Nepal is known for the celebration of many vibrant festivals. In fact, the Nepalese are said to observe more festivals than the number of days in a year. Hardly a day passes without some festivities, ceremonial observances or pilgrimages occurring in some part of the country or the other. A brief description of the major festivals observed in the country is shown below:
• Mata Tirtha Snan (Mother's Day)
This is one of the widely celebrated festivals that falls on the first month, Baisakh (April/May), of the Nepali Year. It is also called Mata Tirtha Aunsi as it falls on a new moon night.
• Buddha Jayanti
This day is celebrated to mark the birthday of the Lord Buddha which dates back in about 543 BC. It falls on Jestha Purnima (Full moon night-May/June).
• Ghanta Karna Chaturdasi
This festival celebrates the exorcism of the mythical demon Ghantakarna. It is also called Gathemangal festival which falls on trayodashi of the month Shrawan (July/August).
• Janai Purnima,Rakshya Bandhan,Khumbeshwor Mela Patan
Janai Purnima is the festival of Sacred Thread. On this day every Hindu ties a sacred thread on the wrist. It is also called Rakshya Bandhan. On this day, there is a big Mela (fair) at Khumbeshwor, Lalitpur. It is again on a full moon night.
The festival of "Gai Jatra" (the procession of cows) which is one of the most popular festivals, is generally celebrated in the Nepalese month of Bhadra (August-September).This festival has its roots in the belief that the god of death, Yamaraj, must be feared and hence worshipped.
• Shree Krishna Janmastami
Sri Krishna Janmastami marks the celebration of the birth of Lord Sri Krishna. This festival is also known as Krishna Jayanti or Janmashtami. Lord Krishna is regarded as the 8th avatar or 'incarnation' of Lord Vishnu.It falls on Saptami of Bhadra (August/September).
• Gokarna Aunsi (Father's Day)
The most auspicious day to honour one's father is Gokarna Aunsi . It falls on the dark fortnight of Bhadra or in August or in early September.It is also known as Kuse Aunsi.
• Teej Ko Darkhane Din
"Teej" is the fasting festival for women. Through this religious fasting, Hindu women pray for marital bliss, wellbeing of their spouse and children and purification of their own body and soul. It takes place on Tritiya of Bhadra (August/September).
• Indrajatra(Holiday Only in Kathmandu)
This festival falls in the end of Bhadra (August/September). Both Hindus and Buddhists unite to celebrate the festival of Indra Jatra with great enthusiasm.
• Dashain Holidays
During the month of Kartik in the Bikram Sambat calendar (late September and early October), the Nepalese people indulge in the biggest festival of the year, Dashain. Dashain is the longest and the most auspicious festival in the Nepalese annual calendar, celebrated by Nepalese of all caste and creed throughout the country. The fifteen days of celebration occurs during the bright lunar fortnight ending on the day of the full moon.
• Tihar Holidays(November)
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. It heralds the month of Kartik (October/November) starting with Kukur Puja-Narak Chaturdashi.
• Maghe Sankranti
Maghe Sankranti is the beginning of the holy month of Magh, usually the mid of January. It brings an end to the ill-omened month of Poush (mid-december) when all religious ceremonies are forbidden. Even if it is considered the coldest day of the year, it marks the coming of warmer weather and better days of health and fortune.
• Shree Panchami
This festival falls in mid Magh (January/February).It is celebrated as the birthday of Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning. She is the lily-white daughter of Shiva and Durga in spotless white robe and seated in a full-blown lotus.
This day is also dedicated to the martyrs of Nepal and hence celebrated as Martyr's Day.
• Maha Shiva Ratri (February)
This day is the celebration dedicated to the Lord Shiva which falls on the Trayodashi of the month Fagun (February/March).
• Fagun Purnima (Holi) (March)
The ancient Hindu festival of Holi falls on late February or on early March. Allegedly named after the mythical demoness Holika, it is a day when the feast of colors is celebrated. The festival is of a week. However, it's only the last day that is observed by all with colors.
