Best Festivals and Holidays in Nepal.
Festivals and holidays in Nepal are an integral part of the Nepalese way of life and their behavior. It is essentially based on and revolves around religious and cultural events that garner tremendous local participation. Nepal is primarily a Hindu Country with diverse ethnic groups, which means that the celebrations have variety and are fascinating to see. With hundreds of festivals throughout the year across Nepal, there is almost a festival every week, so there is always something to see.
Festivals also offer travelers a valuable opportunity to gain insight into various aspects of Nepalese culture. Religious festivals follow the lunar calendar, and national festivals have fixed dates. Dashain festival is the longest and considered to be the most important festival in Nepal. Deepawali (Tihar) brings the same joy to Nepalese people. Other important festivals are Losar, Buddha Jayanti, Chhath Parva, Christmas, Ramadan, and much more. Maha Shivaratri, Janai Purnima (Raksha Bandhan), Krishna Janmashtami, Rama Navami, and so many other festivals are of utmost importance. We have mentioned all the important ones that are significant and revered the most.
Dashain is the most significant festival in Nepal and holds great cultural and religious importance. It is a 15 Days festival that usually falls in September or October, following the lunar calendar. The festival celebrates the victory of good over evil, symbolized by the triumph of the Goddess Durga over the Demon Mahishasura.
During Dashain, people honor the goddess Durga and her various manifestations through prayers, rituals, and offerings. The festival also involves the worship of family ancestors and visits to temples. Families come together, exchange gifts, wear new clothes, and enjoy feasts. On the eighth day, known as "Maha Ashtami," special rituals are performed, including the worship of animals, especially cows.
The tenth day, known as "Vijaya Dashami," is the main day of celebration. People receive tika (a mixture of rice, yogurt, and vermilion) and blessings from their elders, symbolizing protection and good fortune. It is also a time when people fly kites and engage in various cultural activities, such as music, dance, and drama.
Gai Jatra, also known as the Festival of Cows, is celebrated in Nepal, particularly in the Kathmandu Valley, with various customs and traditions. Here is how Gai Jatra is typically celebrated:
- Processions: Gai Jatra begins with colorful and lively processions taking place through the streets. Families who have lost a loved one during the past year participate in these processions. They dress in traditional attire and carry framed pictures of their deceased family members. Some families may also lead a decorated cow or a young boy dressed as a cow, symbolizing the souls of the departed.
- Cow Parade: Cows hold special significance in Hindu Culture, and during Gai Jatra, cows are considered sacred and believed to guide the souls of the deceased to the afterlife. Hence, the presence of cows in the processions is essential. The cows are adorned with colorful clothes, garlands, and sometimes even vibrant colors. It is considered auspicious to touch or be touched by a cow during the festival.
- Humorous Performances: Gai Jatra is known for its humorous and satirical performances. Participants in the processions engage in comedic acts, skits, and street plays. These performances often involve social and political commentary, providing an outlet for people to express their thoughts and concerns in a lighthearted manner. The intention is to bring laughter and joy to the crowd and help ease the pain of grieving families.
- Traditional Dances and Music: Throughout Gai Jatra, traditional dances and music are performed as part of the celebrations. Local dance groups, musicians, and cultural troupes take part in these festivities. They showcase traditional dance forms, play traditional musical instruments, and entertain the spectators with their vibrant performances.
- Bhaktapur Celebrations: The city of Bhaktapur, located in the Kathmandu Valley, is particularly renowned for its elaborate and grand celebrations of Gai Jatra. The entire city comes alive with processions, music, dances, and cultural performances. The streets are decorated, and numerous events and activities are organized, attracting both locals and tourists.
- Food and Festive Treats: Like many festivals in Nepal, Gai Jatra is also celebrated with feasting and delicious food. Families come together to prepare special festive dishes and sweets. These include traditional delicacies such as sel roti (a sweet rice flour bread), yomari (a sweet dumpling filled with molasses or sesame), and various savory snacks.
Gai Jatra is a vibrant and joyous festival that combines religious beliefs, cultural traditions, humor, and community participation. It provides an opportunity for families to remember and honor their departed loved ones while celebrating life and finding solace in the collective spirit of the festival.
