Religion and Festivals
Religion & Festivals of Nepal
Religion is the lifeblood of the Nepalese, defining art, culture, social position and the ritual of daily life. Religion in Nepal comprises a net of magical, mystical and spiritual beliefs with a multitude of gods reflecting the diverse facets of Nepalese life.
Hinduism’s routes go back over 2000 years to the time when the Aryan invaders met India’s Indus Valley civilization. Belief in natural forces, fertility and mother goddesses joined the caste system and the sacred book of the Vedas to form the foundation of Hindu beliefs, as much a social system as a religion.
The ultimate source of creation is the supreme and formless Brahman who manifests in infinite forms. The three main aspects, depicting three main forces of the universe, are Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the transformer and destroyer. Each of these has innumerable manifestations; there are as many gods as there are facets of human nature, which is, in fact, what they represent.
In Nepal majority of people identify as Hindu, however, Buddhist influences are pervasive in most aspects of Nepali culture to an extent that Buddhist and Hindu temples are shared places of worship for peoples of both faith so that, unlike, in other countries, the distinction between Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal is not always clear. During the reign of King Aṃśuvarman Nepalese princess Bhrikuti played a significant role in spreading and developing Buddhism in Tibet and the Far East. Tibetan Buddhist architecture has long been influenced by Nepalese artists and sculptors like Araniko. The sacred Buddhist texts in Mahayana Buddhism are mainly written in Ranjana script (the script of Newars) or scripts like Lantsa which are derived from Ranjana.
Protestant Christians came to Nepal primarily through the Nepalese who were living outside of Nepal during and prior to the Rana Regime. After the collapse of Ranas rule in Nepal in 1950, Nepali Christians living in India came in, along with some western missionaries. United Mission to Nepal, International Nepal Fellowship and others are a few earliest western mission agencies that came in and brought Christianity. According to the government data, Protestantism accounts for about 0.45% of the population, but the unofficial number of Christians, including Catholics is between 700,000 to a million.
Nepali Muslims, while they are mainly Sunni, constitute a heterogeneous group. Their ancestors arrived in Nepal from different parts of South Asia and Tibet during different epochs, and have since lived amidst the numerically dominant Hindus. About 97% of the Muslim community lives in the Terai region, while the other 3% are found mainly in the city of Kathmandu and the western hills.
As Nepal is multi-cultural multi linguistic and multi religious country there are other several religious exist with their own cultural value. Religious environment in Nepal is very peaceful and harmonious.
Festivals in Nepal
Nepal is not only the land of mountains: it is also the land and multi – culture of festivals. There are more than 100 festivals celebrated in Nepal every year by multi – culture people. While the national festivals have fixed dates, religious festivals are set by astrologers following the lunar calendar. The best part about the festivals in Nepal is that all the events are celebrated with the same enthusiasm and galore the way it used to be hundreds of years ago when people had no other means of entertainment .Here are the most famous popular festival of Nepal.
Dashain Festivals in Nepal
During the month of Aasbin or Kartik (late September and early October), the Nepalese people indulge in the biggest festival of the year, Dashain. Dashain is the longest and the most auspicious festival in the Nepal and Nepalese annual calendar, celebrated by Nepalese of all caste and creed throughout the country. The fifteen days of celebration occurs during the bright lunar fortnight ending on the day of the full moon. Thorough out the kingdom of Nepal the goddess Durga in all her manifestations are worshiped with innumerable pujas, abundant offerings and thousands of animal sacrifices for the ritual holy bathing, thus drenching the goddess for days in blood.
Tihar (Deepawali) Festival in Nepal
This festival of lights that falls between October/November is the second biggest mostly Hindhu’s festival after Dashain. This festival lasts for five days and people worship Laxmi – the Goddess of Wealth. All the houses are cleaned and decorated with the belief that Goddess Laxmi will enter the house that is the cleanest and people lit candles, oil lamps and other lights and the whole place looks illuminating. During the five days, crows, dogs and cows are worshipped and honored with vermilion, garland and delicious food for what they have done in the lives of humans.
