The Bagh Jatra of Pokhara is another cultural baggage brought by Newars from Kathmandu, celebrated in early august. The festival has been celebrated in Pokhara for about 150 years. It expresses the people’s joy at their deliverance from a marauding tiger. On the first day, people dress up like hunters and make an appearance accompanied by musical bands. The next day is an interlude devoted to the showing of comic programs. For three days,the hunting party parades through different parts of the town before “slaying” the beast to end the festivities.
Bhairav Kumari Jatra
This is one of the major religious celebrations in Dolkha, an historic town in north-eastern Nepal (133 km from Kathmandu off the highway to Tibet). The festival falls on early August; and consists of masked dances that go on non-stop for five days. Escorted by musical bands, dancers representing the deities Bhairav and Kumari and other gods and goddesses swirl and sway through Dolkha, visiting its many temples. On the occasion, devotees also undergo fasting and worship Bhairav and Kumari. The ceremony has a history going back more than five centuries.
Chaite Dasain used to be the original day of the grand Dasain festival (which takes place exactly six months later now), but because people got their stomachs upset after feasting on spicy food during the warm month of Chaitra, the grand celebration was shifted to the cooler season. But the religious fervor is still evident in the celebrations of the day.
Gaura Parva is another celebration honoring Lord Krishna’s birthday. It is celebrated in far western Nepal with much gusto for two days (August/September). Apart from the many ceremonies that happen during this festival, it is the occasion for married women to put on the sacred thread. The deuda dance is a major part of the festivities in which participants hold hands and form a circle as they step to traditional music.
Gunla is a sacred month dedicated to Lord Buddha. This festival commemorates the auspicious “rains retreat” when the Buddha, over 2,500 years ago, led his close disciples into solitary meditation and preached to them the essence of his principles.
Teachers come second (after the gods) in the Hindu hierarchy of respect. The full moon day of the month June/July is set aside for students to pay homage to their teachers and receive blessings from them in return. At a place called Vyas on the Kathmandu-Pokhara highway, special worship is performed to Maharishi Vyas, the saint who wrote the great Hindu epic, Mahabharat. For Buddhists, the occasion (Dilla Punhi) is sacred as the day when the Buddha-to-be entered the womb of Queen Mayadevi. Religious functions are held at monasteries and temples to commemorate the event.
Lhosar is the Tibetan New Year which falls on February/March. This festival is mast impressively observed by all the Tibetan-speaking populations. They organize folk songs and dances on this occasion. These dances can be seen in Khumbu, Helambu and other northern regions of Nepal and also at Boudhanath in Kathmandu.
Rato Macchendranath Jatra
(Begins on the full moon day of Baisakh)This is the longest as well as the most important festival of Patan. It begins with several days of ceremonies and the fabrication of a wooden-wheeled chariot at Pulchowk, near the Ashoka Stupa.
(Full moon of the 9th Tibetan month) Mani Rimdu is the biggest event of the year for the Sherpas of the Khumbu region. Sherpas from the Khumbu region congregate at Thyangboche Gompa, the picturesque monastery situated on a spur at 3,870 meters from where both Mt. Everest and Ama Dablam can be seen.
Celebrated in mid-August Mata-yaa is one of Patan’s popular festivals. It consists of a day-long procession of devotees going around the Buddhist courtyards of the town and offering worship at the shrines there. Carrying lighted tapers and joss sticks in their hands, Mata-yaa participants rush in a meandering file and visit the hundreds of Buddhist sites scattered all over Patan. They toss rice grains, flowers and coins at the shrines as they pass by. Some devotees wear elaborate and amusing costumes. Musicians also take part in the parade.
Neel Barahi Pyakhan
Neel Barahi Pyakhan is a sacred masked dance which is shown over four days(August/September)in different parts of Bode. Nineteen persons representing the town’s guardian pantheon take part in the dance performance. Music is provided by a 27-piece traditional orchestra. The ceremony invokes peace and harmony, and is dedicated to the deity Neel Barahi whose temple is located in a jungle outside Bode. Bode adjoins Thimi which is 8 km east of Kathmandu.
