Maghe Sankranti : (January)
A Sankranti signifies the first day of any month in the Nepali calendar
year. Makar means Capricorn. Makar Sankranti, therefore, means
the first day of the month when the sun enters that part of the zodiac
which is symbolized by Capricorn. It starts on its northward journey
in its heavenly course on this day, thus announcing the commencement of
the Uttarayan. In the Nepalese belief this day marks the division
of the Winter and Summer solstice. Bathing in rivers is prescribed
for this day, especially at the river confluence and feasting with rich
foods of special preparation is common in the family.
Sri Panchami or Basant Panchami : (February)
Sri Panchami announces the advent of the spring season in Nepal. On this day a religious function known as Basanta Shrawan is held at the court-yard of Hanuman Dhoka Palace. On this occasion Geet Govinda (Verses written by Poet Jaya Dev) is recited by the royal priest and hyms are sung by a concert of musician in accompaniment with musical instruments. His Majesty the King graces the function.
It is the day consecrated to honour Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of
learning, throughout Nepal. Saraswati shrines all over the Kingdom
are filled with the crowd of school children and other students on this
day. Goddess Saraswati reigns over the realm of speech, letters,
arts and sciences, and all her tools are worshipped accordingly, pens,
ink, books, pencils, and spinning wheels. Around the city are seen
numerous wedding processions. Saraswati temples at Swayambhu and
Neel Saraswati at Gairidhara are worth visiting during the morning.
Maha Shivaratri : (February)
This is the most famous and celebrated festival of Nepal which attracts large crowds from far-Flung places both in India and Nepal. The festival as its very name suggests, is consecrated in honor of Lord Shiva. It is observed by bathing and holding of a religious fast. All Shiva shrines become the places of visit for dracaena, but the greatest attraction of all is held by the temple of Pashupatinath in Katmandu. One gets to see hundreds of thousand of devout Hindus coming to visit the temple of Pashupati on this day. On this day religious Hindus worship Lord Shiva by offering flowers, garlands, 'bel patra' (leaves of 'bet' f rub), fruits, coins and so on and also by chanting prayers and hymns. Among them are a large number of Sadhus and ascetics. Many people like to keep awake for the whole night keeping vigilance over an oil lamp burnt to please Shiva. Children are seen keeping awake similarly over a bonfire in many localities. In the afternoon an official function is held to celebrate this festival at Tundikhel. The Royal Nepalese Army organises a show in which volleys of gunfire are sounded. The ceremony is witnessed by His Majesty the King.
Phagu Poornima or Holy : (March-April)
Holi is the festival of colour. It is observed for eight days just before the full moon of Phalgun during which time townsmen indulge in colour throwing at each other. The festival of colour is always heralded by the sticking of wooden pole known as chir with colourful streamers beside the old royal palace at Basantapur by the arrangement of the Government Religious Endowment (Guthi) Office. This festival is observed with most joy and gaity in the Terai region of the country. The festival is terminated with the burning of the pole on the night preceding the Phalgun full moon.
Ghodejatra : (March-April)
Ghodejatra or the festival of horse is held on-the fourteenth of the
dark half of the Chaitra (sometime in March or April). The festival
has two sides of its celebration. Its cultural side involves the
Newars of Kathmandu who celebrate it for several days. The idols
of the gods of many localities are taken in a procession in their area
in portable chariots. Every household is feasting at this time.
A demon called 'Gurumumpa'is also propitiated at this time in Tundikhel.
This festival is called Pasachare. The other aspect of the festival
is provided by
the function organised by the Royal Nepalese Army at Tundikhel in the afternoon of the main day. Horse race and acrobatic shows are presented at this time in which His Majesty the King is present. A meeting of lumadi, Bhadrakali, Kankeshwari and Bhairav takes place during the day time at the main celebration at Ason. The deities are brought in their portable chariots. The same festival is repeated at night in Tundikhel.
Chaite Dashain : (March-April)
Dashain is a great festival of Nepalese people. In Nepal it is observed twice a year-once in the month of Chaitra and once in Ashwin (Sept-Oct.). The former is observed on the eighth of the bright half of the month of Chaitra. On this occasion goddess Bhagawati is worshipped and animal sacrifices are made to her. But this festival is not observed with so much pomp and grandeur as the one which is observed in Autumn.
Nava Varsha : (April 13 or 14th)
The Nepalese festivals follow round the traditional ,religious' Lunar Calender in the same sequence. An exception is New Year Day, which always fails in the middle of April, observed throughout Nepal as the first day of the official Nepalese solar Calendar, i.e., the first day of Baisakh. This day is an official holiday for Nepal. The most important New year festival in the Valley is held at Bhaktapur City, located fourteen kms. on east of Kathmandu. This festival is known as Bisket Jatra meaning the festival after the death of serpent. The main attraction of the festival is the erection of the 'lingo', a ceremonial pole, a thick, shorn tree-trunk some eighty feet in length. This is an exciting operation, for the pole, supported by bamboos and pulled by heavy ropes, must be made to rest in the centre hole of a large pile of cemented rocks. A large crowds from other town of the Valley assemble to watch this festival. During the week Bhairav, Bhadrakaii and other goddesses are dragged in chariots in the town. This is the biggest festival of Bhaktapur.
