People of different races and ethnicities, people speaking different languages and people following different religions live in Nepal. People of different races and ethnicities and the followers of different religions have diversity in their tradition and way of living.
Major feasts and festivals celebrated in Nepal and have been described below:
It can be assumed that the festival has been named Dashain as it is celebrated for ten days starting from the first day of bright half of Asoj or as Dashami has been given greater importance. The festival is celebrated as the national festival of Nepal. Blessings from the respected people, the Tika on the forehead, the Jamara on the ear and on the hair, and various types of garlands round the neck are the features of Dashain festival. Different festivities like worshipping of different manifestations of Goddess for nine days, Phulpati festival etc. are done during this festival.
Celebrated for five days starting from the thirteenth day of dark half of Kartik, the festival is of affection and good wishes between brothers and sisters. The incident when Yamaraj (the god of death) went to his sister Yamuna’s home for these five days and Yamuna served and worshipped him. This has been associated with Tihar and thus Tihar is also called Yamapanchak. In this festival, crows, dogs, Laxmi, and cows are worshipped. The brothers are worshipped on the last day. On this day, sisters praying for their brothers’ happiness, prosperity and long life put Tika on their forehead and feed sweets. People enjoy singing Bhailo and Deusi on this occasion.
Ghode Jatra (Horse Festival)
Ghode Jatra is celebrated in Kathmandu valley on the no moon day of Chait or on the 14th day of dark half of Chait or on Pichas Chaturdashi, when Panhachahne or Pasachahne is celebrated in Kathmandu, or on the day when Mitra Chaturdashi is celebrated or on the day when Mahaddho is worshipped. Horse racing ceremony is organized at Tudikhel, Kathmandu on this day. The horse is regarded as the symbol of discipline, power and speed.
Gaijatra (Cow Festival)
This festival is celebrated for seven days starting from the other day of Janaipurnima or on the first day of the dark half of Bhadau. There has been the hearsay that King Pratap Malla organized Gaijatra for the first time to please his bereaved queen following the death of their son, Chakrabatendra Malla and the festival took away the sorrow that the queen had. Khadga Jatra, Ropaijatra, Lakhenach, Shad Darshan Khayli, Loknritya, Dabalinritya, drama are demonstrated during this festival. There has been the common belief that there would be no fear from Lakhe, Khyali, ghosts and evil spirits, and from serpents after Krishanajatra had been organized on the birthday of Lord Krishna as Lord Krishna killed demons, ghosts, and evil spirits etc.
Maha Shivaratri falls on the fourteenth day of the dark half of Phagun every year. Devotees in large numbers gather in the Pashupatinath temple of Kathmandu and other established temples of Lord Shiva on this day. The army day is also celebrated on Maha Shivaratri in Nepal.
Teej is celebrated as a special festival of Nepali women. The festival falls on the third day of the dark half of Bhadau. This is a special festival of Hindu women. On this day, women go on fasting. There has been a tradition that women fast for getting a husband of their wish and for their husbands’ long life.
Buddha was born on the full moon day of Baishakh in 563 BC, he attained enlightenment on the same day later and he attained Nirvana on the same day later in 483 BC. So, the ‘the full moon day of Baishakh’ is celebrated as the Buddha Jayanti throughout the country. People gather in large numbers in Boudhanath, Gumba and monasteries on this day.
People of the Sherpa, Bhote, Gurung, Thakali and Magar castes from the northern mountain region celebrate Lhosar festival with great joy on the occasion of commencement of New Year that falls in the month of Magh according to the Tibetan calendar. Counting of the years is done in the name of mouse, cow, tiger, cat, eagle, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, bird, dog and boar. The cycle repeats every 12 years. Among the different Lhosars, there has been a practice of granting public holidays to Sonam, Tamu and Gyalbo Lhosar.
The full moon day of Shrawan every year is called Janai Purnima / Rishitarpani Purnima. On the day, the new sacred thread is worn and Rakshyabandhan (yellow or red thread) round the wrist from priests and the priests are given some amount of money as honorarium in return. In some communities, people eat nine different types of sprouted lentils germinated after being soaked in water called Quanti. In different communities of the Terai region, sisters tie Rakhi (a decorative band) around their brothers’ wrist and wish for each other’s long life on this day.
Celebrated on the 8th day of bright half in the month of Chait, the festival is also called small Dashain. The Duras from Lamjung grand-celebrate this festival. The Chariot procession of Machindranath is held on this day.
