Nepali New Year - 13th April, 2012
The Nepali New Year always falls in mid-April. The people of Bhaktapur celebrate the Bisket Jatra (Death of the Snake Demons Festival) on this day. Two chariots are drawn pell-mell through the narrow alleyways of the town and a mighty tug-of-war ensues. The winners draw the chariots to their locale. A huge lingam pole is erected in the middle of the town by drunken revelers.
Buddha Jayanti - 6th May, 2012
The belief and the practice of Buddhism in Nepal dates back to the time of Prince Siddharth Gautam, who was born in the southern Terai region of the country in about 543 BC. Till he was 29, the young prince led a very sheltered life in the royal palace of his father. He was completely unaware of the tragedies of everyday life. One day, he convinced his charioteer to take him outside the walls of his palace and he was shocked to see the sight of an old man, a cripple, and a corpse.
The realization that there was more to life than the lavish and luxurious life he was leading, made him abandon all the worldly pleasures and search for enlightenment and the true meaning of life. After much wandering and searching, Gautam finally attained enlightenment while meditating under a pipul tree. Henceforth, known as the "Buddha" or "the enlightened one" he began to preach "The Four Noble Truths" to all who would listen. According to this doctrine, people suffer because of their desires and the root cause of all misery is desire. These desires and consequently all problems can be totally eliminated by following the "eightfold path"- right views, right intent, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right meditation.
Buddha journeyed from place to place, teaching and converting hundreds of followers. He died at the age of eighty. However, his disciples continued to spread his teachings. Because of his wise teachings Lord Buddha is revered by many Nepalese and Buddha Jayanti is celebrated with much enthusiasm throughout the Kingdom.This day falls on the full moon of the month of Baisakh and is celebrated to commemorate the birth, attainment of knowledge and the death of Lord Buddha.Thus, it is a thrice blessed day.
Prayers are sung and the Buddhists offer worship in all the major Buddhist shrines such as Swayambhu and Boudhanath.At Swayambhunath, for example millions of devout Buddhists gather to chant prayers and to burn butterlamps. The next morning a giant figure of Lord Buddha is displayed to all the followers and hundreds of small shrines are visited and worshipped. Large groups of people parade through the streets praising the Lord and his teachings. Special flags, usually red, blue; yellow and white can be seen flying high above all the Buddhist households.
Janai Purnima - 2nd Aug, 2012
Janai Purnima is known as the Sacred Thread Festival. On this day Hindu men, especially the Brahmans and Chettris perform their annual change of Janai, a yellow cotton string worn across the chest or tied around the wrist of the right hand. This thread is only given to males during a lengthy and impressive religious ceremony called the 'Bratabandhan'. This cord initiates them into manhood and commands them to faithfuly the follow the relegion. The Janai must be worn everyday of their lives from this day onwards. The 'triple cord' is a symbol of body, speech and mind, and when the knots are tied the wearer is supposed to gain complete control over each. This cord is changed if it becomes frayed or defiled, for example, when the wearer touches a woman in menstruation, during which she is considered 'unclean'. But according to Hindu rules the cord must be changed without fail by a Brahman on this day, Janai meaning sacred thread, and purni meaning Purnima or the full moon, thus pointing to the change of the thread on the auspicious full moon day.
On Janai Purnima, there is a big mela (fair) at Kumbeshwor in Lalitpur. Devotees come here to worship Lord Mahadev and to tie a knot around their wrists. On the preceding day the wearer makes himself 'clean' by shaving, cutting the hair and bathing. He undergoes a partial fast, taking only one meal of foods considered to be 'clean' - no meat, onions or garlic. The next morning the family priest comes to the house. The entire family gathers around him as he reads from a holy book, performs a ceremony, which sanctifies the new thread, and places it about the recipient's neck across the chest. In payment the priest is given foodstuffs and some money.
Gai jatra - 3rd Aug, 2012
The festival of "Gai Jatra", the procession of cows, is generally celebrated in the Nepalese month of Bhadra (August-September). The festival of cows is one of the most popular festivals of Nepal. The whole complex of Gai Jatra festival has its roots in the ancient age when people feared and worshipped Yamaraj,"the god of death". However, the ironical sessions synonymous with the Gai Jatra festival came into tradition in the medieval period of Nepal during the reign of Malla Kings. Hence, the present form of Gai Jatra is a happy blending of antiquity and medievalism.