Festival of Seto Machchhendranath (March-April)
This is a four-day chariot festival held in honour of the White (Seto) Machchhendranath (to be distinguished from the Red (Rato) form of the same divinity in Patan), who is actually the Padmapani Lokeshwara, whose permanent shrine is situated at Janabahal in Kel Tole in the middle of the old bazaar in Kathmandu. A huge chariot of wood supported on four large wheels and carrying a tall spire covered with green foliage is made ready for receiving the image of the divinity on this occasion and for dragging in the old part of city. There is such a spontaneous and heavy turn out of the devout people to pay obeisance of this god, who is also said to be the 'embodiment of compassion', at this time.
Matatirtha Aunsi or Mother's Day (April)
This day is observed as the Mother's Day with the expression of proper regards towards one's mother. It is individually performed by persons out of filial piety. Those whose mothers are already dead go to bathe and offer ablutions to their dead mothers at Matatirtha near Thankot village. The fortunate ones whose mothers are alive present her with gifts of sweetmeats and receive blessing from them. This day is an official holiday in Nepal.
Buddha Jayanti : (full moon day of April/May)
Buddha Jayanti is a great day for the Nepalese. This day which
falls on the full moon of the month of Baisakh is celebrated to commemorate
the birth, attainment of enlightement and the death of Gautama Buddha,
the founder preacher of Buddhism, more than 2500 Years ago. It is
a thrice blessed day. It is the day when Buddha was born, when he
was enlightened and when he got Nirvana (Salvation). prayers are sung and
worship is offered by the devotees in leading Buddhist shrines throughout
the country including Lumbini in the Rupandehi district, which is the birth
place of Lord Buddha, the Light of Asia. There is a great fair held
at Lumbini on this day.
Ghanta Karna : (June -July)
Ghanta Karna is also known as 'Gathyamuga'. This festival is a
relic of the be!ief in demonolatry by the people of the Valley. Ghanta
Karna, a demon and other evil spirits are propitiated and exercised on
this day. An effigy made of green reeds is erected at all the main
cross-roads of the town in the day. A person is painted in all kinds
of colour till he looks like a grotesque figure representing the demon
Ghanta Karna. This symbolic demon goes begging in the locality.
At the end of the day he is dragged to a river on the green reeds symbolising
the driving away of the demon from the locality.
Naga Panchami : (July-August)
This is devoted to the worship of the Nagas, the divine serpents. Pictures of the Naga are stuck over the doorposts of all the houses in the morning as protective spells. This is also the day for the beginning of Gunialakhe dance in Kathmandu in which persons wearing masks of a demon entertain the people with their gimmick.
Janai Poornima (Rokshya Bandhon) (July-August)
The full-moon of the month of Shrawan, the day when this festival is
observed, is considered sacred ail over Nepal and is celebrated in different
manner by different groups of people of Nepal. However, the most
widely accepted mode of celebration is that on this day people take a ritual
bath and change their sacred thread. Everyone gets a string of thread
tied in his wrist from the Brahmans as a protective mark for the whole
year. The Nepalese prepare a special dish called 'Kwati, (mixed sprouted
beans) on this day. This day is also held sacred for bathing in Gosainkunda.
One can also see a pageantry of the Jhankris (witch doctors) attired in
their traditional costume come to bathe at Kumbheshwor at Patan.
These Jhankris also visit the temple of Kaiinchowk
Bhagavati (the goddess at Kalinchowk) in Dolkha district where they go to beg for their healing powers, as they are the traditional healers of the Nepalese villagers.
Gaijatra : (July-August)
In this festival teen-aged boys dressed up in the attire of a cow parade in the streets of the town. This custom spring from the belief that cows help the members of the family, who have died within that year, to travel to heaven smoothly. Some are also dressed up as an ascetic or a fool for achieving the same objective to their dead family members. Groups of mimics improvise short satirical enactments on the current sociopolitical scenes of the town to the entertainment of the public. The week beginning from Janai Poornima actually unfolds a season of good many religious and cultural activities. All the Buddhist monasteries open their gates to the visitors to view their bronze sculptures and collection of painting for a week. At Patan, one observes the festival of Mataya at this time. The festivity of Gaijatra itself lasts for a week enlivened by the performance of dance and drama in the different localities of the town. The spirit of the old festival is being increasingly adapted by Cultural Centres, newspapers and magazines of fling humour and satire on the Nepalese social and political life.