The festival celebrated on the fifth day of the bright half of Magh is called Shree Panchami or Basanta Panchami. The festival is the symbol of the commencement of the spring season. The Goddess Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge) is worshipped and revered. Recitations are performed in her praise. It is believed that one can have good learning by worshipping the Goddess Saraswati with devotion at temples and at homes and by writing Goddess Saraswati’s name on the walls of temples. Basanta Shrawan (hearing of chants) is performed in Hanumandhoka palace on the same day. The act of listening to hymns of about spring season is called Basanta Shrawan.
Udhauli & Ubhauli
This is the festival celebrated by the Rai people. The festival is celebrated twice a year: one as Udhauli and another as Ubhauli. Some people have the tradition of celebrating this festival as Chandi Naach, some as Sakela or Sakewa and some as Baishakhe and Wadangmet. The festival is celebrated at different times and with different names because of the fact that even the Rai people have different cultures. Ubhauli is celebrated during Biashakh, Jeth whereas Udhauli is celebrated during Kartik, Mangsir. In this festival Nakchhong or priests worship at the places like Chandithan, Margathan, and Mangkhim etc. by chanting/reciting Mundhum. People have the tradition of celebrating the festival by worshipping ancestors, dancing and singing with the beating of cymbals and by eating delicious food.
Jur Sital (Judshital)
Nepali people regard Baishakh 1 the New Year whereas in Maithili culture, Jur Sital falls on the 2nd of Baishakh and New Year is supposed to have started from the same day. Collective feasting and cultural programs are organized on the occasion. The festival is celebrated with full enthusiasm like Holi by throwing red powder, color and mud to each other in the neighborhood. On the festival day, the elderly guardians get up early in the morning, take bath and complete their daily activities, hold pure cool water on the right hand palm poured from water full of small metal pots and spray it to others with blessings and thus, this festival is supposed to be named Jur Sital.
Biska (Bisket Jatra)
Celebrated from the fourth day of the last week of the month of Chait to the Mesh Sankranti, the beginning of New Year, the Jatra is also called Bishwoketu Yatra, Bishwakrit Yatra, Bisika Jatra. Since the festival is celebrated from the end of one year to the beginning of the New Year, this is called a two year fair too. During the festival, relatives gather together and exchange good wishes among each other. Holding the chariot procession of Bhairab, the form of Shiva, is regarded as the important aspect of Bisket Jatra. Similarly, the colliding of chariots, piercing the tongue and the procession of chariot are held on the same day.
The festival of Eid is enthusiastically celebrated in Nepal by the followers of Islam religion. Eid is celebrated throughout the month of Ramjan of Hijari Sambat. In this religious occasion, capacitated people donate two and a half percent of their income to the poor. This way, they at least arrange something for the poor people’s livelihood. The activities such as reciting Kuran, reading Namaz and sacrificing (kurbani) animals are performed in this festival.
Kumarshasthi or Sithi Nakha
Sithi or Sithi Nakha is a famous festival of the Newar community. Celebrated on the sixth day of the bright half of Jeth, Kumar Kartikeya is especially worshipped and a chariot procession is performed. Usually, on the same day, the Newars perform their Dewali. The festival is related to the happiness and prosperity of the farmer community.
Gaura Parba (Gohara)
Celebrated in the mid-western and far-western development region and Kumaon and Garhwal region of India, there has been the tradition that women of different races collectively worship Shiva Parbati and Ganesh in this festival. Also called Gohara based on locality, an idol made from the flour of horse-bean is made and worshipped in the festival. In addition to flowers, sandalwood paste, rice grain, incense; the Pancha Birudi, the mixture of buckwheat, wheat, horse-bean and peas is offered in the temple. Celebrated for three days from the 8th day of the dark half of Bhadau, women go on fasting on the 8th day and worship the idol of Shiva, Parbati and Ganesh made from grass and perform eight tasks of doing devoted songs.
Like that of Vijayadashami as the great festival of Hindus, the great festival of Limbu people of Kirat community, Chasok Tangnam falls in the month of Kartik every year. Also called Nwagi worship, Chasok Tangnam is celebrated by eating things only after offering the ripe fruits (grain and fruits) to the Gods, by merry making throughout the night dancing Yalangma and Chyabrung dance and singing Hakpare song. The festival is celebrated as the symbol of solidarity, commonality, and the prosperous culture of the Limbu race.
Celebrated by the indigenous nationality, Satar, of Nepal, thousands of people from Jyamir of Jhapa district and the Santhals from India participate, worship Shiva and Parbati and organize different cultural programs and sing and dance as well.