• Ghode Jatra (April)
Ghode Jatra, the Horse Racing Day falls on Darhsa Shrad Aunsi of the month Chaitra (March/April). A grand horse parade takes place at Tundikhel, the central point of the city reputed to have been in the former days the largest parade ground in Asia.
• Shree Ram Nawami
Ram Nawami is celebrated in the mid of Chaitra (March/April) as Lord Ram's Birthday. It is celebrated with much pomp at Janaki temple in Janakpur city, which lies in southern Nepal.
• Bagh Jatra
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, a 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. 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
Chaite Dasain used to be the original day of the grand Dashain 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
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.
• Guru Purnima
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 (February)
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 (January)
(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.
• Mani Rimdu
(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.
• Rath Yatra
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
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.
• Tansen Jatra
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.
• Taya Macha
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
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
• NAVABARSHA (Mid-April)
Navabarsha is the Nepalese New Year’s Day, which is a national holiday celebrated with great pomp and pageantry. Bhaktapur marks this occasion with a weeklong ceremony.
• Biskat Jatra (April)
During this important festival, the old kingdom of Bhaktapur and its neighboring areas replay a drama passed coin over the centuries., Images of wrathful and some what demonic deities are placed on tottering chariots, They are offered blood sacrifices, flowers, and coins., Men brimming with youthful vigor and rice beer drag the chariots across brick-paved streets of the town, and wherever these raths stop, lamps are lit and devotees overflow into the surrounding alleys. Other gods and goddesses, too, are put on palanquins and carried around so that they may see the sights, At bode village, there is a tongue-boring ceremony in which the dedicated may reserve a place in heaven.
• Red Machhendranath Jatra (May)
Until a few decades ago, before the Kathmandu valley became a purely commercial hub, it was an agricultural land which depended upon the rainy monsoon for its important rice crop. Today, though traditional farming practices have reduced, the pre-monsoon season still sees great worship made to Red Machhendranath- a rain god. Patan’s streets and palace complex are made even more evocative by wavering lamp and candle lights, women busily cooking feasts, and men gathering strength to pull the chariot of their red deity. As lord Macchendranath views his followers from the high seat of his chariot, its four wheels – representing the powerful Bhairab- receive rice and vermilion powder, the king of serpents is asked for blessings, and his jeweled vest is shown to the public.
• Buddha Jayanti (May)
The ever-benevolent Buddha was born in Nepal. And the religion he preached is the second most popular in the kingdom, ON may 6, a full moon day, the Lord’s birth, enlightenment, and salvation are applauded throughout the valley with celebrations. Swayambhu and Boudhanath Stupas are prepared for the oncoming festivities several days in advance, Monasteries are cleaned, statues are polished, bright prayer flags waft in the breeze, and the monks prepare to dance,. On the Jayanti day, people reach the Stupas before dawn, go around them and give offerings to the many Buddha images there.
• Rakshya Bandhan (August)
On Janai Purnima, a full moon day, high caste Hindus chant the powerful Gayatri Mantra and change their Sacred Thread (Janai), while a raksya bandhan, a red or yellow protection cord, is tied around the wrists of other Hindus. Pilgrims journey to the mountains north of Kathmandu; here they emulate Lord Shiva by bathing in the sacred lake of Gosaikund, Those unable to make the trek celebrate at Shiva’s Kumbheswar Mahadev temple. Here, a pool with an image of Shiva at center is filled with water believed to have come from Gosaikund.
• Gai Jatra (August)
The gai, or cow, is holy to Hindus. She represents Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and guides the souls of the departed to the gates of the Netherworld, But Gai Jatra is not a somber occasion. Satire, jokes, fancy costumes, and colorful processions are the order of the day as people recall how an eighteen-century king rallied his people to cheer his queen upon the death of their son. Those who have experienced the death of close ones during the past year share their sorrow and take comfort in the fact that the gai has safely transported the departed souls on their afterlife journey.
