Nepal’s festivals are a testament to how diverse their spiritual beliefs are. According to a 2011 census, the majority of Nepalese are Hindus, while 10 percent are Buddhists. There is a sprinkling of Muslims, Christians, Kirats, Prakrities, Bons, Jains, Bahais, and Sikhs, too. Because of this diversity, the festivals in Nepal, many of which have deep religious significance, cross religious borders and traditions. Classes and work are usually suspended in the districts where these festivals are celebrated, and all Nepalese get to enjoy a day out in celebration, or for the non-denominational, use it as a day of rest.
Lately, Nepali festivals have taken a Western angle, with rave parties in Pokhara and in other areas. There is a debate in local sentiment on whether these should be stopped in order to uphold formal tradition. Whatever is the case, tourists will have to see in time if these continue. If you’re a traditionalist and would like to take a more historic route, here are a couple of festivals to watch out for when you’re planning your trip to Nepal:
1. Chhath Parva
Chhath Parva is also known as the Festival of the Sun. It is a day is dedicated to the Sun God, held every fourth day of October or November in the English calendar, in areas like Terai and Kathmandu. The festival actually lasts for four days and worshippers hold ceremonies during sunrise and sunset. It’s a colorful festival celebrated at the banks of rivers, the surface of which are heavily decorated with floating flowers, lights, and offerings. The devotion of believers is also heard through folk songs.
Each day of the four-day celebration is meant to symbolize the journey from being a sinner to being cleansed. On the first day, the devotees undergo a fast where they discard unclean foods, like meat, garlic, and onion. They go through the four days of the festival, without sleep and if they sustain the fast throughout the four days, the Sun God is said to grant the wishes of his faithful devotees. As part of this cleansing process, women submerge themselves in the waters of the riverbanks for two hours.
Chhath Parva Tours
Duration: 4 days
Contact: Tel: +977 1 4256909
Website: Chhath Parva Tours
Holi is known as the Festival of Colours. It’s also known as the Festival of Love. It has become one of the most well-known festivals of South Asia and has especially become popular for many Westerners and non-Hindus because it’s a great excuse to meet other people on the streets of Nepal. On the day of the festival itself, people smear each other with dye, water balloons and water guns, with paint. What makes it so fun is that there’s an easy acceptance that this is part of the festival. Every person on the street is considered fair game, man or woman, rich or poor, young or old.
There is a lot of symbolism attached to this festival. For one, it’s meant to symbolize good’s triumph over evil, signaled by the coming of spring when Holika, the sister of the Hindu demon king, Hiranyakashipu, was killed by fire. This is why on the night before the festival, traditionalists light a bonfire to expel evil. Music and drinking are, needless to say, an integral part of the celebration.
Duration: 1 Day
Contact: +977 1 4212737 / 4269197
Website: Holi Festival Tours
3.Tihar, Dipawali or Diwali
Tihar is the second biggest festival in Nepal, and it is also known as the Festival of Light. During this time, residents illuminate almost a hundred diyas or oil lamps inside and outside of their houses. Apart from this, they also create patterns outside of their homes called Rangolis which are meant to welcome Hindu gods and goddesses. During this time, animals are also revered, and the festival explores the sacred relationship between man and animal. This is shown extensively in the five-day celebration. On the first day, for instance, food is placed on the roofs so ravens and crows can feed on them. On the second day, dogs are given tikas, or marks on their foreheads, garlands, and food. On the third and fourth day, all reverence is focused on the cows and oxen, consecutively. The last day is meant to explore the relationship between brother and sister. The sister gives her brother a tika, and they spend the whole day together, eating sweets and delicious food.
Duration: 5 Days
Contact: +977 1 435 2145
Website: Tihar Festival Tours
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4.Dasai or Dashain
Dasai is the longest and most sacred festival in Nepal with the celebration lasting for fifteen days. During this time, schools, offices, and government institutions are officially closed to focus on the festival. There are slight variations on how it’s celebrated in the northern and southern regions of Nepal, however, all usually focus on the relationship with the family and the sense of community. Like Holi, this festival is meant to symbolize good’s triumph over evil when Durga killed the demon, Mahishasura. A thousand animal sacrifices are also laid out in the temples in order to appease the gods, and as part of the feast for the family. It’s a highly-important festival for everyone.
For those with Western sentiments, or for anyone who isn’t used to the slaughter of animals by knife, you might want to steer away from the temples during this time. It is an important part of the Nepalese culture to do this, with many saving up for animals like pigs, buffalos, and birds throughout the year, just to put up an offering.
Duration: 15 Days
Contact: +977 9 84 198 6923
Website: Dashain Festival Tours
5. Buddha Jayanti
Buddha Jayanti mainly affects the Buddhist population of Nepal, which is around 10 percent of the population. The day is meant to celebrate the birthday of Siddhartha Gautama, or the Buddha. Unbeknownst to many, Buddha was born in the hinterlands between the border of northern India and Nepal. Lumbini, in particular, in the forest part of Nepal has been cited by UNESCO as the birthplace of Buddha. While it isn’t the predominant religion of Nepal, the government always makes it a national and public holiday. Offerings are made in temples all over Nepal which include rice, coins, and butter lamps.
Buddha Jayanti Festival
Duration: 1 Day
Contact: +977 01 4411570
Website: Buddha Jayanti Tours
Discover ancient values
The festivals of Nepal are deeply rooted in their people’s belief systems. While modernity may have changed some of the dynamics throughout the years, there’s no question that the essential values remain - nothing more important, perhaps, than the celebration of hope as every new year goes by.
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