Festivals in Nepal begin with religion, ending as social event. There are more than 50 major festivals in a year celebrated by Nepalese. Although most of these festivals are religious some have historical significance, while others are seasonal and legendary celebrations.
The dates of most festivals are fixed by famous astrologers after consulting the lunar calendar. The biggest and most popular festivals are: Dashain, a celebration of Goddess Durga victory over evil Mahisashur; and Tihar, a celebration of lights dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi.
It is not hard to catch colorful processions in different streets of the Valley almost every other day of the week. Cultural acts of dances and songs are integral parts of some celebrations while some celebrations are just quiet family gatherings. Grand celebrations like Ghode Jatra and Gai Jatra entertain participantsand spectators every year.
List of Festivals Celebrated in Nepal ( 2016 – 2017)
|Festivals Name||Nepalese Calendar (2073)||English Calendar (2016 – 2017)|
|Ram Nawami||Chaitra 14, 2071||28th March, 2015|
|Bisket Jatra||Baisakh 1, 2072||14th April, 2015|
|Navavarsha (Nepali New Year)||Baisakh 1, 2072||14th April, 2015|
|Mata Tirtha Aaushi (Mother’s day)||Baisakh 5, 2072||Baisakh 5, 2072|
|Red Machhendranath Rath Jatra||Baisakh 9, 2072||22th April, 2015|
|Buddha Jayanti||Baisakh 21, 2072||4th May, 2015|
|The Teechi||Jestha 1- 3, 2072||15th – 17th May, 2015|
|Dumji||Jestha 17 – 19, 2072||31st May – 2nd June, 2015|
|Harishyani Akadashi||Shrawan 11,2072||27th June, 2014|
|Guru Purnima||Shrawan 15, 2072||31st July, 2015|
|Ghantakarna Chaturdashi||Shrawan 27, 2072||12th August, 2015|
|Gunla Festival Nepal||Shrawan 30, 2072||15th August, 2015|
|Naag Panchami||Bhadra 2, 2072||19th August, 2015|
|Janai Purnima & Raksha Bandhan||Bhadra 12, 2072||29th August, 2015|
|Gai Jatra||Bhadra 13, 2072||30th August, 2015|
|Krishna Janmastami||Bhadra 19, 2072||5th September, 2015|
|Gokarna Aunsi (Father’s day)||Bhadra 27, 2072||13th September, 2015|
|Teej||Bhadra 30, 2072||16th September, 2015|
|Rishi Panchami||Ashoj 1, 2072||18th September, 2015|
|Indra Jatra||Ashoj 10, 2072||27th September , 2015|
|Dashain (Vijaya Dashami)||Kartik 3 – 5, 2072||20th – 22nd October 2015|
|Mani Rimdu||Kartik 8 – 10, 2072||25th – 27th October, 2015|
|Tihar||Kartik 25 – 27, 2072||11th – 13th November, 2015|
|Haribodhini Ekadashi||Mangshir 6, 2072||22nd November, 2015|
|Bala Chatur Dashi||Mangshir 24, 2072||10th December, 2015|
|Vibhaha Panchami||Poush 1, 2072||16th December, 2015|
|Yomari Punhi||Poush 10, 2072||25th December, 2015|
|Maghe Sankranti||Magh 1, 2072||15th January, 2016|
|Sweta Machhendranath Snan||Magh 3, 2072||17th January, 2016|
|Poush Sukla Purnima (Swasthani)||Magh 9, 2072||23rd January, 2016|
|Lhosar (Tibetan New Year)||Magh 26, 2072||9th February, 2016|
|Shree Panchami or Saraswati Puja||Falgun 1, 2072||13th February, 2016|
|Shree Swasthani Purnima End||Falgun 10, 2072||22nd February, 2016|
|Shivaratri||Falgun 24, 2072||7th March, 2016|
|Fagu Purnima (Holi)||Chaitra 9, 2072||22nd March, 2016|
|Ghode Jatra||Chaitra 25, 2072||7th April, 2016|
Maghe Sankranti is the beginning of the holy month of Magh, usually the mid of January. It brings an end to the ill-omened month of Poush (mid-December) when all religious ceremonies are forbidden. Even if it is considered the coldest day of the year, it marks the coming of warmer weather and better days of health and fortune.
