Festivals are an essential part of Nepalese life that garner tremendous local participation. Festivals also offer visitors a valuable opportunity not only for having fun but gaining insight into various aspects of Nepalese culture. The religious festivals follow the lunar calendar while national festivals have fixed dates. Wherever or whenever you arrive in Nepal, you can be sure of being at the time for one or more special events. Some of the major and interesting festivals are presented below:
The Nepali new year day is also known as "Navavarsha" (New Year in Nepali). Nepal has its official calendar that begins from the first day of the first month Baisakh. This very first day is observed as Nepali New Year which usually falls in the second week of April. People celebrate this day by getting together with family and friends, organizing picnics, and celebrate the day socializing in various ways as this day is also a national holiday.
Bisket Jatra, the biggest festival of Bhaktapur, begins with the pulling of the chariot of Lord Bhairavnath on the premises of the five-storied Nyatapola Temple. The festival commences at the start of the Nepali New Year. hundreds of locals from either side of the Taumadi begin the jatra by pulling the three-storied pagoda-style chariot. Thousands of people, including foreigners, enjoy the jatra.
According to culture experts, the tradition of organizing the Bisket festival is thought to have started around 268 Nepal Era prior to the establishment of Bhaktapur town. The Bisket Jatra festival is celebrated for eight nights and nine days.
Also known as “Buddha Purnima” or simply as “Buddha’s Birthday”, Buddha Jayanti honours Lord Buddha and is one of the most sacred days of the year in Nepal. Calculated by the lunar calendar, the Lord Buddha’s birthday falls on the full moon of the fourth lunar month and is a day of great celebrations. Buddhists from all over the world travel Kathmandu to attend the festival which includes ceremonies, prayer meetings and meditation sessions.
In Tengboche the Mani Rimdu is performed in the 9th Tibetan month which usually falls in late October. It is also performed in Thame in the 4th month and in Chiwong in the 10th Tibetan month. The prayers will be said over many days but for the villages the most important part is when they receive the blessings from Rinpoche, and when the monks perform the masked dance. After this the whole village gets together and dances until late in to the night at Tengboche. These colorful and festive celebrations are the culmination of ten days of prayers on the Buddha of compassion, Chenrezig. They are done for the benefit of all beings.
The Mani Rimdu in Tengboche is performed according to the tradition of Mindroling and came from Rongbuk Monastery north of Tengboche in Tibet. The name comes from "Mani" part of the chant of Chenrezig, and "Rimdu" which are the small red pills, which are blessed throughout the ceremony and distributed to everyone at the end. At the beginning a beautiful and intricate mandala or sacred diagram is drawn in fine colored sand. The sand is collected from a special place high in the mountains. It takes four days to complete the mandala then it is covered and used as a focus for the next ten days meditation.
At the end of the ceremonies the monks perform the sacred mask dances known as "Cham" There are sixteen dances with some comic interludes that delight the crowds. These dances are a recreation of the establishment of Buddhism in the Himalayas by the legendary Padmasambhava, known as Guru Rinpoche. The dances convey Buddhist teachings on many levels from the simplest truth to the most profound realization. Throughout the dances, symbolic demons are conquered, dispelled or subdued. The symbolism can be interpreted on many levels; the inner "demons" of hatred, greed and ignorance overcome through meditation on compassion and wisdom.
On the last day when most people have gone home a fire ceremony is performed by the monks to allay all the harm in the world. Afterwards the sand mandala is symbolically dismantled and the merit dedicated to the benefit of all sentient beings.
In this remote and spectacular monastery at the top of the world this tradition has continued since the monastery was first built. The sacred masked dances of the Mani Rimdu are performed for the Sherpa community and international visitors alike to enjoy.
The Teechi (often pronounced "Teeji") festival is an annual event indigenous to Lo-Manthang (Upper Mustang). The name is an abbreviation of the word "Tempa Chirim" which translates as "Prayer for World Peace". This festival commemorates the victory of Lord Buddha's incarnation "Dorjee Sonnu" over a demon called Man Tam Ru a vicious creature feeding on human beings and causing storms and droughts. The Teeji festival usually takes place during the last week of May and lasts for 3 days. Dances performed by the monks of Lo Manthang's "choedhe" monastery during the celebration display. The harassment of Ma Tam Ru Ta (in a dance called "Tsa Chham" on the first day), the birth of Dorjee Sonnu as the demon's son (on the second day called "Nga Chham"), the attempt to return the demon to Lord Buddha's realm (on the third and final day). The Teeji festival dances are all organized by the Choedhe Monastery, which is that of the Sakya sect of Lo Manthang. The monastery abbot is Khempo Tasi Tenzing Rimpoche. Altogether about 65 monks from Lo Manthang, Nhenyul and Chhosyer live in the monastery.
About a month long festival of Buddhist rain god. Until a few decades ago, before the Kathmandu Valley became a purely commercial hub, it was an agricultural land, which depended upon the rainy monsoon for its important rice crop. Today, though traditional farming practices have reduced, the premonsoon season still sees great worship made to Red Machhendranath-the rain god. Patan's streets and palace complexes are made even more evocative by warering lamp and candle lights, women busily cooking feasts, and men gathering strength to pull the chariot of their red deity. As Lord Machhendranath views his followers from the high seat of his chariot, its four wheels-representing the powerful Bhairab-receive rice and vermilion powder, the king of serpents is aksed for blessing, and his jeweled vest is shown to the public.