Tihar, also known as Deepawali or the Festival of Lights, is a five-day festival celebrated in October or November. Each day of Tihar is dedicated to a different entity.
The First Day is "Kag Tihar" (Crow Day), where crows are worshipped as messengers of Yama, the god of death. People offer food to crows to bring them good luck.
The Second Day is "Kukur Tihar" (Dog Day), dedicated to dogs. Dogs are considered loyal and are worshipped for their role in guarding homes. They are adorned with garlands and given delicious treats.
The Third day is "Gai Tihar" (Cow Day) and "Laxmi Puja." Cows are regarded as sacred animals, representing wealth and prosperity. They are worshipped and decorated with garlands and tika. Additionally, on Laxmi Puja, the goddess of wealth, Laxmi, is worshipped to bring prosperity and good fortune.
The fourth Day is "Govardhan Puja" or "Mha Puja." It is a day when people worship themselves, performing rituals to cleanse and purify their bodies and souls.
The Fifth Day is "Bhai Tika," dedicated to the bond between brothers and sisters. Sisters apply tika on their brothers' foreheads, perform aarti (a ritual of waving a lamp), and exchange gifts. It symbolizes love, protection, and the strengthening of familial ties.
During Tihar, houses are decorated with colorful lights, oil lamps (Diya), and rangoli designs. Firecrackers are also lit during the celebrations.
Lhosar, also known as Losar or Tibetan New Year, is a significant festival celebrated by the Tibetan community in Nepal and other regions influenced by Tibetan Culture. It marks the beginning of the Tibetan lunar calendar year and typically falls between January and March, depending on the lunar cycle.
Lhosar is a multi-day festival filled with religious and cultural traditions. Here are some details about the festival:
- Preparation: Prior to Lhosar, families engage in thorough cleaning and decorating of their homes. They decorate their windows and doors with colorful prayer flags, hang auspicious symbols like the Eight Auspicious Signs, and create intricate designs known as "rangoli" using colored powders or sand.
- Religious Ceremonies: Lhosar begins with various religious ceremonies held at monasteries and temples. People gather to offer prayers and make offerings to the deities. Monks perform rituals and chant prayers to seek blessings for the coming year. These ceremonies often involve the recitation of religious scriptures and the burning of incense.
- Family Gatherings: Lhosar is a time for families to come together and celebrate. Relatives from near and far gather at their ancestral homes to share meals and exchange gifts. Elders bless the younger generation, and families engage in traditional activities, music, and dance.
- Masked Dances: One of the highlights of Lhosar is the performance of traditional masked dances known as "Cham." These dances are performed by monks wearing vibrant costumes and intricately designed masks representing deities, demons, and legendary figures. The Cham dances portray various aspects of Tibetan Buddhism and carry symbolic meanings.
- Feasting: Lhosar is celebrated with feasts and delicious traditional Tibetan cuisine. Families prepare special dishes such as "guthuk," a soup made with different ingredients symbolizing good fortune and purification. Other popular dishes include "momos" (dumplings), "thukpa" (noodle soup), and various sweet treats.
- New Year Celebrations: On the eve of Lhosar, people engage in various customs to bid farewell to the old year and welcome the new one. This includes lighting butter lamps, setting off firecrackers, and performing rituals to ward off negative energies and bring good luck.
- Symbolic Activities: Losar is associated with numerous symbolic activities. People hang prayer flags, which are believed to spread goodwill and bring positive energy. They also make special offerings of food, drinks, and symbolic items to their household deities, seeking their blessings for the year ahead.
Losar is a time of renewal, reflection, and community bonding. It is celebrated with great enthusiasm, preserving the rich cultural heritage of the Tibetan community and promoting unity and harmony among its members.
Janai Purnima or Raksha Bandhan.
Janai Purnima, or Raksha Bandhan, is celebrated on the full moon day of August. This is the day of sacred thread, a yellow string worn about the neck and underarm beneath the clothing of higher caste Hindu-Brahmins. The wearers observe certain religious rituals and undergo fasting. The thread symbolizes that the person has control over their body. On the same day, men, women, and children of every caste in Hinduism wear the sacred yellow thread called Raksha Bandhan. Raksha means protection, and Bandhan signifies bond. It is not just a thread but an eternal vow taken by the brother to protect the sister against all odds and challenges faced during their entire lifetime.
