During the day, groups of girl visit houses and sing songs of praises of the goddess. In return they are taken as guests and offer gifts by the house owner. This act is called playing 'Bhailo'.

The fourth day of the festival is bit different. The day is celebrated according to cultural background. Normally, most of the people perform 'Govardhan Puja', a worship of cow dung.

But in Newar society, they perform 'Mha Puja', which literally means worshipping yourself. They worship life for protection throughout the year by doing puja on themselves. On this day, people celebrate a New Year day according to Nepal Era calendar. The last day of the festival is called 'Bhai tika', putting tika on brother's forehead by sisters. The main theme of the bhai tika is the sister's praying for their brother's long life from Yamaraj, the god of the underworld.
The most dazzling festival comes to an end after these five magnificent days of worship and honor to the goddess Laxmi and the underworld kingdom.

  • Guru Purnima (To Sir with love)
Guru means teacher and Purnima stands for a full moon day.  Teachers are venerated for their selfless devotion to  educate and empower all. Therefore, full moon day of July is celebrated as Teacher's Day to show a mark of respect and honor. 
On this auspicious day, students offer their respect to teachers and receive blessings from them in return. This is also the day when "Saraswoti"- Hindu goddess of Education and Wealth is worshipped.

  • Gathanmuga (Banish evil spirits)
Gathanmuga is the first in the series of festivals celebrated in Kathmandu city after the rice planting season. It is celebrated to mark completion of rice plantation. It also represents the ritual 'detoxification', since it is believed that evil spirits might have been carried into the home during their long absence. People buy an iron ring and wear them on their finger after purging from Gathanmuga. This ensures that no evil spirit will come near the body. Baupuja ceremony is performed at the night. The earthen pot filled with rice husk, curdled blood, buffalo entrails, flowers & rice and topped with a flaming cotton wick, is placed at the crossroad. It is believed that evil spirits go along with the earthen pot out of the home. Then people lock up their doors from the inside and iron pegs are nailed to the lintels of doorway to prevent entering evil spirits.

  • Gunla (A month of prayer and fasting)
Gunla is celebrated for an entire month. Gunla, the tenth month of Nepal Era calendar is taken as a sacred month dedicated to Lord Buddha. The festival is celebrated to remember the auspicious 'rain retreat' when the Buddha  preached disciples on essence of his principles along with solitary meditation. So, the monks and nuns go into retreat to practice meditation during the rainy season. Buddhist followers also spend the month in praying and fasting. On this period, groups of people can be seen on the way to Swoyambhu in the misty morning everyday. They are accompanied by traditional musical bands with drums, cymbals and flutes. The set of musical instruments are played only during the Gunla. The Gunla lakhe (Mask dance) enlivens the festival with the street performances. Huge images of Buddha, sacred text (Saphu) and ancient scroll paintings (Paubha) are brought out for display at bihars and bahils (Buddhist courtyard) all over the city.

  • Saparu/Gai Jatra (The festival of cows)
On the day of Saparu (Gai Jatra), families who have lost a member during the past year take part in parade with a decorated cow around the city. Kids are dressed up as cows or ascetics and walk with cows in the festival procession. It is believed that sacred animals help departed souls to cross the cosmic ocean in their journey into the after-world.  Joining the cow procession ensures the smooth passage for their dead loved one because the gates of the after-world are opened only on this day. It is said that the festival was started by King Pratap Malla, king of Kathmandu to appease and provide solace the queen who was shattered from the death of her youngest son. Funny performances are believed to have been performed in the procession to bring a smile on her face.

  • Teej (of the women, by the women, for the women)
A blissful life, progress & prosperity for the husband; good fortune for oneself and purification of body and soul, these are the desires of Hindu women. For an unmarried woman, it is about having good, loving and caring husband. The completion of ritual performances during the 'Teej' ensures all these desires. On the first day of the three days  celebration, a group of women gather at places nearby temples in their finest attires. During the day, songs, music and grand feast begins 'til midnight and onward women undergo a 24 hrs fast. The next day, women wearing crimson sarees decorated with jewellery go to the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu and revolve around. On the way to Pashupatinath temple, they sing and dance along the streets. The third/last day of the festival is called Rishi Panchami. On that day, women who have undergone a fast pay homage to various deities situated on the bank of sacred river called 'Saali" river in Sankhu, a small town located at east of Kathmandu. The festival is celebrated by Hindu women. An official holiday is announced only for women.

  • Indra Jatra (The festival of Kathmandu)
Indra Jatra is the most celebrated festival in Kathmandu. This week-long festival is also called 'Yenya Punhi', a full moon day of Kathmandu. Thus, an official holiday is given only for Kathmandu.  It is said that the festival was started to make Indra, the king of heaven & controller of rains happy. In ancient time, the mother of the king Indra ordered her son to bring specially-scented flowers since the flowers were not found in gardens of heaven. King Indra had found Parijat flower in Kathmandu valley and tried to steal for his mother. But he was caught and imprisoned by the valley people.  When the mother of the king came searching for him, the people were horrified by what they have done. Soon after they released Indra, the valley people initiated the festival to calm his anger.  The festival starts with the erection of a long wooden pole in front of the gate of ancient Kathmandu Durbar Square. During the festival, various traditional & ritual dances (e.g. mask dance, elephant dance etc) are performed on the streets of Kathmandu Durbar Square. Procession of special chariot of living goddess 'Kumari' including other chariots of 'Ganesh' & 'Bhairab' also pulled around the proper street of Kathmandu. 'Dus Avatar', ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, the drama is performed in front of home of living goddess Kumari. All these activities are performed to celebrate Indra's visit in Kathmandu. Living goddess 'Kumari' is considered to be as an incarnation of the goddess 'Taleju'. Thus, the festival is a complexion of rejoicing, singing, dancing and feasting. Like many other festival, it is also celebrated by both Hindus & Buddhists people of Kathmandu. The festival ended with pulling down the erected long wooden pole in front of the gate of Kathmandu Durbar Square.

