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Festivals of Nepal : A festival is always a meaningful event in Nepal where the people find more joy in participation than just watching. In Nepal, every festival has some purpose to serve; such as to bring the rain or have good harvest, to honor a mother or father, to avert calamities or to nourish one’s soul with something spiritual.
In fact, festivals are the best way to understand and appreciate the Nepalese way of life.
Naya Versa or the Nepalese New Year is celebrated every year with great enthusiasm. This great day according to the officially recognized Vikrama Era falls on the first day of the month the Nepalese year (Baishak) that corresponds to mid April around. As elsewhere, the New Year is observed by exchange of greetings, singing and dancing.
For the people in Bhaktapur however it is more that this. They celebrate this occasion for one full week. Various Hindu gods and goddesses are worshiped with animal sacrifices. Friends are invited. Thus they laze themselves in a very relaxing festive mood.
MATRI AUNCY (MOTHER’S DAY):
Matri Auncy is a mother’s day in Nepal. The Nepalese on this day treat their mothers with all the best delicacies and gift they can afford and the mothers in return bless with al the best wishes. But those whose mothers have departed they visit Matatirtha about 8-k.m southwest of Kathmandu where they pray for the peace of their departed mothers. A visit to Matatirtha this day is a real worth.
RATO MACHHENDRA RATH JATRA:
This festival observed every year in honour of Lord Machhendranath very popular rain god of Nepal.
The festival begins sometime in mid – April at Patan Pulchok and continues for a month. It is believe the festival was introduced by King Narendra Deva way back in 9th century A.D circa.
The main highlight of the festival is the ceremonial pulling of a huge four-wheel festival chariot of Rato Machhendra around the city of Patan. The procession is meant to symbolize the annual visit of the Lord to the earth to see how his devotees are doing for their livelihood. There are altogether four destination points where the chariot halts for the overnight stay at each point.
The last day celebration of this festival is marked with the ceremonial display of his jewel studded legendary vest at Jawalakhel. Usually the event is graced by no less a personality than the HM King himself.
The full moon day of Baishak is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Buddha the apostle peace. The unique thing about the life history is Buddha is that he was born on the full moon day, got enlightened on full moon day and expired on the full moon day. This great day is known as triple blessed day in the Buddhist world. Lord Buddha, the light of love and peace for all on the earth was born at Lumbini in Nepal about 260 km Southwest of Kathmandu. This holy site attracts thousands of pilgrims on this day.
Celebration of this occasion in Kathmandu valley is quite unique. Devotees in Patan carrying the life size statue of Buddha accompanied by various musical bands go around the city. The devotees at Buddha in Kathmandu with the gorgeous golden statue of Buddha mounted on the elephant back make a very impressive street show.
The butter lamps lit up in thousands in and around the beautifully decorated Swayambhu Nath and Bodh Nath stupas is quite something to see. Apart this many monasteries near Buddha also display big thangkas and rare curio treasures on this day to mark this occasion.
SETO MACHHENDRA RATH JATRA:
The festival is held every year in honour of Seto Machhendra, the Buddhist god compassion and love.
The main highlight of this festival is the man drawn festival chariot of Seto (White) Machhendra, which starts form Tindhara Pathshala in Kathmandu- attracting thousand of on lookers.
The closing of this four day long festival is marked with the performance of various traditional rites and ceremonies when the chariot arrives at lagan Tole- the last destination point after having completed its ritual round in the city.
Kathmanduties celebrate this occasion with a lavish feast and family members around.
Sithi is a very old festival associated with Kumara, the fix headed god of extra sensory perception and power.
The Nepalese people observe this occasion by offering various ritual foods in which the traditional pancakes called “o” feature predominantly.
A very old custom requires the Nepalese to clean up their community ponds and wells on this day speaks a lot about the significance environment and water concern of ancient people.
Guru Purnima is a teacher’s day in Nepal. A very old Hindu tradition worships Lord Shiva on this day as the greatest Guru.
Devout Hindus know him by his symbolic name Dakhin Moorti. Many on this day pay a courtesy visit to their respective gurus and exchange greetings to mark this occasion.
This festival is observed every year sometime is early August to rate the death of a most dreaded legendary demon called ‘ Ghantakarna’.
Legend says once this demon terrorized the entire country by devouring children and destroying many family houses – until the local populace with the help of a little frog empowered by Vishnu, the Hindu god of protection put him to death.
To remind people of this event the children on this day display an effigy of Ghantakarna at various crossroads and collect tolls from passersby which they spend to put up a big make belief funeral show of demon.
In the evening enthusiastic young boys drag the effigy of the demon down the river and throw it away. They celebrate this occasion with a big feast in the family.
Gunla is the holy Buddhist month with falls sometime in the middle of monsoon.
The central venues for the entire Gunla activities is Swayambhu Stupa the most important place of Buddhist worship where devotees early in the morning accompanied by various traditional music hands throng to pay tribute to Lord Buddha for one full month last day of this holy month is celebrated with a big community prayer and feast.
Nagpanchami is a snake’s day in Nepal. The Nepalese people on this day paste the poster of a snake or naga in a semi human form above the main entrance of their houses and worship it with the cow milk sweets and flowers.
Snakes are generally regarded as water spirits in Nepal. Performance of this ritual is believed to protect the worshippers from the fear of flood and other water related troubles for the whole year to come and bring peace and prosperity home.
Many devotees on this day go to Taudaha, the legendary, lake home of naga king Karkotaka about 6.k.m.south of central Kathmandu to pay tribute to him. This day falls exactly on 5th day of bright fortnight of Bhadra (early August).
