Festivals of Nepal

JANUARY

MAGHI MAGHE SANKRANTI

Maghe Sankranti is celebrated on the first day of Magh. Nepali people celebrate it as the beginning of the auspicious month of Magh.


The festival is a harbinger of longer and relatively warmer days in comparison to the cold month of Poush. On this day, the sun is believed to start moving toward the Northern Hemisphere. In that sense, Maghe Sankranti is similar to solstice festivals in other religious traditions.

Hindu devotees during Maghe Sankranti  taking or preparing to take the holy bath at Devghat, Chitwan, Nepal.

Hindus celebrate this festival by taking ritual dip in holy river confluences, most notably in Devghat, Chitwan. Families get together during the day and eat meals together. Sesame seed laddus, molasses, ghee, sweet potatoes and yam are included in the menu. People worship Lord Vishnu during the month by offering him pujas and reading the  sacred Bhagwad Gita, also known as The Song of the Gods.

The first day of Magh is also celebrated in the Terai by the Tharu community as Maghi or New Year. It is a weeklong festival celebrated by getting together as a family and friends, attending community get together or mela, dressing up in the traditional Tharu wear, eating, drinking and making merry.

FEBRUARY

MAHA SHIVARATRI

Maha Shivaratri meaning the night of Lord Shiva is one of the major festivals of Nepal and literally means “Night of Shiva”. It is celebrated on the 14th day of the dark fortnight of the Māgha month, as per the Hindu lunar calendar.

It is believed that on this day, the stars in the Northern Hemisphere are at most optimum positions to help raise a person’s spiritual energy.It is  also believed that the Shiva principle is most active on this day of the year.

A yogi with holy text on his face during the Maha Shivaratri at Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Maha Shivaratri is celebrated marking the convergence of Shiva and Shakti. Maha Shivaratri also celebrates the night when Lord Shiva performed the “Tandav”, the cosmic dance.

Hundreds of thousands of devotees visit Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, one of the holiest shrines of the Hindus.  Pashupatinath is considered the Guardian and Protector of the Kathmandu Valley and Nepal.

Devotees chant “Om Namah Shivay” and “Mahamritunjaya” all night praying for light over darkness. Tourists are seen enjoying the ambiance with curiosity, as colorful and naked sadhus are seen meditating, posing for photographs and interacting with disciples.

Special attendance camps are set in the courtyards of the temples. Children are seen collecting donations from passersby on this day preparing for holy meal and bonfire in celebration of the special night.

MAY

TIJI MUSTANG

Tiji is a fascinating annual three-day festival consisting of Tibetan rituals that celebrate the myth of a son who had to save the Mustang kingdom from destruction. The festival is  indigenous to Lo-Manthang, Upper Mustang.

“Tiji” the name is an abbreviation of the word “Tempa Chirim” which means “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 Tiji festival usually takes place around mid May and lasts for 3 days. The monks of Lo Manthang’s “Choedhe” monastery perform ritual dances during the celebration. 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”) and the attempt to return the demon to Lord Buddha’s realm (on the third and final day) are enacted during the performances.

The Tiji festival dances are all organized by the Choedhe Monastery, which belongs to the Sakya sect of Buddhism. The monastery is headed by a Rimpoche. About 65 monks from Lo Manthang, Nhenyul and Chhosyer reside in this monastery.

RATO MACHCHENDRANATH JATRA

15ᵗʰ May to 15ᵗʰ July

The Rato Machhindranath Rath Jatra is the only festival that lasts for months. Dedicated to the Rain God Machhindranath, this festival takes place in Patan and is supposed to bring rain to the Kathmandu Valley.

The farmers of Kathmandu Valley wait for the monsoon rain to plant their rice crop. A large chariot is made of wood and tied with vines and pulled through the streets of Patan coming to rest at various traditional spots where crowds of devotees arrive to pay homage and lay offerings.

 The chariot procession is accompanied by Newar musicians playing traditional folk instruments. This is a Newari festival and the chariot is pulled by Newar youth who follow instructions from a senior who rides on the chariot.

The idol of the red painted Rato Machhindranath deity first goes through a ritual bath and a make-over with fresh paint. When the initial rites are over, the idol is placed on the chariot. As Lord Machhindranath views his devotees from a high seat of his chariot, he receives rice and vermilion powder as offer. The four wheels of the chariot represent the powerful Bhairab the fiercefull incarnation of Shiva,

The chariot is several stories high and with no nuts and bolts to hold it together, it is normally tilting to one side. The collapsing of this chariot is seen as portentous.

