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It sometimes feels like there's a festival happening in Nepal every other day. Compared to Europe, we have quite a lot of them (over 50), some you might notice during the course of your holiday, some are not always so obvious other than it appears that Nepal has come to a stand still.
The precise dates for festivals usually varies from year to year, particularly religious festivals as they are determined by astrologers in conjunction with the lunar calendar.
However, the information below should give you a general idea as to the most prominent festivals in Nepal and a general indication as to when they take place.
New Year: Known as “Navavarsha” in Nepal. New Year in Nepal isn't January 1st and it usually falls in the second week of April. Nepalese New Year is more a family occassion and is also a public holiday. The Nepalese often have family outings on this day and various other family gatherings.
Lhosar (Tibetan New Year): Celebrated both by Tibetans living in Nepal, the Sherpa people in the Everest region as well as remote Buddhist communities high in the Himalaya. Tibetan New Year falls in February. Buddhist locations in Kathmandu such as Bodnath and Swayambhunath are decorated with colourful prayer flags. The people perform their traditional dances and welcome their New Year with feasts and family gatherings wearing their best, traditional clothing and exchanging gifts. Christmas and New Year rolled into one.
Saraswati Puja: Celebrates the birth of Saraswati – the Goddess of Learning. A day when people from school children to academic scholars worship their pens and books to please the Goddess and in anticipation of her favour in their learning so they become wise and knowledgeable. Offerings are also made to the Goddess Saraswati, particularly at Swayambhunath.This day which falls between January/February is also regarded as an auspicious day for marriages too.
Shivaratri: A major festival. The night of Lord Shiva (marks his birthday) falls sometime between February/March. Shiva is the most worshipped God in the Hindu religion. Thousands of Hindu devotees from all over Southeast Asia amass weeks ahead of the festival around Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu to pay homage. Worshippers will take a dip and bathe in the holy Bagmati River at dawn and then fast for the whole day. On this day the devoted are allowed to indulge in the smoking of marijuana (any other day this is illegal).
Holi: This festival of water and colour that falls between February/March is also known as “Phagu” in Nepal. The day is observed to celebrate the extermination of the female demon Holika. It's a really fun day that you can also join in with as the locals (especially younger children) will throw colourful powder over one another and burst water balloons. You'll be a right colourful mess after a day partaking in Holi.
Ghode Jatra (Festival of Horses): This festival takes place between March/April and a grand horse parade takes place at Tundikhel. Although this festival isn't really of religious significance lots of people head to Kathmandu where on the outskirts they enjoy a day of horse racing and other exciting sports performed by the Nepal Army.
Buddha Jayanti: Buddha’s birth anniversary is celebrated during May in Nepal. Clearly Lumbini (Buddha's birth place) is the place to be on this occassion, but in other places too where there are Buddhist monuments the faithful will gather to chant prayers and light butter lamps. So, if you're in Kathmandu then Swayambunath and Bodnath are the best places to observe this festival.
Gai Jatra (Cow Festival): This usually takes place in August/September. It's a very popular festival mixed with poking fun at one another and a hint of mourning too. Perhaps reminiscent of April Fools Day - pranks are the norm, and satire too. It's traditional that families whom have lost a relative during the year take part in a procession by having their young boys led through the streets of Kathmandu by a cow, whilst they themselves are dressed like a cow too.
Krishna Janmastami: The birthday of Sri Krishna, believed to be the 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu. This falls in August/September. Devotees gather at Krishna Mandir in Patan and other temples that contain the idol of Sri Krishna and offer prayers, flowers, food, sweets and chant hymns too.
Teej: This Hindu festival is celebrated in August/September and is a sort of husband's day. The women throughout Nepal will dress in red saris, sing and dance. They'll also fast and pray to Shiva for their husbands health and longevity. Women whom are not yet married partake too in the hope that they'll eventually marry a good man. Pashupatinath is a particularly good place to witness this festival.
Indra Jatra: This festival is named after Lord Indra- the God of Rain and also the King of Heaven. It is celebrated by both the Buddhists and Hindus in Nepal during August/September. The festival goes on for eight days. Masked dancers perform in Durbar Squares and the Kumari – the Living Goddess is carried through the main streets of Kathmandu to much rejoicing.
Tihar: This festival of lights that falls between October/November is the second biggest festival after Dashain. The festival lasts for five days and people worship Laxmi – the Goddess of Wealth. Homes are cleaned and decorated with the belief that Laxmi will enter the house that is the cleanest and people light candles, oil lamps etc. Dogs and cows are worshipped and honoured with vermilion, garlands and given food treats to acknowledge what they have done for the lives of humans. During Tihar, the Newari community in Nepal also observes Mha puja – a ritual of worshipping your own body and life. Tihar ends with Bhai Tika – a kind of brothers’ day when their will sisters worship them for their long, healthy life and to protect the lives of their sisters. Gambling is also legal during this period.
Dashain (Bijaya Dashami): The biggest and most anticipated of Nepal festivals. It lasts for 15 days and takes place late September to early October. Dashain is the longest and the most auspicious festival in the Nepalese annual calendar, celebrated by all, regardless of caste and following. Dashain occurs during the lunar fortnight ending on the day of the full moon. Whilst the tourist industry carries on virtually unhindered, for almost the rest of the Nepal people it's almost one long, great public holiday. A time for shopping, feasting, fasting, prayer and more. Each day of Dashain has different significance and is marked accordingly to tradition. It could perhaps be best compared to our own Christmas period. A time when friends and family from afar reunite once more for the duration. It is also a time for both sacrifice and large scale slaughter and many foreign visitors find this particular aspect difficult to deal with.
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