This is a big day for the entire Hindu community specifically for the Brahmins. Janai means a three stringed sacred thread neclace, the symbol of Hindu trinity worn by Brahmins and Chhetris and poornima means the full moon day. This is also the day for the Nepalese wear Raksya Bandhan. Many prefer their Brahmin priests to put it around their wrists with the chanting of mantra. The focal point of this festivity is the Kumbheswar temple in Patan. Quite a large number of devotees also go to Gosai Kunda a holy site about two days strenuous walk to the extreme northwest of Kathmandu.
Gaijatra generally means the festival of cows. The most interesting part of this week long festival is the procession of the typically costumed people representing the holy cows on the day to heaven. Cows in Hindu religion are regarded as the guides for the departed souls to heaven. So in Nepal, the bereaved families worship the cow on this day with the earnest hope that they would definitely lead their departed souls to heaven.
Another highlight of this festival is the free show of the street comedy clowns and comedians perform various humour shows in the street to entertain the audience. While doing so they take plenty of liberty to mimic and lampoon various social and political ills prevalent in the society.
Mataya is the Buddhist festival of lights, which is held sometime in late August every year. Its antiquity goes way back to the 11th century A. D.
The most interesting part of the festival is the procession of the devotees holding burning candles that goes around almost all the important Buddhist Shrines and sites scattered in the city of Patan.
Krishnastami – the birth anniversary of lord Krishna, the great epic of hero of the Mahabharat is a very important holiday for the entire Hindu community.
The focal point of this great day is the fames Krishna temple of Patan Durbar Square where thousand of devotees more women in their finest ceremonial red sari beeline to pay tribute to Lord Krishna on this day.
Another attraction of this festival is the fasting women’s group singing and dancing in and around the Patan Krishna temple. Quite a number of them spend the night offering ceremonial lamps.
Panchadan is the Buddhist festival of charity. The main feature of this festivity is the giving away of alms firstly to the Buddhist monks and then to beggars.
As a very old custom goes it Buddhists rich and poor both on this day in Patan visit many important Buddhist monasteries as well as the Buddhist family houses to collect alms where they are traditionally treated as the saints of Buddhist mission. The main venues for this tradition charity show in Patan are Kwabahal the famed golden temple to Buddha, Nagbahal, Ubahal and Bhinchhebahal and of course guito Bahee known for their devotion to the tradition customs and manners.
Gokarna Auncy is a father’s day. It falls on the moonless day of August.
Those with their fathers still alive treat their fathers on this day with as many dishes and gifts as they can afford and their fathers on this day with as many dishes and gifts as they can afford and their fathers in return bless them with all the best of everything they can wish for. But those whose fathers in return bless them with all the best of everything they can with for. But those whose fathers are dead visit Gokarna, a holy site to pay tribute to Lord Shiva pray for eternal peace of their departed fathers. Gokarna, only 6 km northeast of central Kathmandu attracts thousands of fatherless pilgrims on this day – where they give away various foods and gifts to the Brahmins in the name of their deceased fathers.
Teej is the three day long festival specially meant for women to observe. It falls sometime in mid September.
The first day celebration of Teej begins with Durkhaney-, which for women generally means to eat one’s choice food and prepare them for the tough fasting to Lord Shiva the following day.
Young women in sizeable groups on this day customed in their best ceremonial red sari go singing and dancing all the way to Pashupati Nath temple – the focal point of Teej celebration about 6km east to Kathmandu.
Fasting women on this day if they are married pray to Shiva the happy conjugal life and if unmarried pray for the best husbands they can wish for. They break this fast on the third day with the purification bath in the holy river.
Chatha –means the fourth day moon of August-considered as a day sacred to Ganesha, the elephant headed god of good luck. But it is a very bad day for the moon. A legend says – this is the day the moon lost his full light, which he used to enjoy every day before Ganesh cursed him.
The Nepalese celebrate this day offering various seasonal fruits and flowers to all-powerful Ganesha and pray for protection from unnecessary evils.
The word Indra means the Hindu rain god and Jatra means the festival. This weeklong festival officially begins with the raising of a huge 50 feet tall ceremonial pole at Hanuman Dokha Durbar Square in Kathmandu.
One of the main highlights of this festival is a weeklong traditional display of age-old images of Aakash Bhairavas (only their head portions though)- representing tantric forms of Indra at important city points of Kathmandu valley.
Another attraction of this festival is the ceremonial pulling of the festival chariot of Kumari the living goddess followed by the chariot of Ganesha and Bhairav two other living gods. Our king always attends this ceremony. To mark this occasion traditional dancers representing various divine spirits perform their legendary serials at Basantapur Square on this day.
Dashain is the biggest and most widely celebrated national festival of Nepal. The first day of Dashain begins with Ghatasthapana, which means the installation of a ceremonial holy water har. It usually falls on the first day of bright fortnight of Aswin (early October). The celebration will be only for three days 8th, 9th and 10th day.
The main deity to be worshipped during Dashain is Goddess Durga, the divine mother. On the 8th day several esoteric worship take place in the private family prayer rooms. On the 9th thousands of devotees pour into important Hindu Durga temples to worship.
On the 10-day at night Thamel in Kathmandu and Mangal Bazar in Patan some word wielding men designated as the soldiers of goddess Durga come out in the street with big band of tradition music. The red tika with bright yellow seedlings called jamara is a big ceremonial mark on this day, which symbolizes the victory over vice.
Tihar or Deepawali means the festival of lights. It is a five-day long festival celebrated every year in bright blue autumn.
This festival begins with the worship of cow, the massagers of Yamaraj; the second day is the dog’s day. The third day is a special day to worship Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. The fourth day in to worship one’s own soul, the symbolical of self-realization named “maaha puja”. The fifth day with a wide variety of fancy sweets, fresh fruits and flowers and treat with all the best dishes in return brothers exchange the good will and affection of their sisters with nice gifts in cash kinds. The entire city is illuminated with lights during the festival.