Pancha Dan: (July-August)
This is a Buddhist festival in which gifts are made by the laity to the monks. Since monastic Buddhism has been long extinct in Nepal, the receivers of the gift today are the Buddhist priests, the Sakyas and the Vajracharyas, who go begging aims to the house of their clients. Mainly food grains are offered on this occasion to the begging priests. Traditional collections of artifacts are displayed in monasteries and households on this occasion.
Gokarna Aunsi or Father's Day: (August-September)
This day is observed as the Father's Day with the expression of proper regards towards one's father. It is individually performed by persons out of filial piety. Those whose fathers are already dead go to bathe and perform shraddha ceremony in honour of their dead fathers at Gokarna. The fortunate ones whose fathers are alive present him with gifts of sweetmeat and delectable food and drink and receive blessings in return from them. Government offices are closed on this day.
Teej and Rishi Panchani: (August-September)
Teej or Haritalika is purely a women's festival. These two days
follow in close succession and are the days of observing religious fast
for womenfolks of Nepal. On the day of Teei all the women observe
fasting for twentyfour 9 hours for the longetivity of their husbands' life
and go to visit the shrine of Pashupati and offer worship to Lord Shiva
and his consort Parvati later in the evening. The Panchami is mainly
devoted to cleaning the body by taking ritual bath in rivers for any sin
or impurity the womenfolks may have committed during the past year.
On this day women worship the seven Rishis in reminiscene of a high ascetic
tradition of Hinduism and a notion of purity of descent in their lineage
from the ancestral Rishis. All women whose husbands are alive are
seen wearing red garments invariable and decked in all sorts of jewellery
on these two days.
Like Gaijatra it also heralds a week of religious and cultural festivity in Kathmandu. There are several
foci of this festival. On the night when this festival begins, members of the family in which death has taken place within one year go round the town limits of Kathmandu burning incense and putting lamps along the route. The sa e morning a tall wooden pole representing the standard of lndra, the king of gods is erected in front of the Hanuman Dhoka Palace. Wooden statutes of lndra and large wooden masks of Bhairav are put on display in the old bazaar. Several groups of religious dance like the Devinach, Majipat Lakhe, Bhairav and Bhakku and Mahakaii Nach come into life during this week. The week also commences the dragging of chariots of Ganesh, Bhairav and Living Goddess Kumari in Kathmandu. His Majesty the King comes to pay homage to Kumari just before the start of the chariot-pulling.
It is truly the national festival of Nepal. Every Nepaii is stirred by the prospects of the joy this festival is supposed to bring with it. The change of mood is also induced psychologically by the turn off autumn season after blue sky and a green carpet of fields. The climate is also put ideal at this time, it neither being too cold nor too warm. The Nepalese cherish their Dashain as a time for eating well and dressing well. The whole festival lasts a total of ten days. The first nine days are devoted to worship the goddess Durga Bhavani and her diverse manifestations. Each house also sets up a shrine to worship the goddess at this time. Barley seeds are planted on the first day in every household and nurtured for nine days. During the nine days goddess Durga Bhavani is worshipped and offered a lot of blood sacrifice. Buffaloes, goats and chickens are killed in thousands at the temples, at military posts and in every household. One of the main centres that witnesses the animal sacrifice in a large scale at this time is the Hanuman Dhoka Palace on the night of the eighth day and the morning of the ninth. On the concluding day of the festival called the tika, the elders of the family give tika to their junior members and to other relatives who may also come to seek their blessing. The fresh shoots of the barley known as 'Jamara'are also given to wear. Family feasting and feasting of guests is a common practice at this time. On the day of Vijaya Dashami people go to Narayanhity Royal Palace to receive tika from Their Majesties the King and the Queen.
Tihar and Laxmi Puja: (Festival of Lights,October-November)
This festival comes just after a fortnight of the departure of Dashain from the scene. The earlier festival mood helped on by the turn of a genial weather continues to glow the mind of the Nepalese during this festival also. The festivity lasts for five days and is marked by worship to different animals such as the crow, the dog and the cow on different days. Perhaps the most endearing sight of this festival is presented by the illumination of the entire town with rows of tiny flickering lamps at the duskbreak on the day of Laxmi Puja. In the evening of this day, the goddess of wealth, Laxmi, is worshipped at every household and it is in her welcome that myriads of lamps are burnt. On the last day, sisters show their affection towards their brothers with the performance of a puja and feed them with delectable food. They pray for their brother's long life to Yama, the Hindu god of death.
Bala Chaturdashi: (November-December)
Pilgrims from ail over Nepal throng at Pashupati temple from the night
before and burn an oil lamp to the god for the whole night. In the
morrow they take a holy dip in the sacred water of the Bagmati, pay obeisance
to Pashupati and traverse the route prescribed for that occasion scattering
'a hundred variety of seeds' in Kailash forest of Pashupati so that thier
dead relations may reap the fruit of
this merit in the next world.