IMPORTANT FESTIVALS OF NEPAL
Dasain | Tihar | Chhat | Lhosar | Shivaratri | Bisket (Biska) Festival | Holi "The Festival of Colours" | Buddha Jayanti “Lord Buddha’s Birthday” | Seto Machhendranath | Rato Machhendranath Festival | Gai Jatra | Krishna Astami | Indra Jatra | Mani Rimdu |
The Nepali calendar is clogged with festivals except during the rice-planting season, which coincides with the monsoon. Some of the important festivals are listed below. One of the most important festivals and celebrated by a majority of Nepalese people is Dashain but the more spectacular are the chariot festivals. The other important festivals are Tihar, Gai Jatra (jatra=festival in the Newari language) Biska Jatra, Buddha Jayanti, Krishna Astami, Tihar, Lhosar, Seto Machhendranath Jatra, Rato Machhendranath Jatra, Indra Jatra and Mani Rimdu. Some festivals are celebrated by the Newars (indigenous people of Kathmandu valley) alone; some by only Buddhists or only Hindus, yet others are generally celebrated by most Nepali people.
Back to topTihar
Back to topChhat
For people living in the terai belt (plains), Chhat is one of their important festivals. This is the worship of the Sun God. The first day is spent on preparations as various food stuffs must be prepared for offering the Sun God as well as to consume after a day long fast. The festival takes place by the banks of the rivers where devotees gather to pray to the Sun God. On the first day the gathering takes place in the late afternoon to wait for the sun to sink below the horizon at which time they lay offerings of fruits and other edibles along the banks. Lighted oil-wick lamps are floated on the river, suspended on paper boats. As the sun goes down, the worshippers wash in the river make offerings and pray. The following day the gathering takes place before sun up. There are many who observe penance by prostrating themselves along the way. As the sun comes up, many enter the water to bathe and pray turning several times around in the water. There are huge gatherings along the banks of the rivers during this festival. The offerings are taken home and distributed as prasad (blessed food).
Back to topLhosar
Back to topShivaratri
Shivaratri literally means “Night of Lord Shiva” and is celebrated around the temples of Shiva in late February or early March. The most important location is the Pashupatinath temple, which receives hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims during this festival every year. This is a one-day affair but sadhus (holy men) and other devotees start descending on Pashupati from months before the big day. On the day of Shivaratri there are massive crowds who come to pay homage and even the Royal family arrives to pay their respects. Bathing in the holy Bagmati river and laying offerings at Shiva’s shrine, the crowds mill around until evening when bonfires are lit that last until early morning. Pashupati witnesses the biggest crowds during Shivaratri and a large police force is required to maintain order.
Back to topBisket (Biska) Festival
Back to topHoli "The Festival of Colours"
Back to topBuddha Jayanti "Lord Buddha's Birthday"
Back to topSeto Machhendranath
The Seto Machhendranath (Seto=white) chariot festival takes place in Kathmandu. This chariot with a long wooden steeple is constructed at Durbar Marg near the statue of King Mahendra. The image of Seto Machhendranath is brought to the chariot from Machhendranath temple at Jana Bahal near Indra Chowk in the heart of Kathmandu. In the following four days the chariot is pulled in a procession from one stop to the next until it finally comes to rest in Lagankhel in the Lalitpur district (Lalitpur is the old name of Patan). At various locations where the chariot halts, people crowd around to pay homage to the deity. Oil wick lamps are lit, offerings are placed as the priests busily distribute prasad (blessed food) and tika to the gathering. At the end of the festival, the image is removed from the chariot and placed in a palanquin. From Lagankhel it is then carried in a procession back to the temple at Jana Bahal in Kathmandu. The chariot is dismantled and put aside for a year.
Back to topRato Machhendranath Festival
This is a long drawn out chariot festival held in Patan. The Rato Machhendranath (rato=red) is the God of rain as well as the God of mercy. The Buddhists refer to him as Lokeshwar. A large chariot is assembled in Patan and is moved in a procession from place to place often taking more than a month to reach its final destination. Legend has it that Lord Machhendranath once resided in Assam and in ancient times a pious King and two officials traveled all the way to fetch him. Using tantric mantras they changed Machhendranath into a bee and brought him to Nepal in a ceremonial vase. As Machhendranath is also known as Bungadeo, a town was built in his honour and named Bungamati. Many years after his arrival in the valley, a special temple was built for Machhendranath at Bungamati, Lalitpur district.
