Nepal Culture & Festival
The diverse geography of Nepal ranging from Himalayas in the north to the southern Terai region renders it home to
a wide range of culture. Customs and traditions differ from one part of Nepal to another. A conglomeration lies in
capital city Kathmandu where cultures are blending to form a national identity. Kathmandu Valley has served as the
country’s cultural metropolis since the unification of Nepal in the eighteenth century by Late King Prithvi Narayan
Shah from Gorkha. The Valley comprises cities of Lalitpur, Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. Some parts of the three cities provide a peek into the ancient world of the Valley.
A prominent factor in a Nepali’s everyday life is religion. The natives of Nepal still follow age-old customs of Hindu and Buddhist religious practices. Adding color to the lives of Nepalis are festivals the year round which they celebrate with much pomp and joy. It is said that Nepal has more number of festivals than the days in a year. Food plays an important role in the celebration of these festivals.
Nepal is a patriarchal society. Men usually go out to work while women are homemakers. However in cities, roles can differ. Most Nepalis abide by the caste system in living habits and marriage. Rural Nepal is mostly agrarian, while some aspects of urban life carry glitz and glamour of the ultra-modern world.
Nepal is the ‘Land of Festivals’ with at least one part of the kingdom celebrating a festival every day of the year.
Festivals may be linked with the memory of the departed soul, to herald a different season, to mark the beginning or
end of the agricultural cycle, to mark national events or for family celebrations etc.. On a festival day the Nepalese
take their ritual bath, worship different gods and goddesses, visit the temple, observe fasting and undertake feasting.
The most important aspect of Nepalese culture is the religious harmony and that is why understanding prevailing
among the Hindus and Buddhists.
Festivals in Nepal begin with religion, ending as social event. There are more than 50 major festivals in a year celebrated by Nepalis. Although most of these festivals are religious some have historical significance, while others are seasonal celebrations.
The dates of most festivals are fixed by famous astrologers after consulting the lunar calendar. The biggest and most popular festivals are: Dashain, a celebration of Goddess Bhagabati’s victory over evil Mahisashur; and Tihar, a celebration of lights dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi. It is not hard to catch colorful processions in different streets of the Valley almost every other day of the week. Cultural acts of dances and songs are integral parts of some celebrations while some celebrations are just quiet family gatherings. Grand celebrations like Ghode Jatra and Gai Jatra entertain participants and spectators every year.
There are many special or holy days held throughout the year by the Buddhist community. Many of these days celebrate the birthdays of Bodhisattvas in the Mahayana tradition or other significant dates in the Buddhist calendar. The most significant celebration happens every May on the night of the full moon, when Buddhist all over the world celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha over 2,500 years ago. It has become to be known as Buddha Day.
Buddhist Festivals are always joyful occasions. Typically on a festival day, lay people will go the the local temple or monastery and offer food to the monks and take the Five Precepts and listen to a Dharma talk. In the afternoon, they distribute food to the poor to make merit and in the evening join perhaps in a ceremony of circumambulation a stupa three time as a sign of respect to the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. The day will conclude with evening chanting of the Buddha’s teachings and meditation.
There are two aspects to take into consideration regarding Buddhist festivals: Most Buddhists, with the exception of the Japanese, use the Lunar Calendar and the dates of Buddhist festivals vary from country to country and between Buddhist traditions. There are so many Buddhist festivals.
Dance and music
Legends state that dances in the Indian subcontinent originated in the abode of Lord Shiva — the Himalayas and the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal — where he performed the tandava dance. This indicates that dance traditions of Nepal are very ancient. With altitudes and ethnicity, the dances of Nepal slightly change in style as well as in the costumes. The Dishka, a dance performed at weddings, includes intricate footwork and arm movements. Accompanying music and musical instruments change in tune with the themes, which revolve around topics like harvesting of crops, marriage rites, war stories, a lonely girl’s yearning for her love, and several other themes and stories from everyday life in the villages.
Languages and literature
As per the 2011 census, 123 languages are spoken in Nepal. Nepal’s linguistic heritage has evolved from three major language groups: Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burman, and indigenous. The major languages of Nepal (percent spoken as mother tongue) are Nepali (44.6%), Maithili (11.7%), Bhojpuri (6%), Tharu (5.8%), Tamang (5.1%), Nepal Bhasa (3.2%), Magar (3%) and Bajjika (3%).
Nepali, written in Devanagari script, is the official national language and serves as lingua franca among Nepalese ethno-linguistic groups. Maithili language that was originated in Mithila region of Nepal is the de facto official language of Nepal and Madhesh as a whole. Maithili is spoken in Nepal as a second language. Extinct languages of Nepal include Kusunda, Madhesiya and Waling.
Religions and philosophy
The 2001 census identified 80.6% of the population being Hindu. Buddhism was practiced by about 11% of the population (although many people labelled Hindu or Buddhist often practice a syncretic blend of Hinduism, Buddhism, and/or animist traditions). About 3.2% practice Islam and 3.6% of the population follows the indigenous Kirant religion. Christianity is practiced officially by less than 0.5%.
Hindu and Buddhist traditions in Nepal go back more than two millennia. In Lumbini, Buddha was born, and Pashupatinath temple, Kathamandu, is an old and famous Shiva temple of Hindus. Nepal has several other temples and Buddhist monasteries, as well as places of worship of other religious groups. Traditionally, Nepalese philosophical thoughts are ingrained with the Hindu and Buddhist philosophical ethos and traditions, which include elements of Kashmir Shaivism, Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, works of Karmacharyas of Bhaktapur, and tantric traditions. Tantric traditions are deep rooted in Nepal, including the practice of animal sacrifices. Five types of animals, always male, are considered acceptable for sacrifice: water buffalo, goats, sheep, chickens, and ducks. Cows are very sacred animals and are never considered acceptable for sacrifice.
Festivals and celebrations
Several of the festivals of Nepal last from one to several days. Dashain is the longest and the most important festival of Nepal. Generally Dashain falls in late September to mid-October, right after the end of the monsoon season. It is “a day of Victory over Demons”. The Newars celebrate the festival as Mohani. Tihar or Swanti and Chhath are another important festivals of Nepal. New Year’s Day of the lunar calendar Nepal Sambat occurs at this time.
Other important festivals include Buddha Jayanti (the celebration of the birth of Buddha)Maha Shivaratri (a festival of Lord Shiva) and during Maha Shivaratri festivities, some people consume excessive drinks and smoke charas.Sherpas, mostly located at higher altitudes and in the Mount Everest region, celebrate Mani Rimdu, for the good of the world.
Most festivals include dancing and music, and a variety of foods are consumed during festivals and on special occasions.
The Sagan ceremony is the ritualized presentation of five food items (boiled egg, smoked fish, meat, lentil cake and rice wine) to a person which is done to bring good fortune as per Tantric tradition.