After several months of moving through major parts of Patan, it finally comes to rest in Jawalakhel, the more modern section of the city, where a huge crowd gathers to watch the display of an ancient bejeweled vest on Bhoto Jatra. This event is attended by the head of state as well as the Living Goddess Kumari of Patan.

JUNE

ROPAIN RICE PLANTING FESTIVAL

 Touch the earth, sow a tender rice sapling, sing and dance, and enjoy the mud show. Then take a nice hot shower.

The “rice planting festival” of Nepal is one of the country’s most important monsoon season festival which marks the first planting of the premier staple crop. Ashar Pandhra or the fifteenth of Ashar is the day when the crop planting season officially begins.

Farmers all over Nepal get to their marshy fields on this day to start work on a positive note. Singing, dancing, mud splashing amidst the planting is a common sight. Enthusiastic tourists often take part in these celebrations in company of welcoming locals, getting in touch with their earthly existence.

Celebrations give way to a feast of Dahi- Chiura (yogurt and beaten rice) washed down by local home-made brew.

 

AUGUST

NAG PANCHAMI

Nepali people worship snake gods, also called the Nagas during Nag Panchami. In the ancient time Nagas halted rain from pouring over Nepal. The king of that time also happened to be a Tantric and so he used his power to make Nagas let go of rain. The king succeeded in doing so but he also honored the majestic power of Nagas by turning the day of victory into a festive occasion of Nag Panchami. On Nag Panchami, devotees put a picture of Naga high above their doorway and perform puja with necessary puja items. Offerings in the form of food are left in the yards and paddies for snakes.

JANAI PURNIMA

Janai Purnima is a Hindu festival celebrated all over the country, with family get togethers and feasts of Kwati or sprout lentils. This day is also a harbinger of rejuvenation with Hindu men renewing their ‪Janai and people flocking to Shiva temples in different parts of the country. It is a big day to observe the Shaman culture.

On this day Shamans of the valley and around Nepal gather to perform their ancient rites in places like the Kumbeshwar in Patan, Gosaikunda in Langtang and Charikot in Dolakha. International counterparts trained by Nepali Shamans also make it a point to visit their sacred sites on this occasion.

Devotees at Shiva Temple in Kumbeshwar, Bangala Mukhi, for celebration of Janai Purnima.

This full moon day sees a large number of Brahmins at the holy riverbanks. They take ritual dips in the water and offer ablution to the gods. They then change their sacred threads. Brahman priests tie yellow sacred threads around the wrists of the faithful.

Newars of Kathmandu Valley call this festival Gunhi Punhi and they prepare a soup of a mixture of beans called Kwati as special food for the day. Kwati is a nutritious soup made from sprouted beans.

A Brahmin tying sacred thread or doro on a Hindu lady during Janai Purnima.

At Kumbheswar in Patan, a richly decorated Lingam, the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva, is placed on a raised platform in the middle of the Kumbheswar pond to receive homage from devotees. Another ceremony that takes place here is Byan-ja Nakegu, during which rice is offered to frogs in gratitude for a good spell of rain.

KRISHNA ASHTAMI

The birthday of Lord Krishna is celebrated as Krishn Ashtami. Krishna, the dark god revered as manifestation of Lord Vishnu, who taught warrior Arjuna the value of Karma in the Bhagwad Gita, was born at midnight on the eighth day of the dark moon of August.

To celebrate the birthday of this popular Hindu god, devotees flock to Krishna temples all over Nepal; Kathmandu Valley’s Krishna Mandir in Patan Durbar Square is also thronged by devotees on this day.

There, men and women from far and wide gather around the 17th century stone temple singing praises of Lord Krishna 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 processions accompanied by joyous crowds of followers and musical troupes. Along the lanes of old Kathmandu people display framed pictures of Krishna showing various episodes of his unique life.

GAI JATRA

Gai Jatra is a carnival of dancing, singing, mirth and laughter. The festival of cow is celebrated in the Kathmandu Valley to commemorate the death of loved ones.  As part of the festival family members of the deceased of the past year send people dressed as cows to parade on the streets.The festival usually falls in July or August.

 

SEPTEMBER

INDRA JATRA

The eight-day long Indra Jatra festival falls in September and is one of the most exciting and revered festivals of the Newari community of the Kathmandu Valley.

This also marks the beginning of a month-long festival season of autumn. It begins with the erection of a wooden pole made of pine at Basantapur Sqaure in front of the old Hanuman Dhoka Palace.

For the pole-raising ceremony, hundreds of spectators gather at the Palace Square and on the surrounding temples. The chariot of Kumari, the Living Goddess, is taken out in a procession through the main streets of Kathmandu.