On the occasion of New Year, Rajbanshis living in Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari celebrate Siruwa Parwa by worshipping their family deity and by throwing mud and color among themselves. During this important festival of Rajbanshis, the garlic and onions are hung outside of their homes. There is a story that Parshuram was roaming killing Kshetriya to make the earth free of Kshetriya in the Mahabharata era and when he was about to kill Rajbanshis, Parshuram saw onion and garlic hung on the door and Rajbanshis were saved. So, they still have the tradition of hanging onion and garlic. Green leaves of seven varieties of vegetables are prepared and eaten on the same day. The family deity of the Rajbanshi, Thakur Bisari as well as the Tista River with the name of Tistabudhi is worshipped in the siruwa festival. Apart from Rajbamshi, Tharu, Tajpuriya, Kahar and Gangai also celebrate this festival with enthusiasm and delight. People on this occasion visit the fair and sing and dance ‘Rangarang’.
Seto Machindranath Jatra
The lord of all living beings, Aryawalokiteshwar, is called Seto Machindranath. He is called Shree Janbahadhya in Newari language. The idol and temple of Aryawalokiteshwar white Machindranath is located in the Machhendra Bahal or Kanak Chaitya of Keltole, Kathmandu. The chariot procession of Seto Machindranath is held to wish for the welfare of the living beings on the auspicious day, as decided by the astrologers, in the month of Chait / Baishakh with the bathing of the idol of the Lord with the milk, curd and other things and decoration with the garlands.
Rato Machindranath Jatra
The protector and the maintainer of the living creature, Lord Loknath is called Rato Machindranath . Machindranath is bathed with milk, and curd and the chariot procession starts from Pulchok, Lalitpur. When it reaches Patan Jawalakhel, the procession is concluded with the demonstration of Bhoto (upper robe) of Machindranath. This starts from Chait/Baisakh and runs for nearly a month.
The Tharus of mid-western and far-western Nepal celebrate Pendiya on the day when they harvest food grains from Khalihan (the place made for threshing rice). The priest of Tharus on this day performs special worshipping at Khalihan.
The Gadhimai Mela happens every 5 years in Bariyarpur of Bara district. Millions of devotees from Nepal and India throng to attend the fair. Buffaloes, goats and fowls are sacrificed in this fair.
The Gunla festival is celebrated by the followers of Baudhamata from the first day of the bright half of Shrawan for a month. The devotees visit Buddhist Monasteries and Bihars in this festival to have the sight of Lord Buddha. The festival is concluded by performing the activities in three stages: Pancha Dan, public demonstration of different Gods and Goddesses and Mataya. Atyajatra falls on the second day of the dark half of Bhadau when people pay visit to pilgrimages and light butter lamps in memory of the dead relatives. Lord Buddha is believed to have won over Mar (power of evil) on the same day.
Tornalha (worship of dead ancestors)
The festival practiced as the worshipping of ancestors among the Thakali community in Nepal is celebrated for three days; starting from one day before the Phagupurnima and ending on the day after Phagupurnima. On this occasion, Khimi (Peek) is offered to the dead ancestors. In this festival, the female head of the family becomes pure by taking bath at the time after midnight and before the rooster’s crow in the morning and offers the Pinda (the ball of rice) by placing it on the leaves of Saal in remembrance of dead ancestors. The male members do not participate in offering the Pinda. Apart from eating delicious food; wearing new clothes, meeting family members and relatives etc., the archery among the males and playing small and round pebbles among females are organized as competitions on this occasion.
In remembrance of the heroic deeds of Tamu King Mesaro and his brave soldiers to protect rural settlements from evil practices, to protect harvests, domestic animals and people from wild animals as well and to protect rural settlements from external attack, the replicated acting of chasing away the enemies across the border of the settlements is demonstrated in the Truhute festival celebrated by Gurung (Tamu). At the time of acting, armed with the weapons made from Bhakimlo, they cry loudly and they play the drums loudly. The festival celebrated by singing and dancing with the beating of musical instruments, putting black on face and by putting feathers on head, represents the costumes, the manner of line and culture of Gurung (Tamu) culture.
Since the Sun’s southward movement on the celestial sphere starts on this day and it is the first day of Shrawan, the Karkat Sankranti is also called Saune Sankranti. On this day too, People take holy baths, have the sight of the Gods and Goddesses and worship them and in the evening, people worship the demon, Kandarak and throw Luto (a burning piece of wood) as the symbol of suffering and bad luck.
Makar Sankranti occurs when the Sun enters the 10th zodiac, Makar in the zodiac cycle of the Sun. Since there occurs the Sun’s northward movement on the celestial sphere and being the first day of Magh, this is also called Maghe Sankranti. People take holy baths, have the sight of the Gods and Goddesses and worship them on this day. When the Sun enters the 4th zodiac, Karkat, in its zodiac cycle there occurs Karkat Sankranti. On this day, the festival of bull fighting is organized in Taruka, Nuwakot.
