Nepal is a multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-ethnic country. As a result the number of festivals exceeds that
of the days of a year. For some foreigners, these festivals are mysterious, colorful and pleasant. Moreover, they
have a great deal more about them. They emerge from the depth of the socio-cultural aspects of life. The festivals
have mythological, religious and historical backgrounds. The ceremonies, as a whole, reflect a way of life, unique
in its own place. They mirror the value system established by age long socio-cultural and religious conventions; they
strengthen the social and family relations; they show the awe and reverence of the unknown people; they make
it clear how Nepalese people pay homage to every element of nature; they mark the change of seasons and rejoice sowing seeds and harvesting.
The original annual dates for the festivals were fixed according to the lunar calendar long ago, so they do not coincide with the solar calendar currently used in Nepal. Similarly, they do not coincide with the Gregorian calendar either.
Various aspects of the festivals are not possible to explain in detail, due to lack of space here, some of the important
ones are described in brief.
Nava Barsa (new year day) Bisket of Bhaktapur
The official New Year, according to the solar calendar, is celebrated throughout the country. The day falls on mid April. New Year day is celebrated with merriment. People extend best wishes to each other and organize music and dance programs. Vikram Sambat is the New Year day, after the name of Vikramaditya, the emperor of Indiasubcontinent, more than 2000 years ago. In Bhaktapur, a historical town 12 km. east of Kathmandu, the New Year day is celebrated in grand manner observing religious rituals. The festival is called Bisket and it has its origin in the ancient history, legends and mythology. Some linguists believe that the word Bisket originated from two
Newari words ‘bi’ for snake and ‘syako’ for slaughter. People relate different stories about the festival; however, they are more or less similar. To sum up the differential stories, serpent demons and the marriage of an extraordinary princess believed to have taken place in the pre- historic time.On the day before the New Year, about eighty feet long
huge pole, lingam, made of a shore tree, is erected with the efforts of thousands of people. The symbols of two dead serpents also are hung on the pole. In the afternoon of New Year’s Day an enormous crowd gathers around the pole and feels it amidst great cheers and rejoicing. It symbolizes the end of the old year. Mata Tirtha puja (Looking upon Mother’s face)Mata Tirtha begins on the last of the dark fortnight day of April or early May. On this occasion every Nepali looks upon his/her mother’s face. As it is the day shows respect, affection and reverence to the mother formally, all of her sons and daughters come in front of the mother, offer her various delicious dishes and bow with deep respect and affection to receive her blessings. She blesses them touching their foreheads with her hand. Married sons and daughters living out, return once to their house, where they were born and the whole country rejoices in festive atmosphere; elegantly dressed men and women carrying baskets of delicious foods are seen everywhere.
Rato machhendranath (The chariot ride of Red Machhendranath)
The festival starts on the last week of May or early June. It is celebrated to offer worships to Machhendranath, the
mearciful patron god of the valley of Kathmandu and the god of harvests. This spectral festival reflects important
aspects of socio-cultural life of the valley and it lasts for several days. Rath of tremendous size, about 48ft tall, is
prepared at Pulchok and hauled through the city of Patan in several stages and it is finally taken to Jawalakhel in an
auspicious moment carefully calculated by astrologers. The festival culminates when the sacred waistcoat (BHOTO) is
displayed for the entire populace to behold. There are many myths related with the festival, however the most influential one suggests that the festival is celebrated to commemorate the arrival of Lord Machhendra to protect the people of valley from a fearful draught. The deity is believed to have brought rain with the help of serpent deities.
Baishak purnima (The full moon of Lord Buddha’s Birth)
Purnima, the day of the full moon in late April and early May, is the greatest festival of the Buddhists and most of
the Hindus, as the day is believed to have heralded the ‘triple Blessings-‘Buddha’s birth, his enlightenment and
his entering to Nirvana. The stupa of Swoyambhunath in Kathmandu, erected some 2000 years ago by a Buddhist
monk, becomes the centre of ceremonial activities during the festival. Butter lamps and electric bulbs illuminate the whole area. Thousands of devout Buddhists from the different parts of the country come to the place to spend night fasting in Buddha’s name and chanting prayers for the enlightenment. Solemn ceremonies procession of monks and other devotees take the idol is again returned to the place from where it was brought there. In addition solemn processions of the same kind can be seen throughout the country on the day.
Sithi Naka or Kumar Sasthi (The Birthday of warriorGod Kumar)
This festival is celebrated in late May and early June to mark the birth day of Lord Shiva and Parvati’s son Kumar,
the great warrior god, who is believed to have ended the anxiety of 33 millions gods by defeating Danavas, the
demons. The actual festival procession jatra is held on the day following his birth, the seventh day of the waxing moon. His idol is taken out from the temple of Jaisidewal in northwest of Kathmandu and is kept in an ornate, gift reefed palanquin. The procession bearing the palanquin moves around the city streets, where on lookers and the devotees offer worship. The festival comes to the conclusion when the idol is kept in the temple again.
This festival is celebrated is celebrated mostly in Sherpa communitiein in the month of Ashad (June-july). This merry
festival is observed with great enthusiasm in Helambu and Khumbu region. In this festival, Lamas perform rituals. All
the Sherpas, including Lama, dance with the mixed feelings of solemnity and mirth.Gunla (The sacred month of Buddha) Fifteen days before and fifteen days after full moon of late August or early September comprises the sacred month or Gunla. These thirty days are holy for Buddhist population. This is a very interesting festival of difficult fasting, solemn prayer, religious music and singing. Soyambhunath of Kathmandu is in the centre of all these activities.
Naga Panchami (The day of the Snake Gods)
The day of the snake gods, the fifth of the brightening lunar fortnight late in July or early August is celebrated to offer
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