Young men wearing women’s saris, children dressed up as cows, and whimsical characters of all sorts fill the streets. Special issues of local magazines poke fun at everyone and everything-even the most important people aren’t spared.
• Indra Jatra (September)
Indra, king of heaven and controller of the rains, has once again blessed the valley. As the end of the monsoon nears, farmers look forward to a rich harvest: everyone is grateful to the deva for his help, For eight days, Kathmandu’s celebration fit to “ flatter the king of Heaven.” Indra’s dhwaj, or flag, is erected on the first day, It is said that many centuries ago, Indra’s mother needed specially-scented flowers but could not find them in heaven’s gardens, Indra discovered parijat flowers in the Kathmandu valley and tried to steal them for his mother, He was caught and imprisoned by the valley people, When Indra’s mother came searching for him the people were appalled by what they had done, They released Indra and dedicated one of the most colorful festivals of Nepal to him to appease his anger, Masks and statues representing Vishnu, Bhairab, and Shiva are shown to the public, and the Goddess Kumari witnessed this special occasion from her chariot. Indra is thanked for the rains and assured once again that he is respected in Kathmandu valley.
• Dashain (October)
Dashain is the longest and most favorite festival of Nepal. Everyone stays home with his or her families, offices close and Radio Nepal plays Dasain music. The skies of Kathmandu are filled with kites and the marketplaces are filled with farmers bringing their buffaloes, goats and chickens to sell, the animals are to be sacrificed on the night of Kal Ratri to the goddess Durga to celebrate her victory over evil. On the day of Dashami, everyone puts on new clothes and goes to honor their family elders, where they receive large tikas of vermilion paste on their foreheads. On the following days of Dasain, families and friends unite, feasts are consumed, blessing are imparted and gifts are exchanged, Nepal’s most beloved festival ends with the full moon.
• Tihar (November)
Tihar, known as the festival of lights, is a time of candlelight, tinsel decorations and festive colored sweets, On different days, there are offerings and small celebrations for crows, dogs, cows and oxen. On the night of Lakshmi Puja, garlands are hung and lamps are lighted to invite Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth into the home, Mha Puja, the New Year’s Day according to the Nepal Era, is the day of the self, when people give themselves blessings to remain healthy and happy for the rest of the year. Bhai Tika the last day of Tihar, is the day when sisters make offerings to their brothers. The rituals of breaking a walnut, putting on garlands of makhamali flowers and encircling brothers in rings of mustard oil protects them from Yama, lord of the Netherworld.
• Sweta Machhendranath Snan (January)
Sweta (white) Machhendranath enjoys a week-long festival in which he is bathed, oiled, perfumed and painted, The goddess Kumari visits him at his elaborate temple near Asan Tol. If he is pleased by the music, offerings, and attentions of his devotees, the people of the valley can look forward to satisfactory rainfall in the planting season.
• MAHA SHIVARATRI (February)
(New moon day of Falgun)
Maha Shivaratri, or the Great Night of Lord Shiva, is observed in honor of Lord Shiva’s day of birth. A great fair takes place at the Pashupatinath Temple as thousands of pilgrims from all parts of Nepal and India congregate in celebration.
• FAGU PURNIMA OR HOLI (March)
(Full moon day of Falgun)
This is a colorful occasion when people smear each other with colored powder and splash water balloons onto one another. The Chir, pole is erected at the Kathmandu Durbar Square gaily decorated with colorful flags. That is the formal announcement to everybody to hide all his or her good clothes and to join in the revelry.
• GHODE JATRA (April)
(New Moon day of Chaitra)
This is the festival of horses celebrated in Kathmandu only. Horse races and other sports take place at Tundikhel on this day. Tundi is the resident demon of Tundikhel, and only the pounding of hooves once every year prevents him from escaping and causing destruction. In other parts of the city various deities are carried shoulder high on palanquins with the accompaniment of traditional music.