The Bisket Jatra of Bhaktapur is the Nepalese New Year.
The Bisket Jatra generally falls in mid-April each year. It is a historical town called Bhaktapur that lies to the east of Kathmandu. It is a nine-day festival celebrated at the end of Chaitra. The Bisket Jatra signifies the end of a year and the start of a new year on the Bikram Sambat calendar. Bisket Jatra is called the "Festival after the Death of the Serpent." The Jatra involves the pulling of chariots that are dedicated to the two deities, the wrathful god Bhairav and the goddess Bhadrakali. A few days before the Jatra, chariots are built in the Bhaktapur Durbar square and later pulled by local young people through the narrow streets of Bhaktapur. On the day before the New Year, an eight-foot-long, huge pole made of a shore tree is erected with the efforts of thousands of people. The symbols of two dead serpents are also hung on the pole. The people offer prayer and food to the chariot of God Bhairav in the hope that it will rid them of suffering and troubles in the following years.
Holi, known as the Festival of Colors, is a vibrant and joyous festival celebrated in Nepal, usually in March. It signifies the arrival of spring and the triumph of good over evil.
The main highlight of Holi is the playful throwing of colored powders and water at each other. People gather in open spaces, streets, and public squares to engage in friendly water fights and smear each other with colorful powders known as "gulal." Music, dance, and delicious food are also part of the celebrations.
Holi also includes the lighting of bonfires on the eve of the main festival day. These bonfires symbolize the burning of evil spirits and negative energies.
Teej is a significant festival for Hindu women in Nepal, especially those from the Hindu ethnic communities of Mithila and Tharu. It is a Three Day festival that falls in August or September, during the monsoon season.
During Teej, women dress in vibrant red attire and jewelry, symbolizing marital bliss and fertility. They observe a strict fast, abstaining from food and water, for the well-being and longevity of their husbands. This fasting period lasts for 24 hours and is considered a way to show devotion and seek the blessings of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, who are regarded as the ideal couple in Hindu mythology.
Women gather in groups and perform various rituals and ceremonies. They visit temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, where they offer prayers and perform aarti (a ritual of waving a lamp) while singing traditional Teej songs and dances. Many also engage in meditation and recite religious hymns.
Apart from religious activities, Teej is also a time for women to celebrate their bond and share their experiences. They participate in community gatherings and cultural events where they sing, dance, and play traditional musical instruments like the madal and harmonium.
During Teej, women apply mehndi (henna) on their hands and feet in intricate patterns, enhancing the festive spirit. They also exchange gifts and sweets with other women and receive blessings from elders.
After completing the fast, women break their fast by consuming a special meal called "dar" or "darbha," which typically includes dishes like rice, lentils, puri (fried bread), and sweets. This meal is often prepared with great care and love by the women themselves.
Teej is not only a religious festival but also a celebration of womanhood, love, and devotion. It allows women to express their cultural identity, strengthen their bonds, and take part in a collective celebration of their roles as wives and mothers.
You need to Know Certain dos and don'ts while on a Trekking or Holiday Tour in Nepal.
Be reminded that the ancient cultures have certain taboos in place for anyone visiting Nepal. It is essential to know what they are to avoid embarrassment and offending the local people. Respect for the local cultures is important, and you should treat both the people and the land with care and respect. Some of which are deemed below
- If you want to show gratitude and respect, then use both hands rather than one.
- Do not point with a single finger; use a flat, extended hand, especially when indicating a sacred object or place.
- Avoid touching women and holy men. In Nepal, people do not normally shake hands when they greet one another. Instead, they press their palms together in a prayer-like gesture known as "Namaste".
- While eating, use your right hand only. It is considered an uncivilized act to use the left hand for eating.
- Nepal is a conservative country, so wearing western dresses is not our culture, so you must be careful not to wear anything provocative or sexually enticing. Women should wear full, long-sleeved dresses and avoid showing too much bare skin. Short skirts and shorts should not be used.