This day is said to be the most significant day for holy bathing despite the weather. This ritual usually takes place at the union of sacred rivers and streams. Sankhamole, on the banks of the holy Bagmati River, below Patan, is thought to be amongst the most sacred sites for this purpose, though there has been a decline in the fulfillment of this ritual in the recent years due to water pollution in the river. But people still go in the wee hours of dawn just to sprinkle themselves with the water. They pay homage to various deities specially the temple of Red Machhendranath and Agnimata.
In addition to holy bathing and worship of shrines, certain auspicious foods like till laddoos (sea same seeds ball cakes), chaku (molasys), ghee (clarified butter), sweet potatoes, khichari (mixture of rice and lentils) and green leaf spinach are taken on this day. Families come together and share these delights. Married daughters and families are invited to parental homes for festivities and blessings. Yet another occasion to renew family ties. Many homes have pujas (religious ceremonies) conducted by priests with chanting from holy books, for which they receive alms.
Like any other holy celebration Maghi Sankranti also has a legend of its own. It recalls that once a merchant from the town of Bhadgoan despite of his thriving business noticed that his supply of sea same seeds hadn’t diminished. When looking into the matter he found an idol of the Lord Vishnu hidden deep beneath the seeds. Since, then on this day the Til Mahadev idol is worshipped with the belief that god will continue to be generous in the supply of food and wealth on the Bhadgoan community. It’s also the day commemorating the death of Viswapitamaha, the elderly grandfather of two families of Pandavas and Kauravas, between whom the famous battle of Mahabharata took place. He was determined not to die until the way to the region of gods opened. While lying on the bed of arrows he discovered words of wisdom on life and death. Eventually, through his free will he succumbed to death. Hence it’s believed that those who die on this day go to heaven, released from the burden of rebirth. Maghi Sankranti is yet another occasion which renews the faith of Nepalese people in the heavenly powers. Saraswati Puja or Shree Panchami is a day to celebrate the birthday of Saraswati – the Goddess of Learning. 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 falls between January/February which 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. This is the New Year of the Tibetans and Sherpa of Nepal which falls in the month of January, February. The Buddhist monasteries in Kathmandu like Boudhanath and Swayambhunath are decorated with eye catching colorful prayer flags pulling the crowd. The people perform their traditional dances and welcome their New Year with feasts and family gatherings wearing all the new clothes and finest jewelries and exchanging gifts. These dances can also be seen in Khumbu, Helambu and other northern regions on Nepal. Shivaratri or the night of Lord Shiva that falls sometime between February/March is one of the major festivals of Nepal. This day is dedicated to the Lord of the Lords – Lord Shiva or Mahadev ho lived in Mt. Kailash in the Himalayas. Lord Shiva is the most worshipped God in the Hindu religion. More than 100,000 of Hindu devotees from India and Southeast Asia throng weeks ahead of the festival and gather in and around Pashupatinath temple – one of the holiest shrines of the Hindus in Kathmandu to pay their homage to Lord Shiva on his birthday. “Pashupatinath” literally means “the Lord of animals” as Lord Shiva is considered as the guardian and protector of everything that exists in the Nepal. On this holy day, worshippers take dip and bath in the holy river at early dawn and fast for the whole day and stay around fire to keep them warm as it is still winter in Nepal. In the afternoon an official function is held to celebrate this festival at Tundikhel. The Nepal Army organises a show in which series of gun fire are sounded. The devotees also freely indulge in using marijuana and other intoxicating substances as these things are believed to please Lord Shiva and marijuana use is legal only on this sacred day. This festival of water and colors that falls between February/March is also known as “Fagu” in Nepal. This day is observed to rejoice the extermination of female demon Holika who together with her King Brother conspired to kill his son Pralhad, an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. This day, playful people especially the young ones wander through the streets in groups on foot or vehicles with various colors smeared all over them and the people in houses make merry throwing colors and water balloons at each other and also to these people on the streets. The Sweta (or white) Machhendranath festival takes place during a week each January. The image of Sweta Machhendranath is bathed, oiled, perfumed and painted. The living goddess Kumari visits him at his elaborate temple near Ason Tol.