Biratnagar in south-eastern Nepal brings out a spectacular chariot procession to mark Lord Krishna’s birthday (August/September). The parade sets out from the Radha Krishna temple and goes around the town. The six-meter tall chariot carries the images of Krishna and his consort Radha and is drawn by hordes of devotees. The annual chariot festival was started in 1932 to commemorate the building of a temple dedicated to Krishna.
Sita Vivaha Panchami
This festival, commemorating the marriage of Sita to Ram, is particularly celebrated in Janakpur. Each year in Janakpur, idols of Ram and sita are brought out in bright processions and their Hindu wedding ceremony is enacted.
Tamu Dhee (also known as Trahonte) is a Gurung holiday (august). Ceremonies are performed to purge the neighborhood of evil spirits and to safeguard one’s farm and farm animals from hostile elements. The festival can be observed in Pokhara. Groups of people beating on different kinds of drums form a colorful procession and make house-to-house visits. Participants with their faces smeared with soot and wearing feather headdresses parade through the town to drive away negative influences and ensure peace and security.
The hilltop town of Tansen in central Nepal exults in a week-long festive spree beginning with Janai Purnima, when Hindus change their sacred threads. The next day, Gai Jatra is marked by parading figures of cows made of bamboo and cloth. Ropai Jatra is the rice planting ceremony and participants perform plowing and planting acts on the streets. During Bagh Jatra, actors dressed up like tigers and hunters march through town. Then there are the parades. Images of Ganesh, Bhimsen and Narayan are placed on palanquins and carried around Tansen. The celebrations climax on August 12 with Bhagawati Jatra, the procession of the town’s protective goddess.
The Taya Macha dance is shown in different parts of Pokhara as part of the Gai Jatra observances. The five dancers, four dressed up as angels and one as a clown, are accompanied by a group of traditional musicians. It is believed that the performance will bring peace to the souls of those who have passed away during the previous year. The festival has its roots in the Kathmandu Valley. It was brought to Pokhara by Newars who migrated here centuries ago.
Yomari Punhi is one of the popular Newar festivals observed every year during the full moon of December. A yomari is a confection of rice-flour (from the new harvest)dough shaped like fig and filled with brown cane sugar and sesame seeds, which is then steamed.
Tihar The festival of lights is one of the most dazzling of all Hindu festivals. In this festival we worship Goddess Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth. During the festival all the houses in the city and villages are decorated with lit oil lamps. Thus during the night the entire village or city looks like a sparkling diamond. This festival is celebrated in five days starting from the thirteenth day of the waning moon in October. We also refer to tihar as ‘Panchak Yama’ which literally means ‘the five days of the underworld lord’. We also worship ‘yamaraj’ in different forms in these five days. In other words this festival is meant for life and prosperity.
Goddess Laxmi is the wife of almighty Lord Vishnu. She was formed from the ocean and she has all the wealth of the seas. She sits on a full-grown lotus and her steed is the owl. On the third day of the festival at the stroke of midnight she makes a world tour on her owl looking how she is worshipped.
There is a story, which tells why this revelry is celebrated so widely. Once there was a king who was living his last days of life. His astrologer had told him that a serpent would come and take his life away. The king did not want to die so he has asked the astrologer if there was any way to escape death. The king was advised to sleep with lit oil lamps all around his bed and decorate the palace with oil lamps on laxmi puja day. So goddess laxmi would talk to the serpent not to take his life. It did happen, the serpent was convinced by goddess laxmi. The serpent took the king to Yama Raj and told him that it was not yet the king’s time to come to the underworld. So Yama Raj opened his ledger and in it the kings remaining age was written zero, but the serpent cleverly put seven before zero. Thus the king lived for seventy more years. So onwards tihar is widely celebrated worshipping the underworld and goddess laxmi.
The first day of tihar is known as ‘Kag tihar’, crows day. Crow is an underworld henchman. On this day crows are offered food on a plate made out of leaves in the morning before anyone in the house takes in food. In the kingdom of Nepal crow is not killed cause as a legend says that one crow had happened to drink the water of life. Thus you can see crows everywhere sitting without the fear of human beings. Crow the messenger of death is honoured on the first day of tihar.