Masked dancers known as Lakhay take to the streets almost every evening accompanied by loud drums. The festival commemorates the time when Indra came down from heaven in human form to look for an herb.

Each night of Indra Jatra the shrines and ancient palace buildings around Kathmandu Durbar Square are aglow with oil wicks. Each night on the platform in front of the temple of the Living Goddess, there is an enactment depicting the ten earthly incarnations of Lord Vishnu.

In the afternoon of the day before full moon, ecstatic mobs gather near Hanuman Dhoka Palace for the long-awaited Living Goddess’ chariot procession to catch a glimpse of the revered little Newari girl who has been deified as Kumari.

The chariot of the Kumari followed by two other smaller chariots carrying a representative of Ganesh and Bhairav is taken to different parts of the old Kathmandu. The festival of Indra Jatra ends with the lowering of the (lingam) pole bearing Indra’s flag amidst religious ceremonies.

HARITALIKA TEEJ

Occurring around the month of August, Teej is a festival celebrated by women all over Nepal for three days. Decked up in red sarees and red tika, bangles, women sing and dance to traditional folk songs for days. It is specially significant for married women, when they get a special invitation to visit their maternal home and feast.

Following a long feast also known as Dar, the women, sit for a 24 hour long fasting , where most do not eat or even drink water. What is fascinating is to watch women of all age group, young and old, dance for hours in the heat , rain, without a drop of water or food for an entire day.

Women in red sari standing in line to pray and make offerings of flowers, fruits, incense, at the nearest Shiva temple on the day of Teej.

It is a sight to behold at the Pashupatinath temple, where thousands of women draped in Red and green throng the premises of the temple. Observers can take photos of these women dancing merrily , where sometimes foreigners, especially women tourists are requested to participate in the merry-making.

The significance of such a festival is for women to ask for special blessings by Lord Shiva, to have attain a good husband in life, and to pray for his longevity and prosperity.

Women dancing in a Shiva temple premises on the day of Teej.

On the final day of this three day festival Women satisfy seven saints offering them food, money and various offerings, and also bathing with Red mud and brushing their teeth with Datiwan (branches of a bush tree) hoping this purifies their body and soul.

KUSHE AUNSI

Watch the Nepali people celebrate  their traditional fathers’ day.  Kushe Aunsi is a fathers’ day festival and is also known as Gokarna Aunsi.

This is a special day set apart for the veneration of one’s father, alive or dead. On this auspicious day, sons as well as daughters go home to meet and spend quality time with their fathers. Home-cooked delicacies, sweets, meat and other gifts are offered to all fathers.

On the streets are seen married daughters with goodies making their way to their maternal home to meet, no matter how busy their schedule is. Many people celebrate this festival by offering prayers to the Shiva shrine at Gokarna Temple.

The date does not coincide with the international Fathers’ Day and is based on the lunar calendar as all the other cultural festivals celebrated in Nepal.

OCTOBER

BADA DASHAIN

This is the longest Hindu festival in Nepal, traditionally celebrated for two weeks with prayers and offerings to Durga, the Universal Mother Goddess. The great harvest festival of Nepal, Dashain is a time for family reunions, exchange of gifts and blessings, elaborate pujas, ritual bathing and animal sacrifices. Dashain honors the Goddess Durga, who was created out of the shakti or energy of all the gods, armed with weapons from each of them.

Goddess Durga, symbolizing valor and prowess, is worshipped and offered sacrifices to ensure the devotees’ progress and prosperity. During the first ten days, pilgrims flock to 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 each marked with a different set of rituals.

During Dashain, men and women in their fineries visit their elders to seek tika (a dab of red vermilion mixed with yogurt and rice) accompanied by blessings. Sword precessions (Paayaa) are also held in various part of the Kathmandu Valley. A large number of animals are officially sacrificed at Hanuman Dhoka during Nawami which is attended by officials, invitees and visitors.

During the ninth day, the Taleju Temple which is normally out of bounds is also open to the public. The last day, known as Kojagrat Purnima, is the full moon. New clothes, home visits, grand feasts, kite flying and village swings are the highlights of Dashain. Around this time the population of Kathmandu is greatly reduced as many head home to various parts of the country.

 On the tenth day known as Tika, people are seen moving around with their foreheads covered with rice tika, wearing new clothes. There is much feasting as people visit relatives’ homes to receive tika and blessings.

TIHAR 

The 5-day  festival of lights, known as Tihar honors Yama, the God of Death but the worship of Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth dominates the festivities.

On the first day, the crow, the informant of Yama is worshipped. The second day is for worshipping the dogs as the agent of Yama. On the third day Laxmi is worshipped. The fourth day is for the draught animal, oxen when the Newari community does Mha puja dedicated to oneself. The fifth day is Brothers’ Day when sisters put tika on their brothers’ foreheads and give blessings.