The birthday of Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna, the dark god who taught warrior Arjuna the value of Kama in the Bhagwad Gita, was born at midnight on the eight day of the dark moon of August. To celebrate the birthday of this much-loved Hindu god, devotees flock to the Krishna Mandir in Patan on the preceding day. There, men and women from far away gather around the 17th century temple and sit in vigil waiting for the midnight hour. Euphoric prayers and incantations fill the air, and small oil lamps are lit as a mark of felicitation and devotion to the deity. Images of Lord Krishna are also carried around the city in a procession accompanied by joyous crowds of followers and musical bands.
The three day long festival of women. Dancing, folk songs, and the red color of women's wedding sarees dominate the day of Teej, a Hindu festival of womanhood. The day recals the heavenly occassion when Parbati, daughter of the Himalay, won the hand of Lord Shiva after severe meditation and fasting. On the first day, mothers send gifts of food and sarees to their daughters' houses, and groups of women gather together to feast. At midnight, the women begin a fast in emulation of Parbati. The second day is for worship, in the early morning of the third day, women in red flock to the Pashupatinath temple, the great temple of Lord Shiva. The married ones ask for a happy and productive marriage and a long life for the their husbands, and those yet to tie the nuptial knot ask for an ideal husband.
The longest Hindu festival of Nepal, traditionally celebrated for two full weeks with the animal sacrifice to Durga the Universal Mother Goddess. The great harvest festival of Nepal, Dashain is a time of family reunion, the exchange of gifts and blessings, profuse pujas, ritual bathing and animal sacrifices. Dashain honors the goddess Durga, who was created out of the shakti energy of all the gods, armed with weapons from each of them. Goddess Durga, symbolizing valor and prowess, is worshipped and offered animal sacrifices for the devotees' progress prosperity. During the first 10 days, pilgrims throng various river confluences early in the morning and sacred shrines in the evening. Ghatasthapana, Phool Pati, Mahaastami, Nawami and Vijaya Dashami are the series of the events under Dashain. On Dashami, men and women in their fineries visit their elders to seek Tika (a dab of red vermilion mixed with yogurt and rice). Sword precessions (Paayaa) are also held in various part of the Kathmandu Valley. The last day, known as Kojagrat Purnima, is the full moon. From this day onwards, Hindu women begin a month-long fast, many in residence at Pashupatinath. New clothes, home visits, grand feasts, kite flying and village swings are the highlights of Dashain.
The 5th day long festival of lights, honoring Yama, God of Death. 1 st day is to worship a crow informant of Yama. 2nd day is dogs day, dog is the agent of Yama. 3rddays is the day to worship Laxmi the goddess of wealth. 4th day is the self-respect day also a day for draught animal, oxen. 5th day is the brother’s day. This festival is a time of lights and tinsel decorations, fancy sweets and juicy fruits. The celebrations begin with the adoration of crows and dogs. Leaf dishes of rice, incense and light are set out for the dark messenger, while dog’s are worshiped and offered goodies. In the period of Tihar Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth is worshipped. Rows of lamps are placed on windows and doors, with the strong hope that Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth, is worshipped. Rows of lamps are placed on windows and doors, with the strong hope that Laxmi pleased to reside in light. The following day belongs to the cow, representative of Laxmi. Laxmi Puja, Gobardhan Puja and BhaiTika are the series of event under Tihar. In the day of Bhai Tika sisters and brothers get together and accept Tika from each other. This day is called as Brothers' Day. Brothers and sisters honor each other on this day and sisters pray to Yama, the God of Death, for their brothers' progress, prosperity and longevity.
Sherpas and Tibetans welcome their New Year with feasts, family visits and dancing. Families put on their finest clothes and jewelers and exchange gifts. Buddhist monks offer prayers for good health and prosperity, and perform dances at the monasteries. Colorful prayer flags decorate streets and rooftops; and the colors seem especially brilliant at the Bouddha and Swayambhu stupas. Crowds of celebrants at Bouddha bring in the New Year by throwing tsampa (roasted barley flour) into the air.
All year Pashupatinath attracts pilgrims, sadhus, devotees and mendicants, but on this day the visitors are in the tens of thousands. Many are from India or the Terai and begin arriving a few days before, some camping out in the vicinity of the temple. Shiva's sacred day begins at midnight but devotees don't really begin to crowd the ghats till sunrise. Then the populace begins streaming in, past a tremendous variety of sadhus, mendicants of various types and deformities, devotees performing roadside penances (standing with a small trident thrust through the tongue, being buried up to the neck, etc.) and merchants hawking everything from puja kits to kitchenware. Hindus pay homage to the scared lingam inside the temple and then bathe, or at least splash a little, in the river. The family takes part in afternoon rites at Tundikhel parade ground, receiving a 31- gun salute at the end. The King and his entourage pay homage to Shiva in the evening, when the whole tempo of the activity there has picked up, especially the musical side. Hundreds of sadhus reside in attendance camps in the courtyards of the temples situated at the opposite bank, where non-Hindus are also free to wander. The curious can witness some rather interesting yogic demonstrations there. It gets chilly in the evening, but there are usually several fires and lively scenes going at least till midnight, when the consecrated time elapses. In Bhaktapur, devotees honor Shiva by paying a visit to the Dattatreya Temple in Tachapal and people in other towns and villages of the valley.
Holy celebrates the death of the demons Holika. This wicked woman, who was supposed to be invulnerable to fire, tried many times to kill her nephew, an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. In the end she put the boy on her lap and set fire beneath them, thinking he would be burned up and she would escape. But instead the boy remained unharmed and Holika, to her surprise, immolated herself. The rites of this festival celebrate her end. Fagu Poornima begins the first day with the raising of the Chir pole about noon in front of Kumari house in Basantapur. Holi is known as 'playing with color' festival. Young and old, especially the children throw bags of water or handful of colored powder at each other and make it pleasure. In Terai region, they celebrate it the next day when people of valley celebrate it.