The second day is called ‘Kukur tihar’, dogs day. A dog plays many roles in our society. We have dogs in our houses as guardian of the house. As the legend also says that there is a dog at yama’s gate guarding the gate to the underworld. The dog is also the steed of the fearful Bhairab, the god of destruction. So on this day a big red tika is put on a dog’s forehead and a beautiful garland around the neck. After worshipping the dog, it is given very delicious meal. This day the saying ‘every dog has his day’ comes true; for even a stray dog is looked upon with respect. We pray to the dog to guard our house as he guards the gate of the underworld and to divert destruction away from our homes. On this day you can see dogs running around with garlands on their neck.
The third day is the most important day of the festival. It is called ‘Laxmi puja’, The day when we worship goddess of wealth. On this day, early in the morning the cow is worshipped. Tika is put on her head and a garland around her neck then she feasts with delicious food. A cow also symbolises wealth and she is the most holy animal for Hindus. Cow is the national animal of Nepal.
In the evening goddess laxmi is worshipped. Days before the house are cleansed and decorated. For goddess likes clean and tidy places. In the evening a small potion of the house out side the main door is painted red with red mud and an oil lamp is lit on it. A pathway is made from here to the place where the old money box and valuables are kept in the house that is the puja room. All the Nepalese have a box where from generation to generation money is put every year worshipping goddess laxmi. This money is never used unless extreme emergency. The entire house is decorated with lit oil lamps in every doors and windows. Laxmi, goddess of wealth is worshipped performing the traditional rituals and when the rituals are over then gambling in the house starts. This is a festival when gambling is not illegal. On this day throughout the evening groups of girls come to houses singing song of praise of the goddess and they are taken as guests and given gifts. This day the entire place is lively through out the night.
The fourth day is bit different. Today the things you worship depend on your specific cultural background. Normally most of the people perform ‘Guru puja’, ox worshipping. The ox is worshipped with tika, garland and then a delicious meal is fed to it. On the other hand people who follow lord Krishna perform ‘Gobhardan puja’. These people build a small hill made out of cowdung and put some grass on it then do puja on it. This puja symbolises the act of lord Krishna when he lifted the gobhardan hill and saved millions of people and cows from floodwater.
If you belong to the Newar community, you perform ‘Mha puja’ which literally means worshipping yourself. The newar community people are worshipping life by doing puja on themselves. On this very day the newar New Year also starts. Nepal has many minor community calendars and newar calendar is one of them but the nation follows the Bikram Sambat calendar.
The last day of tihar is ‘Bhai tika’, putting tika on your brothers by your sisters. The royal astrologer gives the appropriate time to put the tika through the national radio a day before and the entire nation abides by it. Even his majesty receives tika from is sisters. When his majesty receives tika a thirty-one-gun salute is given to honour the function. At this moment the entire nation will be observing bhai tika. The main theme behind bhai tika is the sisters praying for their brother’s long life from Yama Raj, god of the underworld.
The most exotic and dazzling festival comes to an end after these five magnificent days of worship and honour to the goddess laxmi and the underworld kingdom.
Article by Avigya Karki
Buddha Jayanti [Lord Buddha’s Birthday]
The belief and the practice of Buddhism in Nepal dates back to the time of Prince Siddharth Gautam, who was born in the southern Terai region of the country in about 543 BC. Till he was 29, the young prince led a very sheltered life in the royal palace of his father. He was completely unaware of the tragedies of everyday life. One day, he convinced his charioteer to take him outside the walls of his palace and he was shocked to see the sight of an old man, a cripple, and a corpse.
The realization that there was more to life than the lavish and luxurious life he was leading, made him abandon all the worldly pleasures and search for enlightenment and the true meaning of life. After much wandering and searching, Gautam finally attained enlightenment while meditating under a pipul tree. Henceforth, known as the “Buddha” or “the enlightened one” he began to preach “The Four Noble Truths” to all who would listen. According to this doctrine, people suffer because of their desires and the root cause of all misery is desire. These desires and consequently all problems can be totally eliminated by following the “eightfold path”- right views, right intent, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right meditation.
Buddha journeyed from place to place, teaching and converting hundreds of followers. He died at the age of eighty. However, his disciples continued to spread his teachings. Because of his wise teachings Lord Buddha is revered by many Nepalese and Buddha Jayanti is celebrated with much enthusiasm throughout the Kingdom.This day falls on the full moon of the month of Baisakh and is celebrated to commemorate the birth, attainment of knowledge and the death of Lord Buddha.Thus, it is a thrice blessed day.