This festival is notable for the lighting up of homes with anything from candles, oil-wick lamps and electric lights. Houses all over the country are lit up with extra lights and decorated with garlands. A great view can be had of the brightly lit-up Kathmandu city from the Swoyambhunath Stupa. 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.

During the day known as Laxmi Puja, the Goddess of Wealth, is welcomed to people’s homes by making a path of footprints leading into the house. All lights are kept on and the doors and windows kept open to let in the goddess. Rows of lamps are placed along windows and doors, with the strong hope that Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth notices and enters. The day also belongs to the cow that represents Laxmi.

Bhai Tika is the day people look forward to. In some communities, sisters and brothers accept tika from each other. Bhai means brother in Nepali. Brothers and sisters honor each other and the sisters pray to Yama, the God of Death, for their brothers’ progress, prosperity and longevity.

The brothers bring gifts to their sisters and the festival ends with feasting. It is also traditional to go from house to house singing Tihar songs and bestowing blessings, whereupon the residents of the house give money in return. Fireworks also fill the skies despite a government ban on fire-crackers.

NOVEMBER

 MHA PUJA

Mha Puja is an annual ritual performed by the Newari people of Nepal to celebrate one’s essence and to cleanse and empower the soul. The day is also celebrated as Nepal Sambat or the Newari New Year.

The celebrations invoke prosperity and longevity for the participant. Mha Puja and Nepal Sambat are also celebrated abroad where Nepali people have settled.

 CHHAT PARVA

Chhath Parva, attracts thousands of pilgrims to the holy town of Janakpur in south-eastern Nepal. But it is celebrated all over Nepal including Kathmandu where people from the Terai gather along the banks of rivers especially Bagmati to worship. The goal they say is to achieve purity both physical and spiritual.

Devotees from Nepal and India throng the ancient city of Janakpur to worship at the famous Janaki Temple and take ritual baths in the rivers and ponds. It is a three-day festival with the first day spent in cleaning the kitchen and preparing for the fast.

On the second day, devotees fast from the morning and spend the day preparing their offerings of fruits, sweets and nuts etc. In the evening they gather at the banks of rivers and ponds to wait for the sun to set. They light lamps, sing songs and wade into the water to pray and make offerings to the fading sun. Lighted oil-wick lamps are set afloat on the river and it is a beautiful sight to behold.

After the sun goes down the devotees return home. The worshippers are almost exclusively women with most men just watching. The ritual is repeated the next morning at dawn when they wait for the sun to rise. As the sun comes up over the horizon there is euphoria and devotees scramble to offer prayers, holy water, fruits, coconuts and sacred threads.

The ritual is also to ask the sun for protection from skin diseases. When it is over the offerings are distributed and the women break their fast.

 DECEMBER

YOMARI PUNHI

Yomari Punhi is a harvest festival celebrated by the Newari people. The festival gets its name from Yomari, fresh-harvest rice sweetmeat, prepared especially during the festival and enjoyed by all.

People of the Kathmandu Valley offer worship to Annapurna, the Goddess of Grains, for the rice harvest on this full moon day. According to the legends Suchandra and Krita, a married couple, first experimented with fresh yield of rice from their field at present day Panauti in ancient times. And what took shape turned out to be known as Yomari.

Fresh Yomari, a rice sweetmeat, filled with molasses and sesame seed, enjoyed by Newars of Kathmandu valley during Yomari Punhi, a harvest festival.

The new delicacy was eventually distributed among the villagers. As the food was liked by all, the bread was named Yomari, which literally means ‘tasty bread’ in Newari language. Yomari is a sweetmeat of rice-flour (from the new harvest) dough, shaped like fig and filled with molasses and sesame seeds, which is then steamed.

This delicacy is the chief item on the menu during the post-harvest celebration of Yomari Punhi. Groups of kids go to the neighborhood to requesting for Yomari cakes from housewives in the evening. Sacred masked dances are performed in the villages of Harisiddhi and Thecho at the southern end of the valley to mark the festival.

TAMU LHOSAR

Abiding the lunar calendar Tamang, Magar, Gurung and other Himalayan communities of Nepal celebrate Tamu Lhosar as their New Year during the month of December. Monasteries are attractively adorned with colorful decorative items. People take blessings from monks for their progress, prosperity and happiness. Each home raises a flag on top of its roof. A party is organized at home and invitations are forwarded to relatives and friends. Delicious food, music and dance become the essence of party. Greetings and gifts are exchanged.