According to the traditions since times immemorial, every family who has lost one relative during the past year must participate in a procession through the streets of Kathmandu leading a cow. If a cow is unavailable then a young boy dressed as a cow is considered a fair substitute. In Hinduism, a cow is regarded as the most venerated among all the domestic animals. It is believed that the cow, revered as a holy animal by Hindus, will help the deceased relative's journey to heaven.
In terms of historical evidences, once when King Pratap Malla lost his son, his wife, the queen remained dumbstruck. The king was very sad to see the condition of his beloved queen. The king, in spite of his several efforts, could not lessen the grief of his wife. By all means he wanted to see little smile on the lips of his sweetheart. He announced that someone who ever made the queen laugh would be rewarded adequately.
During the festival of Gai Jatra, the cow procession was brought before the griefstricken queen. Then the participants began ridiculing and befooling the important people of the society. Finally when the social injustice and other evils were highlighted and attacked mercilessly, the queen could not stop smiling. The queen laughed, and Pratap Malla, the king ensued a tradition of including jokes, satires,mockery and lampoon in the Gai Jatra days.
After the procession is over, in the afternoon, nearly everyone takes part in another age-old tradition in which the participants dress up and wear masks. The occassion is filled with songs,jokes, mockery and humour of every kind become the order of the day until late evening. Hence, Gai Jatra is a healthy festival which enables the people to accept the reality of death and to prepare oneself for the life after death. According to Hinduism,"whatever a man does in his life is a preparation to lead a good life, after death".
Teej - 18th Sep, 2012
"Teej" is the fasting festival for women. It takes place in August or early September. The festival is a three-day long celebration that combines sumptuous feasts as well as rigid fasting. Through this religious fasting, hindu women pray for marital bliss, well being of their spouse and children and purification of their own body and soul.
Traditionally, the ritual of Teej is obligatory for all Hindu married women and girls who have reached puberty. Exception is made for the ones who are ill or physically unfit. In such circumstances a priest performs the rites. According to the holy books, the Goddess Parbati fasted and prayed fervently for the great Lord Shiva to become her spouse. Touched by her devotion, he took her for his wife. Goddess Parbati, in gratitude sent her emissary to preach and disseminate this religious fasting among mortal women, promising prosperity and longevity with their family. Thus was born the festival of Teej.
The first day of Teej is called the "Dar Khane Din". On this day the women, both married and unmarried, assemble at one place, in there finest attires and start dancing and singing devotional songs. Admist all this, the grand feast takes place. The jollity often goes on till midnight, after which the 24 - hour fast commences. Some women without a morsel of food or drops of water while others take liquid and fruit.
Gaily dressed women can be seen dancing and singing on the street leading to Shiva temples. But the main activities take place around the Pashupatinath temple where women circumambulate the Lingam, the phallic symbol of the lord, offering flowers, sweets and coins. The main puja (religious ceremony) takes place with offerings of flowers, fruits etc made to Shiva and Parbati, beseeching their blessing upon the husband and family. The important part of the puja is the oil lamp which should be alight throughout the night for it is bad omen if it dies away.
The third day of the festival is Rishi Panchami. After the completion of the previous day's puja, women pay homage to various deities and bathe with red mud found on the roots of the sacred Datiwan bush, along with its leaves. This act of purification is the final ritual of Teej, after which women are considered absolved from all sins. The recent years have witnessed alteration in the rituals, especially concerning the severity, but its essence remains. No matter how agonizing the fast may be Nepalese women have and will always continue to have faith in the austerities of Teej.
Indra Jatra - 29th Sep, 2012
It is a well known fact that Hinduism and Buddhism are the two major religions of Nepal, each having it's own rules and rituals. However, like most festivals of Nepal, both Hindus and Buddhist unite to celebrate the festival of Indra Jatra. This festival is celebrated by both Hindus and Buddhists with great enthusiasm. It is also believed that Indra Jatra is a festival of classical dances. It is on this very day when one is able to observe numerous varieties of traditional dances. The festival is named after Lord Indra who is known as the god of rain and also as the king of heaven.
The festival of Indra Jatra continues for eight days with much rejoicing, singing, dancing and feasting. People from all over Nepal, mostly those who live within the Kathmandu Valley, gather at the Hanuman Dhoka in Kathmandu. The first day of the festival is viewed by a large number of people. On that day, a long wooden pole is erected in front of the ancient Royal Palace at Hanuman Dhoka, in order to propitiate Lord Indra, the"god of rain". Classical dancers also assemble at the spot, wearing different kinds of traditional masks and costumes and dancing around the courtyard of Hanuman Dhoka to celebrate Indra's visit.
