Festivals of Nepal
Nepal is multi-language and multi-cultural country. Here, in a year, different ethnic groups celebrate various festivals with full of joy in different time and occasion. Nepalese festivals are colorful. They are connected with tradition, religion and social events. Most of the festivals are celebrated according to the lunar calendar. Therefore, the festivals do not have the specific day matching solar calendar or English calendar’s date. Generally, exact date of festivals is declared one year before.
Most of the festivals are observed with music and songs. Music is integral part celebrations. National celebrations like Democracy day, Republican day are celebrated with possessions and demonstrations.
Here are the lists of major Nepalese festivals that falls during the below mentioned months.
January to February
- Magh Sankranti
Maghe sankranti one day festival is celebrated on the first day of the month of Magh (Nepali Calendar) which falls in the month of January. People believe that from this festive day, the sun leaves its southernmost position and takes off for its northward journey. Then coldness of winter gradually diminishes. On this day Triveni Mela (Fair) is held in Devghat where over 100,000 people bathe in the Narayani River. Celebrations are also held at Ridi Bazaar in the confluence of the Kali Gandaki and Ridi Khola River.
- Saraswati Puja
The start of spring is celebrated by honoring Saraswati. Since she is the goddess of learning this festival has special importance for students. On this occasion people visits the shrine of Saraswati across the country. Manjushree temple, just below the Swoyambhunath Stupa, is visited by large no. of people who are staying in Kathmandu.
This is Tibetan New Year on the full moon day of February. This festival is celebrated three days by dancing, feasting and drinking. It is welcomed with particular praying at the great Buddhist temple of Boudhanath as well as at Swayambhunath and in the Tibetan and Sherpa community at Jawalakhel, Pokhara and Solu Khumbu region.
February to March
Hindu God Shiva’s birthday falls on the new moon day of the Nepali month of Falgun. Festivies take place at all Shiva temples, but most particularly at Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu. On this day here hundreds of Sadhus (Hindu saints) flock here from all over Nepal and India. The crowds bathing in the Bagmati River’s holy waters at this time are a colorful and wonderful sight.
Holi is exciting festival closely related to water festivals of Thailand and Myanmar. It takes place on the full moon day in the month of Nepali month of Falgun. It is also known as the festival of colors. Color powder (particularly red) and water is used by people on the celebration. Foreigners get special attention, so if you venture out on Holi, leave your camera behind (or keep it well protected) and wear old clothes that can get color stained.
March to April
- Chait Dasain
This festival is also known as Small Dasain. It takes places six months before the more important Dasain celebration. It is dedicated to Durga. On this occasion goats and buffaloes are sacrificed early in the morning at Goddess temples, such as the one at Gorkha and in the Kot courtyard near Kathmandu Durbar Square.
- Seto Machhendranath Jatra
This is an interesting chariot festival occurred in Kathmandu city that starts from Chait Dasain. It is celebrated four days. During this festival a lumbering wooden chariot containing the white mask of the god Machhendranath pulled through the narrow lanes of the old city area.
April to May
- Bisket Jatra
Nepali New Year starts in mid of April (April 13th or 14th). It is observed with localized parades. The Bisket Chariot festival in Bhaktapur is the most spectacular welcome for the New Year and one of the most exciting annual events in the Kathmandu valley. On the same occasion in Thimi, small of this valley, the exciting Balkumari Jatra with 32 chariots are celebrated. The New Year is also an important time in the valley for ritual bathing, and crowds of hill people visit the Buddhist temples of Swayambhunath and Boudhanath.
- Rato Machhendranath Jatra
This is Nepal’s one of the most spectacular festival. Thousands gather to watch as the image of Machhendranath, the Kathmandu Valley’s rain bringing deity, is pulled around the streets of Patan city in a swaying, 18 meters high chariot. It moves only on astrologically auspicious days, taking four weeks or more to complete its journey.
May to June
- Buddha Jayanti
The anniversary of the Buddha’s birth, englightment and death is celebrated on the full moon day of Nepal’s calendar ‘Baisakh’ at all Buddhist temples. A great fair is held at Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, and there are celebrations in Swayambhunath, Boudhanath and Patan. The Swayambhunath Temple’s collection of rare thangkas is displayed on the southern wall of the courtyard on this auspicious day every year. There are also colorful monk dances.
July to August
- Janai Purnima
On the full Moon day of Srawan (the month of Nepali calendar), all high caste men (Brahmin and Chhetris) wear sacred thread called janai at holy bathing sites throughout the country. Men and women of any caste may also receive a yellow and orange protective band ‘raksha’ around the one wrist. Janai Purnima also brings crowds of pilgrims to sacred Gosainkunda Lake in the mountains north of Kathmandu, Pashupatinath and most prominently at Patan’s Kumbheshwar temple.
