Festivals in Nepal are occasions to express religious devotion and reaffirm social ties. They bring color and magic to daily life and are eagerly awaited events. Almost all the festivals happen according to the lunar calendar, and the dates given below are valid for this year only.
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 dogs are worshipped and offered goodies. On November 14, Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth, is worshipped. Rows of lamps are placed on windows and doors, with the strong hope that Laxmi pleases to reside in light. The following day belongs to the cow, representative of Laxmi.
The lunar New Year’s Day according to the Nepal Era (NE) falls on November 16, and Newars perform Mhapuja, a ritual purification of one’s body and soul, for the coming year (1122 NE). Cultural processions and other programs are also organized to mark the occasion. The final ceremony is the Day of Brothers. 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.
The worship of Surya, the Sun God, attracts thousands of pilgrims to the holy town of Janakpur in southeastern Nepal. Devotees from Nepal and India throng the ancient city to worship at the Janaki temple and take ritual baths in the rivers and ponds. Devotees light lamps, sing songs and spend the night before Chhath Parva at the banks of rivers and ponds to greet the coming of the god. As the first rays of the sun blaze from the sky, devotees scramble to offer prayers, holy water, fruits, coconuts and sacred threads. They pray to the sun for protection from skin diseases and seek different blessings. Chhath is a joyous celebration of the deity’s benevolence, and it is one of the year’s biggest events for the Maithili community of the Terai.
Haribodhini Ekadasi is the day when Lord Bishnu, revered by Hindus as the supreme god, awakens from his annual four-month rest, which he spends reclining on the coiled body of an enormous serpent. Celebrations leading up to the festival begin 10 days before the big event. Devotees gather at holy river banks to perform rituals and to take dips in the water. The faithful also visit Changu Narayan, one of the four major Bishnu temples in Kathmandu, to honor him with a vigil. On the day of Ekadasi, devotees throng Bishnu temples, particularly Budhanilkantha in Kathmandu, where a fair takes place that continues till the full moon day (November 30).
BARAHA CHHETRA MELA
During this festival, thousands of Hindus congregate to worship Bishnu at Barah Chhetra, a sacred confluence on the Koshi river in east Nepal. It was here that the almighty, in his boar (barah) incarnation, had destroyed the demons who threatened to overrun the world. Bishnu stayed here after eliminating the evil forces, and the spot is revered as one of the four holiest Hindu pilgrimages. Devotees from various parts of Nepal and India visit the religious fair to perform sacred rituals and to take holy dips in the river.
This festival marks the end of a corpse-snatching demon. It is also observed to bring peace for the souls of family members deceased during the past year. The Pashupati temple complex in Kathmandu is the focus of Bala Chaturdashi, also known as Bala Charhe. Pilgrims gather here on festival eve to chant hymns and to keep an all-night vigil. The next morning, they take a ritual bath in the holy Bagmati river and pay obeisance to Shiva. The devotees then walk along the rambling festival route over Kailash hill behind the temple to cast satbij (sacred grains) at the shrines along the path. The hill is covered with serpentine queues of people hurrying up and down as they visit the numerous shrines. This pilgrimage is done to ensure peace to the soul of Balasur, a ghoul who used to haunt the cremation ground at Pashupati, and those of his victims.
In the Hindu tradition, there is no love story greater than that of Ram, the hero of the epic Ramayan, and Sita, model of ideal Hindu womanhood. Their marriage in Janakpur was attended by the greatest kings of the time, and the procession that they made was alluring beyond description. During this festival, thousands of pilgrims throng the historic city to observe and to take part in the re-enactment of the wedding procession. The celebrations are focused around the magnificent Janaki temple and the Ram Sita Bibah Mandap. Children dressed up as Ram and Sita are put on chariots and taken through the streets seething with bright colors and a festive mood.
Nepal’s Tamang, Magar, Gurung and other Himalayan communities celebrate Lhochhar to commemorate the beginning of the Tamu Lochhar lunar new year. As part of the festivities, Buddhist monks hold prayer meetings at monasteries which are specially decorated for the event. People raise holy flags atop their homes, and relatives and friends exchange greetings. The festival is an occasion for people to come together for singing and dancing, dressing up and feasting which may go on for many days. Cultural performances are also held.
The colorful Indrayani Jatra celebrated in Kirtipur (Kipu), 6 km to the southwest of Kathmandu, is designed to propitiate Indrayani, one of the Ajimas (mother goddesses) who protect the Valley. The three-day festival happens around Indrayani’s two shrines, one in the town center and the other outside the ancient township. The first day sees a procession with musical bands in which the deity’s image is carried on a palanquin from the town center to the second shrine. It is kept here for the next two days so that the faithful can pay homage. On the third day, the goddess is carried back to the main shrine accompanied by the palanquin of Ganesh, the god of good fortune. The Indrayani Jatra is one of the most important festivals held in Kirtipur.
The day is celebrated by Christians to observe the birth of Jesus Christ. All over Nepal, Christians exchange greetings and gifts with friends and family members. On Christmas Eve, a special dinner is shared with the family, the specialty on the menu being the Christmas cake. A Christmas tree, decorated with lights and tinsel, is placed in the house. Parties, which continue till the early morning, are held at various restaurants, and young people belonging to different religions can be seen enjoying the festival.
A yomari is a confection of rice-flour dough shaped like a fig and filled with brown cane sugar and sesame seeds. This delicacy is the chief item on the menu during the post-harvest celebration of Yomari Punhi. On this full moon day, people of the Kathmandu Valley offer worship to Annapurna, the goddess of grains, for the rice harvest. Groups of kids go around the neighborhood to beg yomari cakes from housewives in the evening. Sacred masked dances are performed in the villages of Hari Siddhi and Thecho at the southern end of the Valley to mark the festival.