On the third day of the festival of Indra Jatra, the living goddess Kumari is taken out in a procession in a chariot. "Kumari", the "living goddess", is considered to be an incarnation of the goddess "Taleju". Chariots of Kumari, Ganesha and Bhairav are taken around the city for three days. According to Hindu beliefs Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Parvati who has a head of an elephant and Bhairav is another form of Lord Shiva himself.
The king of Nepal, the only Hindu king in the world, also pays homage to the Kumari during this period. The festival's many interesting dances, including the Procession of Living Goddess-Mahakali, Mahalaxmi and Dasha Avatara masked dances are staged in Kathmandu Durbar Square, near the Kumari Temple. The "Dasha Avatara" refers to the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu who is one of the Hindu's Holy trinity. The excitement of the festival of Indra Jatra comes to an end on the last evening of the festival when the long wooden pole erected on the first day is lowered with religious ceremonies, animal sacrifices and ritual gestures.
Dashera (Ghatasthapana to Tika) - 3rd Oct –16th to 24th Oct, 2012
It is truly the national festival of Nepal. Every Nepali is stirred by the prospects of the joy that this festival is supposed to bring with it. The change of mood is also induced psychologically by the turn of autumn season after a long spell of monsoon, introducing clear and brilliant days, an azure blue sky and a green carpet of fields, the climate is also just ideal at this time, it is neither being too cold nor too warm. The Nepalese cherish their Dashain as time for eating well and dressing well. 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 this period Goddess Durga Bhawani is worshipped and offered a lot of blood sacrifices. Buffaloes, goats, chickens and ducks are killed by the 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 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 blessings. The fresh shoots of the barley are also given. Family feasting and feting of guests is a common practice at this time.
Tihar – 13th Nov to 15th Nov, 2012
It lasts for five days and is marked by worship to different animals such as crow, the dog and the cow, five various days. The most important day is Laxmi Puja. The most endearing sight of this festival is presented by the illumination of the entire town with rows of tiny flickering lamps on 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 myriad of lamps are burnt. On the fifth day sisters show their affection towards their brothers with a puja and feed them with delectable foo d. They pray for their brothers’ long life to Yama, the Hindu God of death. For one Year after the death, the soul of the dead wanders around awaiting entrance to the under world and it is the inescapable duty of living relatives to provide it with substance, comfort and peace once or twice each year and Bala Chaturdasi is one of them. The relatives pay homage to Pashupatinath and offer grains while taking a round of the temple.
Shree Panchami - 15th Feb, 2013
Basanta, or spring, ushers in the loveliest time of the year. Crowds gather at Kathmandu's Durbar Square while His Majesty the King and other dignitaries welcome the season as a band plays the traditional song of spring. A different celebration occurs at Swayambhunath and at the Nil Barahi shrine near Lazimpat. Saraswati, the goddess of learning, arts and crafts is worshiped at her temples. Artists, musicians, teachers, and students bring flowers, unbroken rice, and other gifts to please her.
Maghe Sankranti - 14th jan, 2013
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!
Shivaratri - 10thMarch, 2013
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.
Gyalphyo Losar - 12th march, 2013
Losar is celebrated for 15 days, with the main celebrations on the first three days. On the first day of Losar, a beverage called changkol is made from chhaang (a Tibetan cousin of beer). The second day of Losar is known as King's Losar (gyalpo losar). Losar is traditionally preceded by the five day practice of Vajrakilaya. Although it often falls on the same day as the Chinese New Year (sometimes with one day or occasionally with one lunar month difference), it is generally not thought to be culturally directly connected to that holiday. It is culturally more related to Tsagaan Sar in Mongolia
Holi - 26th march, 2013
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 cannabis flavoured drink) are legally sold on this day.
Sweta Machhendranath jatra - 30th March, 2013
On this day a popular festival held in honour of the white Machendranath, who is actually the Padmapani Lokeswara, whose permanent shrine is situated at Matsyendra Bahal in Kel Tole in the middle of the bazaar in Kathmandu. A huge chariot of wood supported on four large wheels and carrying 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 town. There is such a spontaneous and heavy turnout of the devotees to pay homage to this God, who is also said to be the 'Embodiment of Compassion' at this time.
Ghode Jatra – 10th April , 2013
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 that may rise from the ground to create havoc.