Crows are regarded as the messenger that brought news even during the times when there were no postmen and no postal services. Dogs are the most obedient animals and they guard our house as true guardians. Cow is also a symbol of wealth in Hinduism and she is also the national animal of Nepal. During Tihar, the Newari community in Nepal also observes Mha puja – a ritual of worshipping one’s own body and life. On this very day, the Newari New Year which is also known as Nepal Sambat begins. The festival ends with Bhai Tika – brothers’ day when his sisters worship him for his long and healthy life to safeguard the lives of his sisters. This is also a gambling time in Nepal as gambling is not illegal during this festival.
Maha Shivaratri: Great night of Lord Shiva
Among numerous festivals of Nepal, Maha Shivaratrai is worthy to note in the cultural aspect of Nepal, which is to be celebrated on Feb./March.There are many festivals held in honor of the Hindu God Shiva every year, but the most important is Maha Shivaratri, the Great Night of Lord Shiva. Hindu devotees on this night throng Shiva shrines everywhere, but the grandest of all activities revolve around Pashupatinath temple located on the banks of the sacred Bagmati River about three kilometres east of downtown Kathmandu. This all-night vigil and the exciting crowded festival days before and after attract thousands of people from India and Nepal.
Pashupatinath temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva in the form of Pashupati, Lord of the Animals, who protect and care for all men. It is said that Lord Shiva once roamed as a deer in the forest behind Pashupatinath.
Lhosar (Tibetan New Year):
This is the New Year of the Tibetans and Sherpas of Nepal which falls in 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.
This festival of water and colors that falls between February/March is also known as “Phagu” 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.
Buddha’s birth anniversary is celebrated every year during May in Nepal. On this day people swarm in Swayambhunath and Boudhanath to pay homage to Lord Buddha and also visit Buddha’s birth place in Lumbini and chant prayers and burn butter lamps. Lord Buddha was born as Prince Siddhartha Gautam but he abandoned his luxurious life when he realized the misery of mankind and went in search of enlightenment.
Ghode Jatra (Festival of Horses):
This 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 in the presence of the honorable President and Primeminister.
Gai Jatra (Cow Festival):
This festival of cow is celebrated every year in August/September. This is one of the most popular festivals in Nepal as it is full of humor, satire, comedy, mockery and shades of sadness too at the same time. And on this day satires and jokes on anybody is legal. As per the tradition, the family who has lost a relative during the past one year must take part in a procession by sending young boys in cow like attire and walk through the streets of Kathmandu lead by a cow. Cow is regarded as a Goddess and it is also the national animal of Nepal. This festival also purges many who have lost their loved ones as they get to console themselves as to they are not the only ones who have been bereaved and it also teaches to accept death as a part of life
This is a Hindu married woman’s day for her man. This festival is celebrated in August/September. Women clad in beautiful red saris with shining potes (glass beads), singing and dancing is the sight almost everywhere in Nepal during the festival of Teej. On this day women observe a fast and pray Lord Shiva for the long, healthy and prosperous life of their husbands and their families. The unmarried women also observe this festival with unabated zeal with the hope that they will get to marry good husbands. From early dawn, women queue up in the multiple lines in Pashupatinath to offer their prayers to Lord Shiva.
This festival named after Lord Indra- the God of Rain and also the King of Heaven is celebrated by both the Buddhists and Hindus in Nepal in August/September. This festival lasts for eight days with singing, mask dancing and rejoicing. The chariot of Kumari – the Living Goddess is taken through the main streets of Kathmandu with much fanfare. On the first day, Honorable President of Nepal also pays homage to Goddess Kumari. The crowd of excited people from performers to spectators engulfs the streets of Kathmandu during this festival. People get to enjoy various classical dances like elephant dance, lakhe – a very popular dance of a man with a mask.
The birth anniversary of Lord Sri Krishna, believed to be the 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu falls sometime in August/September. All the devotees assemble in Krishna Mandir, the ancient Krishna Temple in Patan Durbar Square and other temples with the idol of Sri Krishna and offer prayers, flowers, food, sweets and chant hymns too.
Kumari Devi – The Living Goddess
The Kumari Devi is a young girl who lives in the building known as the Kumari Ghar, right beside Kathmandu’s Durbar Square. From time immemorial the practice of worshipping an ordinary pre-pubescent girl as a source of supreme power has been an integral part of both Hinduism and Buddhism, a tradition which continues even to this day virtually in every household. They call this girl Kumari Devi and worship her on all the religious occasions.