Famous for its diverse ethnic groups, distinct culture, colorful and vibrant festivals, Nepal has a plethora of festivals celebrated within and all over the country. The festivals in Nepal have unique mythological evidence and impressive festivities that have been carried out for centuries.
Nepalese people celebrate as many festivals as there are days in a year. These festivals are linked with the memory of the departed soul, to herald a different season, to mark the beginning or end of the agricultural cycle, to mark national events or for family celebrations. The festival has a unique story to tell, woven intricately into the fabric of Nepali culture, revealing the country’s deep connection to its history and spiritual beliefs.
Travelling to Nepal during the festive season, can bring you fulfilling experiences of Nepali customs and traditions that stand fascinating and worth the exploration
Dashain is the biggest and longest annual festival in Nepal. Lasting for 15 days, it is held to celebrate the victory of the goddess Durgar over the evil.
The festivities of Dashain in Nepal begin with Shukla Paksh (bright lunar fortnight) and ends with the full moon day between months September or October. Families unite, markets fill with shoppers purchasing gifts, clothes to celebrate the Dashain Festival.
Animals such as goats, sheep, buffalos, chicken, ducks are prepared for slaughter as an offering to the deity. Most business organisations and firms remain shut for the duration of the festival. The entire country gathers to celebrate with their family and friends the festival of Dashain in Nepal.
The main celebration of Dashain spans for ten days. The most important of them remains the first, seventh, eighth, ninth and the tenth day. The former nine days are observed as Navratri, of which, the eight-day is dedicated as Maha Ashtami.
The tenth day is the most important of all; where the various avatars of goddess Shakti are worshipped throughout Nepal.
Tihar is a Hindu festival dedicated to many Hindu gods and goddesses, including Laxmi, Yamaraj and Yamuna.
Famous for the colorful festive lights, it falls between late October and early November, lasting for five days. The Tihar Festival is celebrated to honor and thank the contributions of the Gods, animals and the people and reminds one of the surroundings and all its beings that enrich our lives.
Along with worship of Goddess Laxmi, on the first two days people worship crows and dogs, cows on the third day and oxen on the fourth day. The 5th day is celebrated with Bhai tika- where sisters put tika on the forehead of their brothers praying for their long life. The Newar community celebrates Mha puja on the fourth day as well.
To sum up, Day one of the Tihar Festival (known as the crow festival). Day two of the Tihar Festival (known as the dog festival). Day three of the Tihar Festival (known as the cow festival). Day four of the Tihar Festival (Newari New Year). Day five of the Tihar Festival (younger brothers blessing).
Holi is also known as Falgun Purnima. This festival celebrates the death of the demon Holika. It is famous in the terai and the hilly regions of Nepal but people celebrate it on two different days; first in the hilly area and the Terai region the following day. People throw coloured powders, coloured water and water balloons on their friends, relatives and acquaintances.
It marks the end of winter and the coming of spring. It begins on the evening of the Purnima (Full Moon Day), which happens in the Lunar calendar month of Phalguna ( Falgun), which corresponds to the middle of March in the Gregorian calendar. It lasts for a night and a day and is also called Fagu-purnima. It is a day of fun and festivity.
The Gai Jatra festival is a festival mainly celebrated by the large Newar community in the Kathmandu Valley and in part of Western Nepal. It commemorates the deceased family members. It is believed that cows bring the souls of the deceased to the Gate of Heaven.
During the Gai Jatra festival processions are organized. Participants are disguised as cows and perform the traditional dance of Ghintang Gisi Twakka. The ancient tradition survived and the Newari people still observe Gai Jatra to this day to honor their deceased relatives.
King Pratap Malla began this festival to make his queen come out of the mournful condition due to their son’s death. Every year, around August-September, people take participate in this festival, from the house that have lost their family members. People disguise (especially kids) in odd form and walk around the city.
Teej is the biggest festival for Hindu women in Nepal, encompassing a multiple day festival. The Teej festival is observed by women and girls and dedicated to the Goddess Parvati in remembrance of her union with Lord Shiva. The festival is celebrated through songs, dancing, prayer rituals, and fasting.
Traditionally, it has huge significance for married women, who visit their maternal homes and feast on traditional meals called Dar. The celebration is a 3-day long festival where on the 1st day, the women enjoy the “Dar” Khana before starting fast. The second day marks keeping fast for the long lives of husbands and the unmarried girls pray for good husbands. The third day marks worshipping Goddess Parvati and breaking fast with Chokho, Karkalo ki Tarkari made in pure ghee.
On the occasion of Teej, women wear red sarees, tika, bangles, and sing and dance for days. While fasting, married women pray to Lord Shiva for their husband’s longevity and prosperity, whereas unmarried women pray to attain a good husband and marital bliss. Many women go to Pashupatinath on Teej to offer their prayers; it is a sight to behold with so many women dancing merrily. The fascinating thing is to see women of all age groups come together, young and old, dance for hours in the heat, rain without a drop of water or food for an entire day.
It is an eight-day-long Jatra festival that falls in September. This festival also marks the beginning of a month-long festival season of autumn. It is celebrated to commemorate the time when Indra came down to earth; as per Hindu mythology, Indra is the King of Heaven.
Indra Jatra is one of the most exciting and revered festivals of the Newar community of the Kathmandu Valley. The Jatra begins with the erection of a wooden pole made of pine at Basantapur Square in front of the old Hanuman Dhoka Palace. Further, the chariot of Living Goddess Kumari is taken out for procession on the street of Kathmandu. Thousands of spectators gather to see the joyful procession led by masked dancers known as Lakhey.