Two chariots are taken out in a procession, the second for Minnath, godson of Machhendranath. The procession of these two chariots gets under way on the fourth day of the bright fortnight of Baishak (April-May). A large enthusiastic crowd, including Newari musicians accompanies the chariots. There, the Living Goddess gives blessings to devotees until late evening. Where the chariot stops, devotees come out to make offerings, mostly of rice as the God ensures rain for its cultivation. Feasting, animal sacrifices and loud music is part of the festival. On the final day of the festival the Bhoto (a bejeweled waistcoat) is displayed to the massive crowd that gathers at Jawalakhel. This sacred waistcoat is held up for all to see and the onlookers includes their majesties the King and Queen. This is popularly known as the “Bhoto Jatra” (jatra=festival) although it is part of the Chariot festival. Every twelve years the Rato Machhendranath festival is celebrated with greater fanfare and the next big one takes place in 2003.
Back to topGai Jatra
The Gai Jatra festival (Gai=cow), which takes place in August is said to be the creation of a king named Pratap Malla who had lost a son. In the hope of consoling his Queen who was overcome with grief, he ordered all his subjects who had lost a member of their family during the past year to bring out a procession in their honour. In this way he hoped his queen would realize that she was not alone in her grief. Many people are seen leading a cow during the procession, hence the name Gai Jatra. Hindus believe that on this day Yamaraj, the God of death will open the gates to let the dead in. The cow being a sacred animal, leads the way.
It is common practice today to dress a young boy as a cow rather than find a real one. In these modern times most families do not own a cow. Other kids are dressed as holy men or a God such as Ram. The most interesting of the celebrations among the three cities takes place in Bhaktapur. Hundreds of drummers take to the streets playing traditional drums. These are followed by flautists and stick dancers neatly turned out in uniform. The carnival atmosphere lasts for several days. There is music and dancing everywhere and weirdly dressed people take to the streets. Some dress as gorillas; some as tourists with fake cameras; other men dressed as women. The funny dresses were originally meant to make the unhappy queen laugh. During Gai Jatra, the Government allows citizens to freely criticize political leaders without fear of a backlash and there are comic plays enacted on the brick platforms around street corners. The festival is celebrated in all three cities.
Back to topKrishna Astami
Krishna Astami (astami=eighth) falls on the seventh day of the dark lunar fortnight in August or September. It is the celebration of Lord Krishna’s birthday. Krishna, one of the popular Hindu Gods is the eighth incarnation of Vishnu. Series of pictures depicting Krishna’s life are displayed in street corners on this day. The day is marked by processions arriving from everywhere. There are hordes of people carrying idols of Krishna garlanded and decorated for the occasion taking to the streets. Then there are the processions on trucks with portraits of Krishna. To the accompaniment of musical instruments, devotional songs praising Krishna are sung the whole day right through the night.
The Krishna Mandir in Patan Durbar Square becomes the focus of celebrations. This beautifully carved stone temple itself is covered in images glorifying the life of Lord Krishna. Enormous crowds of devotees predominantly women gather here for the festivities and prayers. Krishna is known for his fondness for women and is often depicted surrounded by his gopinis (female cowherds). The temple is covered with oil wick lamps and incense kept alight through the night by vigilant devotees. The temple glows with a new aura from the thousands of lamps. All night one can hear female voices chanting Krishna’s various names like Gopala and Narayan. Long queues of men and women struggle up the steps to receive tika from the temple priest. Arriving on the second floor where the idol is kept, they pay homage to Krishna offering him flowers, food and coins. Lord Krishna it is said was born at midnight and raised by a cowherd, which is why women shower his idol with butter, milk and sweets. The large crowd engulfing the Krishna temple lingers until the early morning. With the coming of dawn the festival is over and the crowd disperses.
Back to topIndra Jatra
The Indra Jatra festival lasts for eight days in the month of September. One of the most spectacular festivals, Indra Jatra has many legends intermingled with the acts of various deities and is also one of the rare occasions when Lord Indra is remembered. The festivities get under way with the erection of the ceremonial pole at Durbar Square. This takes place on the twelfth day of the waxing moon in September. The pole is believed to represent a similar flag- pole given to Lord Indra by the God, Vishnu. At Indra Chowk, the Akash Bhairav mask is brought out of the Bhairav temple and placed in front of the temple. It is then worshipped and covered in beautiful flowers, while sweets and other offerings are placed on it.