  • Lhosar (New Year of Sherpas, Tamangs, Gurungs & Tibetans)
Lhosar is most celebrated festival among Sherpas & Tibetans. They celebrate the festival welcoming their New Year with feasts, family visits and dancing. During the festival, they wear finest clothes & jewelry and give each other gifts. Buddhist monks pray for a good health, prosperity and perform traditional dances at the monasteries. The colorful prayer flags are decorated the street and rooftop of their home. Swoyambhu and Bouddha stupa are colorful and are lit thousands of oil lamps in the evening during the festival. Crowds of celebrants at Bouddha bring in the New Year by throwing 'Tsampa' (roasted barley flour) into the air.

  • Buddha Jayanti (The birthday of Buddha)
Buddha Jayanti is more than just a festival for Buddhists. It is the sacred day for them because it is the day when Lord Buddha was born, it is the day when Lord Buddha attained enlightenment and it is the day when he attained nirvana. Thus, on that day, Buddhists spend the day by worshipping shrines of Lord Buddha. Lord Buddha was born on 543 BC in the southern Terai region of Nepal called Lumbini. During the day, devotees visit major shrines such as Swoyambhu Stupa, Bouddha Stupa, Mayadevi Mandir at Lumbini and worship. Buddhist monks gather in vihars and worship for peace & prosperity on earth. Large groups of people parade through the street praising the lord and his principles. Buddhists followers abstain from meat during the day and eat kheer (a mixture of milk and rice) & some other vegetarian foods. Buddhist flags made with five color stripes including maroon, yellow, blue, white and red can be seen flying high above all Buddhist households during the day.

  • Holi (The festival of water and colors)
Holi or Fagu Purnima is one of the most colorful and playful festivals of Nepal. Fagu Purnima is the festival of water and colors, where Fagu means 'sacred red powder' and Purnima stand for full moon day. The festival is celebrated for as long as a week. It starts from the day when the chir pole (a bamboo pole) decorated with colorful flags erect at Kathmandu Durbar Square.

The holi is named after the mythical demon called 'Holika'. The myth on Holi is the demon 'Holika' and her brother, an atheist king Hiranyakashyap conspired to kill his own son 'Pralhad' because he was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. Once Holika jumped into the fire with Pralhad to kill the latter. But Brahma's blessings could only be used for good purposes and so Holika was consumed by fire while Pralhad was saved by the grace of the gods. Thus, Holi is said to be rejoiced of extermination of demon Holika.

During the first six days of Fagu Punima, people just play by throwing water balloons (lolaas) on passer by. But on the last day i.e. on Fagu Purnima, all the members of families and friends gather at one place and celebrate the occasion with throwing colors and water balloons to each other. Wild youngster, covered with various colors on their face and body can be seen on street wandering either on foot or on vehicles. The people from Terai region and Marwari (origin from India) society celebrate Holi a day later.

  • Bhoto Jatra (The festival of Red Machhindranath)
Bhoto Jatra is one of the major cultural events of Patan celebrated about a month. The festival takes place in Lagankhel at Patan. Prior to Bhoto Jatra, a towering chariot of Lord Red Machhindranath( god of rainfall) is pulled by the mass of people with the help of ropes through narrow-street from Pulchowk via Sundhara to Lagankhel. The chariot is built of cane and timber and is taller than that used in White Machhindranath. Wherever the chariot halt in a way to Lagankhel, devotees light up Dewa (a butter lamp) and keep an all-night vigil. During the last day of the festival, the bhoto or waistcoat, itself the subject to too many legends, of Red Machhindranath is displayed form the chariot. The bhoto or waistcoat, a dress decorated with diamond, believed to belong to King of Nagas (snakes), is shown to the public from the four corner of chariot.

During the festival chariot of Minnath is also pulled along with Red Machhindranath. Devotees offer and pray to receive blessings of rainfall for the coming planting season.
 
  • White Machhindranath Jatra
White Machhindranath jatra is another major cultural event of Kathmandu. Prior to the festival, White Machhindranath, a god of compassion, is bathed and decorated. There are ritual readings, traditional music and offerings to receive blessings from the god. The living goddess Kumari also pays visit during the cultural event. After some days of ritual bathe, the god is brought to Jamal for chariot procession accompanied by traditional band and ritual readings. The towering chariot is built of cane & timber at Jamal. Thus chariot festival of the god starts from Jamal to Lagan Tole. The chariot is pulled by mass people with the help of ropes around the main street of proper Kathmandu from Jamal via Ason, Indrachowk, and Kathmandu Durbar Square to Lagan Tole, the end point of the festival.

And on the other side, rest of the country celebrates Chaitra Dashain in honor of goddess Durga. It takes place exactly six months prior to Dashain. Sacrifices of male animals are made at midday for goddess Durga.