Festivals in Nepal
1. Vimsen Jatra:
Lord Vimsen is one of the five Pandab brothers- the heroes belonging to the famous Hindu epic ‘Maha-Varat’. (The five brothers are also known as Pancha-Pandab, ‘Pancha’ in ancient classical Sanskrit signifying the number five.) He was well noted for his great strength and it so happened once that becoming a form of Vairab temporarily, he drank the blood of a slain enemy in the battlefield; then underwent a severe fast in sheer atonement. In Nepal he is also the God of Merchant, and thus of wealth and prosperity.
He is highly credited with having opened up the lucrative trade- route to our neighboring country to the north namely Tibet. Lhasa Valley is the major destination. Vimsen Puja is eventually preceded by an all day fast by the businessmen and commercial travelers in emulation of the almighty Vimsen after his divine experience as Vairab. On the Jatra day rituals and sacrifices are conducted at various Vimsen temples, all built of pagoda style. Vimsen, as Vairab, is drenched with the sacrificial blood of animals including goats and fowls mainly. The major activity takes place in the early morning, followed by parties and celebrations at home. In Bhaktapur, Vimsen and his consort namely Droupadi (both of which again form another Hindu divine couple) are each mounted in ‘Khats’ (carry-chariots) and, from about ten at night, are carried in a wild and swift procession all over the city of devotees. It begins at Tachapal and runs for a couple of hours.
2. Thousand Lights Ceremony:
This is a one day Buddhist festival which commemorates the noble construction of the Great Stupa of Boudha- ath-declared to be the largest of its kind in all the Asian continent. According to the ancient legend, a monarch once changed to trick his own beloved son into sacrificing himself in order that the authentic act would precisely cause water to reflow from the religious tap at Naryanhity sanatorium. When the young prince discovered who the proposed victim was, he immediately fled to Sankhu taking refuge at the divine temple of Khadga- Yogini up the hillock. He performed numerous penances in sheer atonement for the patricide. The Goddess then appeared and motherly did she instruct him to build a colossal stupa to the Buddha. The semi- emispherical shrine with a pyramid structure in the center sitting on a board terrace of three different tiers altogether looking like a holy lotus flower from a bird’s eye-view was incidentally built during a twelve year drought which forced the brick makers to collect water by laying out gigantic sheets of cloth in the evenings and wringing the dew from them the morning next. Upon completion, the big stupa was long known as ‘Khasti’ which in Newa language signifies the Temple of Dewdrops.
The yearly occasion spontaneously draws crowds of Nepal’s colorful hillfolk following the Buddhist faith. They include Tamangs, Gurungs, Sherpas, Lopas, Manangis, Bhotiyas, etc. as well as pious pilgrims from the Himalayan tracts beyond the frontier. The assembly is already thick by dusk, with hearty worshippers circumambulating the Stupa, prostrating, spinning prayer-wheels, mumbling OM-MA-NI-PAD-ME-HUN (meaning ‘Glory to the Jewel in the Lotus’ or ‘Hail the Dweller in the Lotus’) or just socializing. This Stupa refers to the Mahayan sect of Buddhism; the same philosophy in Sikkim, Ladakh, Bhutan and Tibet is known as Lamaism. We can see the overall circular precinct full of multi- color prayer-flags.
The banners printed in five obvious colors carry Buddhist prayers in Tibetan characters. Flashing yellow, blue, white, red, and green exactly form the major set falling very important to the Buddhist cult. The banners so put up are diligently stringed together with sufficient spacing. They are tied up from the topmost pinnacle to the spires of different smaller stupas below or other distinct objects on the ground levels as the other ends. The sentient ones light candle- sticks or butterfed-lamps and place them in the niches all around the Stupa’s basement. Nineish in the evening the Venerable ‘Chiniya Lama’ shows up in a smart style to formally execute mandatory rites for the image of Chhwaskaa-Muni, a female Tibetan deity whom some also call Ajima- the Grandmother Goddess. Scarlet strips of fabric which robe the pure idol are shredded and distributed to the multitude.
Finally the idol in removed by a high-priest and placed in a large ‘Khat’. Young stout men lift up and take it for a wild ride to the Charumati Stupa down in Chabahil and back, stopping by at houses for devout offerings and carrying back and forth along the cobbled lanes. The action progresses instantly till about midnight in a jubilant manner.
3. Shiva Ratri (Shila Chare):
‘Shiba- Ratri’ signifying Shiba-Night is a twenty-four hour exaltation of Lord Shiba who is the God of Destruction in the Hindu triad and one of the Valley’s most important deities. The golden- tiered temple at Debpatan is solely dedicated to Shiba as the Lord of the Animal- Beings and the Patron God of the Hindu society. So the God is very well known as Pashupati Nath. On the holy bank of the Bagmati River (the largest river of the Valley opposite a wooded knoll), the temple is a complex of shrines, bathing and burning ‘ghats’, hermitages and the inner sanctum which is restricted to Hindus only. (The bank of a holy river in the vicinity of a Hindu temple is usually known as ‘ghat’. It also has cremation beds along. All Hindu dead bodies are cremated never buried. The funeral-pyre can be observed from the two bridges, the stone-steps and the balconies on the opposite side. The priest called the ‘Brahman’ performs the last rites. When a father passes away the eldest son starts the fire and when a mother passes away the youngest son starts the fire. Female members of the family mustremian home weeping and feling sorry in sheer condolence.