Back to topLegend has it that Lord Krishna decapitated a Kirati King when he showed an inclination to fight for the opposing side. The king’s head is said to have flown all the way to the Kathmandu valley. His head has since been represented by the enormous blue mask kept in the temple. During the proceedings, masked dancers take to the streets and this dance is known as Lakhe nach. The elephant dance depicting Indra’s steed in search of his lost master is also popular as they chase people around. The chariot procession of the Living Goddess is an integral part of the festival. There is great excitement when she is seen sitting on her chariot. At every stop she is worshipped and the attending priest anoints the devotees and gives them prasad. During this auspicious occasion the monarch of Nepal receives Tika on his forehead from the Kumari. This is said to symbolically give the king the right to rule over her people. The chariots of the Kumari and her two companions on their respective chariots are pulled by two rows of youths for whom it is a great honour.
On the last day of the festival the flag- pole is brought down amid sacrifices and gun salutes. It is then immersed in the Bagmati river before it is finally cut into small pieces and burned inside a shrine.
Mani Rimdu is a festival that is celebrated only in the mountainous regions of Nepal. Celebrated by Sherpas living in high altitudes, the more famous one is held at the Tengboche monastery every year during the full moon period of the ninth month of the Tibetan calendar. According to the Gregorian calendar it falls between mid-October and mid-December. However at the Thame monastery it is held in June and at Chiwang, Solu district, it is held in the month of December. Mani=prayers to Chenrisig the God of Compassion of the Buddhists. Ril= the small red pellets that are distributed by lamas and Du= the blessing of the pellets. The Mani Rimdu festival attracts large crowds of both sherpas as well as tourists.
For ten days the lamas pray for the good of all mankind while public events last for only three days. The main events that take place are 1/ the Lama’s blessings 2/ the masked dances and 3/the grand finale with a bonfire. Of greatest interest to tourists are the masked dances performed by the lamas, in which, the central characters are the Gods to whom the lamas have been praying. These dances are the main attraction of Mani Rimdu and the festival comes to a close when the lamas throw offerings into a huge bonfire.
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As it is well-known fact we Nepalese have more gods and goddesses than human beings and more festival than those actually fits in a yearly calendar of 365 days but what makes the festive month of Dashain and Tihar quiet special and is regarded as the greatest festival of a hindu culture is once in every year we all Nepalese from different caste and creed free ourself from our day-to-day routine and all the tensions that comes along with it and set ourself to a month of full enjoyment with our precious family members and the ones that really makes our lives precious and makes ourself feel important in this world.
The festival itself lasts for about 15 days starting from the first day of dashain with ghatasthapana following with nawaratri including fulpathi , mahaasthami, mahanawami and concluding with 10th day of mahadashami which is also known as the day of tika, where elders and youngsters shares blessings with each other and wish for the prosperity and well being.it’s specially fun for the kids as i remember when i was one getting all those money from the elders as dakshina and the sharing of blessings as tika lasts for 4 more days so that people from far away places can come and make a visit even though only once in a year it makes those visits special and as a lovely remembrance. In all these 15 days people makes sure they won’t miss out any fun part of two weeks of festive eve. From meeting old friends and playing cards to drinking and all. And after a quick week break there comes tihar which is a part of dashain more like a second half of it. It is more popularly seen as the festive week of bright and sparkling nights with worshipping of goddess laxmi and concluding with bhai tika which is the resemblance of love between brothers and sisters. Here the more fun part is playing deusi and bhailo and burning firecrackers and wherever you go you find one’s home bright in lights in their own way.
What makes this festive month special and different is that we can see that undoubtly happy reaction and smiles on the face of the people when the month is approaching and it helps us all free ourself from the hassle of life and take a break from whatever it is that we’re upto and indulge ourself into a month of enjoyious pleasure and happy times and look forward to the next one.
At last i wish all my viewers and subscribers along with my well wishers and all my friends and family a very happy dashain and tihar and hope you all will enjoy at it’s best avoiding all the negative sides. Thank you.
Also see More Detail About Dashain Festivals
Images from: aananda K. Maharjan (nepalifonts.blogspot.com)
Tags:dashain, Tihar, vijaya dashami
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