Prayers are sung and the Buddhists offer worship in all the major Buddhist shrines such as Swayambhu and Boudhanath.At Swayambhunath, for example millions of devout Buddhists gather to chant prayers and to burn butterlamps. The next morning a giant figure of Lord Buddha is displayed to all the followers and hundreds of small shrines are visited and worshipped. Large groups of people parade through the streets praising the Lord and his teachings. Special flags, usually red, blue; yellow and white can be seen flying high above all the Buddhist households.
The Nepalese people have always been family oriented. They take great pride in their ancient tradition of closely-knit family unit. This sort of kinship is not only the result of religious teachings, but also due to various festivals and ceremonies, which brings the family together and strengthens the family ties in the Nepalese society.
Such is the festival of “Mata Tritha Puja” which in English is “Mother’s day” . This festival falls on the last day of the dark fortnight of April or early May. It is a day when one shows appreciation and gratitude to his/her mother for her unconditional love and undying support.
On this day, each house bustles with activities and everyone, regardless of age, participates. There aren’t much religious ceremonies but the fact that it is a day for mothers, calls for celebrations for she is the one who keeps the family together through ups and downs in life. Even the small children dig into their savings to buy gifts for their mothers. Sons and daughters living separately, come with presents and delicacies to spend time with their mother. It is a day of reunion for married daughters with their mothers. The entire day is filled with festivities and merry making.
Those who don’t have a mother pay obeisance to Mata Tirtha, which is a sacred site of pilgrimage and holy bathing. It lies six miles south – west of central Katmandu, consisting of two pools-the larger for bathing and the smaller is famous as the place where one “looks upon one’s mother’s face”.
Legends reveal that in the ancient times the region was ruled by a cowherd king. One of his cowherds was so depressed by his mother’s death that he went to pray and make offerings at a water storage pond in the forest on this day. Miraculously his mother’s face appeared and her hand accepted the offerings. Thus its called Mata Tirtha, where many hope to see their mother’s face. Alot of folklores are attached to this site, some of which are tragic. But whatever it maybe, people still believe that paying homage to this site will bring peace to their mother’s departed soul. So for this reason people come from distant places, on this day, to show their reverance.
Thus, Mata Tirtha holds a very profound meaning in each person’s life. For a mother, is a figure present in everyone’s life. This day gives each child a chance to show the depth of his/her feelings for her.
Gai Jatra (The procession of cows) is a festival celebrated in the Nepalese month of Bhadra (August-September). This festival of cow has its roots in the ancient age when people feared and worshipped the god of death, Yamaraj. Neverthless, the festival came into tradition in the medieval period of Nepal during the reign of Malla Kings. The root of this festival is the belief that the god of death, Yamaraj, must be feared and hence worshopped. Hence, the present form of Gai Jatra is a happy blending of antiquity and medievalism.
On the day, every family who has lost one relative during the past year participate in a procession through the streets of Kathmandu leading a cow. If a cow is unavailable then a young boy dressed as cow is considered a fair substitute. In Hinduism, a cow is regarded as the most venerated among all the domestic animals. It is believed that the cow, revered as a holy animal by Hindus, will help the deceased relative’s journey to heaven.
There is a comical aspect to the festival. Humorous and satirical street shows of the people in power are performed in major towns of the country.
Many newspapers also publish special editions with humorous and satirical articles marking the Gaijatra festival.
In this festival, irregularities of the society are exposed through satirical means.
Shree Krishna Janmasthami
Shree Krishna Janmastami is marked as the birthday of God Shree Krishna in Nepal. The day is also known as Krishna Jayanti or Janmastami. God Krishna is worshipped as the 8th ‘incarnation’ of Vishnu.
His life is filled with numerous dangers over which he ultimately gained victory. The stories of how he killed, one after the other, all the demonic adversaries- Pootana, Shakata, Agha, Dhenuka, Bakaa, Keshi, Kansa, Shishupala, Jarasandha etc. – has made him the peerless savior of mankind. God Krishna has an important role in Mahabharat as well.
On the day, 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.