Also known as Yenya festival, the Indra Jatra is primarily to pray for good harvest in the coming years. Every Nepali household display images and sculptures of Akash Bhairab and family member consume raksi, the traditional Nepali liquor. Indra Jatra is known for masked dances of demon, devils, and display of images of gods and goddesses. Sawa Bhakku, Majipa Lakhey and Devi Pykhan are various forms of demon masked dance seen during Indra Jatra.
Saraswati Puja or Basanta Panchami or Shri Panchami is a special day to worship the goddess of knowledge Saraswati. It is observed on the panchami date of Magh Shukla Paksha.
This is a day when people from school students to scholars worship their pens and books to please the Goddess and expect her favor in their studies so they become wise and knowledgeable. People also throng around the idol of Goddess Saraswati, especially in Swayambhunath and offer flowers, sweets, fruits, etc. On this day, small children are taught to read and write and people write on the stones and slabs with chalks and pencils. This day which falls between January/February is regarded as a very auspicious day for marriages too as it is believed that Goddess Saraswati herself blesses the couples. Normally it is the astrologers who fix the marriage date and time in Nepal.
Loshar is one of the popular festivals in Nepal which is celebrated by many Buddhist communities from mountainous regions like Sherpa, Gurung and Tamang. The term ‘Losar’ is coined by two words. One is ‘Lo’ meaning of year and another is ‘Sar’ meaning have new. The etymological meaning of Loshar is New Year.
There are three kinds of Loshar.
The new year of Sherpa people is Gyalpo Loshar. This New Year is similar to the New Year observed in many Asian countries like Tibet, Japan, Mongolia, and China. The Tibetan calendar is made up off twelve Lunar months and Loshar begins on the first day of first month. Gyalpo Loshar is the celebration of Tibetan New Year. This festival is celebrated almost one week but three days are most important. In the first day, they drink Chhang which is Tibetan beer. In the second day is the day of New Year. In the third day all people becoming together sung, dance and having feasts.
During this festival Mantras are chanted which represent the struggle between demon and god performed in the monasteries. They wear new dress; houses and roads are clean, having new hope and aspiration. They cook the special soup made from meat, rice, cheese, potatoes, green pepper and radish. In this New Year they visit monastery, ready holy book, chant mantras and gifts to the monk.
Maha Shivaratri is one of the major festivals of Nepal and literally means “Night of the 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.
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.
It is almost the last festival in Nepali calendar year. After this festival, we have a new year ahead within few days.
Chaite Dashain falls generally in the final month, Chaitra, of Bikram Sambat calendar. It is known as Chaite Dashain or Small Dashain. The big Dashain falls in autumn.
This festival has two days of celebration. First day is Ram Navami (The birth day of Lord RamChandra) and second day is Dashami. Some part of Nepal and India, Chaite Dashain is called Chaitra Navaratri. Chaite Dashain is celebration of the victory of good over evil.
Bisket Jatra celebration is the "festival after the death of the serpent". Biska Jatra, is an annual festival in Bhaktapur, Dhapasi, Madhyapur Thimi and Tokha and other places in Nepal. The festival is celebrated at the start of the new year on the Bikram Sambat calendar, however, the festival itself is not related to Bikram Sambat.
People welcome Basanta, or spring, through this Jatra, which is held in mid-April. Biska Jatra is the largest jatra celebrated in Bhaktapur. It is celebrated for eight nights and nine days, thus, is also known as the Chyacha Gunhuya Jatra, which translates to “eight-night and nine-day jatra.”
One of the legends about the Bisket Jatra festival is about a snake princess. During the Malla dynasty a king heard about the princess of Bhaktapur. Whomever married the princess was found dead the next morning. Many young men died until one young man volunteered to marry the princess.
Goddess Bhadrakali gave him the advice to stay awake and so he did. When the princess fell asleep he saw two poisonous serpents that came out of her nose. With his sword he killed the serpents. From now on the princess was free from the serpent curse and the king of Bhaktapur celebrated this occasion as Bisket Jatra.
Naag Panchami is a festival mainly celebrated and observed by Hindus of Nepal, India and other countries where Hindu live. Naags refers to the snakes whereas Panchami refers to the fifth day after Amavasya (no-moon day). On this day, snakes (especially Cobras) are worshiped with the offering of milk for the sake of good health, wealth and blessing in our life.
In Nepal, people also celebrate this festival by pasting the picture and painting of snake and serpent deity on the top of the door with cow dung. It is believed that it will protect the home from the evil spirits. People also believe Naags are the cause of rain. So, this festival also symbolizes the beginning of raining season.
The Mani Rimdu celebration, which lasts nine days, is the most important event for the Sherpa people in the Everest area. The etymological meaning of Mani is a chanting component of Chenrezig, while Rimdu represents an auspicious red remedy. The celebration takes place during the 10th lunar month of the Tibetan calendar, which falls between October and November in English. Because October and November are the greatest hiking months in the Everest region, hundreds of trekkers from all over the world visit this location. During the Mani Rimdu festival, people rejoice and meditate.
Similarly, the Tengbuche Monastery in the Everest area, which is the major path of the Everest Base Camp Trekking or the last destination of the Everest Panorama Trekking, celebrates the Mani Rimdu festival. Buddhist monks and Sherpa people create a sand mandala diagram with sand gathered from a specific hill. After the Mandala has been colored in four days, the spectacular ceremonies will take another ten days. People dance and enjoy the festival, and monks put on exhibitions to ward off bad powers in the world. The event concludes with an unique blessing ritual performed by Tengboche Rinpoche, followed by masked dances by monks. The celebration concludes with the defeat of evil powers and the restoration of peace and prosperity.
The Mani Rimdu festival has boosted the number of trekkers and climbers in the Everest area. This monastery is popular with hikers from the Gokyo Valley. Trekking tours to the Mani Rimdu festival are also planned on specific occasions.