- Gaai Jatra
The festival in the name of cow takes place immediately after Janai Purnima and is dedicated to those who died during the preceding year. Newars (the indigenous community of Kathmandu valley) believe that after death, cows will guide them to Yama, the god of the underworld, and finding your way on this important journey will be much easier if by chance you should be holding onto a cow’s tail at the moment of death. On this day cows are led through the streets of valley’s towns and small boys dress up as cows. In Bhaktapur city this festival is celebrated by men parade in the streets on humorous costumes.
August to September
- Krishna Janmasthami
This is birthday of Lord Krishna (One of the major god in Hinduism). Krishna temples such as Patan City’s Krishna Mandir throng with thousands of worshippers celebrating the god’s birth. Vigils are also held in this temple the night before the Krishna’s birth. Oil lamps light the temple and singing continues through the night.
The three day ‘women’s festival’ sees groups of women clad in red singing and dancing through the streets. They start with a girl’s night out, feasting until midnight when they begin a day long fast. On the second day they queue up to worship Shiva at the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, and break the fast and ritually bathe to remove their sins on the final day.
- Indra Jatra
This colorful exciting festival is celebrated in Kathmandu city with chariot processions of Kumari ‘the living goddess’ and masked dance performances. This festival also marks the end of the monsoon. It was during the Indra Jatra festival back in 1768 that King Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered Kathmandu valley and unified Nepal, so this important event is also commemorated in this most spectacular of Kathmandu occasions.
September to October
Dashain is Nepal’s biggest annual festival. It lasts for 15 days, finishing on the full moon day of late September or early October. Dashain is a time for families gather, children to be indulged (with kites and makeshift swings), and animals to be sacrificed. On the first day, known as Ghatasthapana, people plant jamara (barely) in a sanctified vessel, representing Goddess Durga. The seedlings will be picked and worn in the hair on the 10th day. Devotees congregate at local Durga temples throughout the next nine nights. On the 7th day, Fulpati, a bouquet of sacred flowers is carried in a procession from Rani Pokhari to the Hanuman Dhoka Palace in Kathmandu. The 9th day begins at midnight with tantric buffalo sacrifices inside the Taleju Temples of the Kathmandu valley. Throughout the day animals are ritually beheaded publicly in Durga temples and their blood is sprinkled on tools, vehicles and other machinery equipment. These rituals commemorate Durga’s slaying of the demon Mahisasur, and more generally, the triumph of good over evil. From 10th day to 15th day families visit their elders to receive tika and blessings.
October to November
Tihar is the second biggest festival of Nepalese people is celebrated for 5 days. This festival, also famous as the festival of lights, is associated with Yam, the god of death, and Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune. On the 1st day, people set out food on leaf plates for crows, regarded as Yam’s messengers. On the 2nd day they honor dogs as Yam’s gatekeepers, giving them tika, flower garlands and delicious foods. On the 3rd day they garland cows both as the symbol of Laxmi and as the soul’s guide to Yam’s underworld. The festival’s most picturesque event, Laxmi Puja, comes on the evening of the 3rd day, when families ring their homes with oil lamps, candles and electric lights to guide Laxmi to their homes so she can bless them with prosperity for the year. On 4th day they honor ox with garlands and offering delicious food. Fourth day is also start of the New Year for the Newar people of Kathmandu valley. On the 5th day brothers and sisters are supposed to meet and place tika on each other. Sisters offer fruit and sweets to their brothers while the brothers give their sisters money and other gifts in return.
This festival honors Surya, the Sun god. This is one of the most important festivals for the Maithali language speaking people of the eastern Terai. Chhath is celebrated most ardently in Janakpur, where women gather by ponds and rivers to greet the sun’s first rays with prayers, offerings and ritual baths.
- Mani Rimbu
Mani Rimbu festival is celebrated at Tengboche Monasery in the Everest region on the way to Everest Base Camp around the full moon of the ninth Tibetan month usually in October or November. This popular three day festival features masked dances and dramas, which celebrate the victory of Buddhism over the existing Tibetan Bon religion. A similar event is also held at Thami Monastery, a day’s walk west of Namche Bazzar, in May or June.
November to December
- Bala Chaturdashi
This festival is marked on the new moon day in late November or early December. On this occasion Hindu Pilgrims flock to Pashupatinath temple. They burn oil lamps at night, scatter grains to the Shiva Lingam in the name of their past family member and take a bath in the holy Bagmati River.
- Bibaha Panchami
On the fifth day of the bright fortnight in late November or early December, Hindu pilgrims from all over Nepal and India visit Janakpur (the birth place of Sita, the wife of Lord Ram) and celebrate the marriage of Sita to Ram. The wedding is re-enacted with a procession carrying Ram’s image to Sita’s temple by elephant.