If Sweta Machhendranath is pleased by the music, offerings and attentions paid by his devotees, the people of the Kathmandu Valley can look forward to satisfactory rainfall during the planting season. This horse racing festival takes place between March/April and a grand horse parade takes place at Tundikhel. Although this festival does not have much of religious aspects, a large number of people, even from outside Kathmandu flock around Kathmandu to witness the horse race and other exciting sports activities performed by the Army.
Legends relate that this horse festival was begun after the Kathmandu people buried a demon under the soil of Tudikhel show grounds. They say that he may rise again and cause worry to the world if horses do not trample him on each year. So, every spring, this victory over evil is celebrated in the valley by organizing palanquin process and a fantastic display of show jumping, motorcycling feats and gymnastics. Also known as small Dasain, in contrast with big Dasain in the month of Kartik, this Festival is celebrated on the eighth day of the lunar month of Chaitra and takes place exactly six month prior to the main Dasain. Goddess Durga is worshipped on this day.
The Chaitie Dasain festival also is the time to start Seto (White) Machhendra Nath Chariot festival. The festival starts with removing the image from the Temple at Kel tole and placing it on a towering wooden chariot or Rath. For the next four evenings the chariot proceeds from one historic location to another location, eventually arriving at Lagan tole in the south of Kathmandu- the place of mother of Machhendra Nath.
There the image is taken down from chariot and carried back to its starting point in palanquin. Ram Nawami is celebrated as Lord Ram’s Birthday and festival to worship Lord Ram. It is celebrated with much pomp at Janaki temple in Janakpur city, which lies in southern Nepal. Huge processions of elephants, bullock carts and sometimes up to 100,000 pilgrims go through the city, dancing and singing the lord’s praises. In Kathmandu many people go to the temples to pay homage to Ram, while symposiums are held to exalt the ideal life he lived. In Bhaktapur, the neighboring town of Kathmandu, the people go to the banks of the river Hanumante, where a temple bearing the idols of Ram and his loyal servant Hanuman is situated. Thus, Ram Nawami is celebrated throughout the great fanfare. Nepal has its official calendar that begins from the first day of the first month Baishak. It is known as “Navavarsha” in Nepal. This very first day is observed as Nepali New Year which usually falls in the first/second week of April. People go for picnics, have get-togethers and celebrate the day socializing in various ways as this day is also a national holiday. “Bisyau” jatra meaning the festival celebrated in the memory of slaying of serpents. In the passage of time the term changed from ‘Bisyau’ to Bisket jatra. The festival is celebrated at Bhaktapur, a medieval town from 12th century, still maintained in the same manner and only 13km East of Kathmandu.
Since the Bisket begins in the last days of the Nepalese year and ends in the beginning days of the New Year it is regarded as the New year festival as well. During the seven days of the festival chariots of God. Bhairava and Goddess Bhadrakali are pulled with lot of merriment within the town limits. At a place called Lyasinkhel a lyasin or a tall pole is erected with two long embroidered cloths hanging from it. These cloths represent two evil serpents who in the past had troubled the royal family by mysteriouly killing every suitor to the princess at night. Ultimately a brave prince with the blessings of Goddess Bhadrakali came along and killed them even as they appeared from the nostrils of the sleeping princess and began to enlarge themselves. Thus, to show the townspeople the cause of previuos suitors’ death they were hung from the pole and at present the cloths represent them.