One of the 10th incarnations of Lord Vishnu, an ideal principle of conduct, Ram was born on the 9th day of the bright half of Chait in Treta epoch, so the day is celebrated as Ramnawami by worshipping Ram. Although there is no significance of Chaite Dashain (small Dashain) in the Terai, the next day, Ramnawami is celebrated with great joy and happiness. On this day, in Janakpur region of Nepal and in the birth place of Lord Ram (Ayodhya) and in other temples of Ram, lord Ram and Goddess Sita are worshipped.
Among the many feasts and festivals celebrated in Nepal every year, there are some original feasts and festivals that can inspire one to remember his/her mother and contribution of his/her own country. One of such popular feasts popularly known in the name Matriaunsi, Matridiwas or Matatirthe Aunsi is celebrated on the no moon day of Baishakh. This is popularly known as Matriausi since it is the day people pay tribute and respect to their mother by remembering the important contribution by mother. On this day, the children should keep their mothers happy by offering delicious food with delight, respect and honor. It is believed that delighted by such an act, the mother’s blessings could bring prosperity among children. People who do not have mothers should go to the pilgrimage named Matatirtha in Kathmandu, take a holy bath and should offer Sida (the uncooked rice, vegetable, etc. given to Brahman on special occasions) and Pinda (the ball of cooked rice). There is a belief among people that the dead mother becomes happy this way and their blessings would bring wealth and happiness to their children.
Nag Panchami is one of the several festivals like Rishipanchami, Shreepanchami celebrated from ancient times every year on the major Panchami days. An image of the serpent god (Naag) is pasted over the doors of house and worshipped on the fifth day of the bright half of Shrawan.
Chhath is the biggest and most important festival celebrated in the eastern and mid Terai region (Dhanusha, Mahottari, Sarlahi).The festival is specially celebrated with much enthusiasm in Janakpur on the 6th day of the bright half of Kartik. The group of people on fasting reaches the ponds and pools of Janakpur like Gangasagar, Dhanushsagar, Ratnasagar, Agnikunda, Biharkund and Papmochani and 27 rivers before the sunrise and half immerse themselves in the water up to the chest and wait for the light in the east to pray and worship the Sun. Before the sunrise on the 7th day, people reach the bank of the river or pond and offer oblation and argha. Some people on fasting reach the bank of rivers or ponds by crawling on chest in the hope that their wishes would come true and finish their fasting through austere devotion. At the time of sunset in the evening of the 6th day, they respectfully greet the setting Sun with the offerings put on their palm. The festival, in which people make vows to get their wishes fulfilled through the worshipping of Sun by doing special rituals, has been started to celebrate throughout the country including Kathmandu valley.
Kuse Aunsi falls on the no moon day of Bhadau each year. On this day, Brahmans prepare Kush (grass regarded as sacred and a must for every ritual act) by performing the ritual and cutting Kush as per the sacred law. There is the belief that keeping bunches of Kush prepared in this way at home brings welfare to the family. The name Kuse Aunsi has come into use by the name Kush. On this day, fathers are revered with great devotion by offering foods/meals of their like with the expectation of blessings from them. Those who have no living fathers take the priests as the symbols of their fathers, feed them some food stuff and offer Sida in the name of their father.
The full moon day of Phagun of each year is called Holi Purnima in Hindu culture. This is an important festival of the Hindus. It is a festival of colors. This is also called Phagu Purnima as it is celebrated in the month of Phagun. Phagu Purnima is supposed to start once the Chir (a specially decorated long pole of timber) is erected in front of Basantapur palace of Kathmandu on 8th day of the bright half of Phagun. The festival is believed to conclude once the pole is demolished on the ground and burned down to ashes. Holi is a very ancient festival of the Hindus. The festival is also described in the ancient books like Narad Puran (medieval Sanskrit Compendium of myth and ritual lore), Bhavishya Purana (mythology of the future). The festival is associated with the story of an ancient atheist, Hiranyakashyapu, his son Prahlad and his sister Holika. There is a public holiday on the full moon day in hills and mountains and the following day in the Terai.
Like the followers of Christianity all over the world, the Christian community in Nepal also celebrates Christmas on 25th December with great joy and enthusiasm. To undo the sins committed by mankind, Christ was crucified, and in the memory of this sacrifice, people visit Churches for prayer and exchange of good wishes and gifts. There is a public holiday on this day.