In other words they aren’t allowed to attend the funeral; it is a traditional custom. The next of kin of the deceased must wear white clothes for a complete year which is the pitiful morning period. In case a mother expires, all of her children must abstain from sipping milk for one complete year. The whole area abounds in shrines, lingas and scattered stone sculptures which are indeed masterpieces. The ‘one-face’ lingam by the observation bench in the tail balcony, the Buddha stele a hundred meters past the burning ‘ghats’ and the Luxmi by the bridge are absolutely fine theological examples. The temple of Lord Pashu-Pati all year attracts pilgrims, begging ascetics, devotees and mendicants but on this day the visitors are in the thousands. Many are from India or the Terai, the hot plains of south Nepal. They begin arriving a few days before, but devotees don’t actually brother to crowd the ‘ghats’ till sunrise. Then the thick populace begins streaming in, past a tremendous variety of hermits called ‘sadhu, sanyasi, mahatma, babaji, yogi, jogi, fakir, giri, etc. We also pass by mendicants of various kinds and deformities, and devotees roadside penances like standing with a small trident thrust through the tongue, being buried in sand upto the neck, naked figures with grey-ash powdered all over the body, sun-basking and enjoying hashish puffs through the ‘chilam’, standing on one leg only and so on.
Commercial business also awaits merchants who go hawking everything from the ‘Puja’ kits to the kitchenwares which is not an uncommon scene in a religious ‘mela’ as this. Pure Hindus pay homage to the scattered lingams inside themain temple and then bathe, or at least splash a little, in the river down below. Men of ‘Sanatan’ faith believe taking a bath in the sacred Bagmati will wash away their sins a side from purifying their body and soul together. The royal family takes part in the afternoon rites at the Tundikhel parade-ground founded by the Gorkha Army, acknowledging a thirty-one gun salute at the end. The king and his entourage pay ardenthomage to Lord Shiva in the evening when the whole tempo of the activity there has picked up, especially the live musical side. Some of the hundred of friars in attendance get busy to set camping in the courtyards of the temples of the opposite bank where non-Hindus are also virtually allowed free to wander about and observe the festival. The curios can not miss witnessing some rather interesting yogic demonstrations over there.
It gets pretty chilly in the evening, but there are usually several fires and lovely scenes going on till at least midnight when the consecrated time eventually elapses. In other towns and villages of the Valley, devotees will honor Shiba with bonfires and vigils, and in Bhaktapur by paying a special visit to the Datta- Traya Temple in Tachapal. Shiva-Ratri festival at Pashupati- Nath Temple of Debpatan, although pacticulary practiced in Nepal alone, is equally important to Indian Hindus as well. Thus you shall be amazed to witness the highest population of devotees and worshippers this occasion who enter the capital city as tourists on pilgrimage. It is a great day with a blend of two decent nationalities of South Asia. Several decades back during the period of the Rana Premiers so called Maharajas, Indians were allowed to remain in the valley a few days only for this holy purpose and they still needed to hold special permissions granted by the Nepalese government.
The Indian Hindus call Shiva ‘Shambhu’ as well. The Hindu Newars of Nepal call the ritual occasion Shila Chare and marks the end of the winter season. To bid farewell to winter, family members gather around a fire receiving heat and cracking peanuts. This will mean on more bonfire from the day next until the adverting year or the coming winter. Public bonfires appear in many courtyards and cross-roadpoints. Thus it is pretty common to find timber pieces getting stolen here and there. They declare theft of this kind this night or late evening is not a criminal offence but stands for religion. It is quite typical to experience this habit every year. Lord Shiva is known as Mahadeb also- He who come from the Himalayas and born through parents never known. Parbati is his faithful consort and has two beloved children namely Ganesh, the Elephant God, as the son and Sarashwati, the Goddess of Education, as the daughter. The ‘lingam’ as mentioned above is meant to be the conjugal form of divine couple of Shiva and Parbati; it naturally concerns fertility. Shiva’s favorite vehicle or tansportation means is the bull while Parbati’s the cow. In other words Shiva rides the holy bull while parbati the holy cow which sometimes means that the two quadrupeds represent these two deities very respective to the gender. Therefore feeding feeding on beef is totally banned and against the Hindu society.
Furthermore Shiva’s favorite musical instrument is the hand-drum and his favorite weapon is the trident called ‘Trishul’ which is a three pointed spear with a sharp are projected at the front. Lord Shiva never acknowledges any animal sacrifices while his son Lord Ganesh does.
4. Lhosar (Tibetan New Year):
Lhosar marks the happy and prosperous New Year for all Tibetans (refugess or not) and Bhotia individuals living in Nepal. It is equally celebrated by the Sherpas, Tamangs and some Lhasa-Newars comprising the Dhakhwas of Patan and the Tuladhars of Kathmandu as well. The surname of ‘Lama’ applies to both the Tamangs and theSherpas as a common factor. Thus the overall faith in general practiced by those special ethnic communities is known as ‘Lamaism’. It is a high time for feasting, dressing-up, calling on relatives, visiting companions and dancing to the enchantment of some fervent music. The charming occasion signals the unofficial end of the off-season trades and commercial trips too, as it is highly traditional to be home for Lhosar. It would be disgusting and against the ‘Dharma’ or the Buddha Religion for any of them to miss Lhosar.
Lamas and monks in the ‘gompas’ (Mahayan Buddhist monasteries) perform a week long Mahankal Puja (worship ceremony) first, an exercise so designed to eliminate all the accumulated defilement of the preceding year. Two days before the new moon from about one o’clock in the afternoon, costumed monks at Sawayamvu Stupa (a recognized World Heritage Site) carry out a large idol representing the old year and tote it through the Great Chaitya complex and further down around the back to the ‘saddle’ existing between the two knolls of Swayamvu Hill which is sometimes called the Bajra Hill (Dorji Ri) also. There the head Lama whose authentic title goes ‘Rimpoche’ fatherly conducts the rites accompanied by intermittent drumming and horn-blowing by monks all along the ridge. At the conclusion this peculiar idol is set ablaze.
The procession returns to the great Stupa and performs a supplementary rite yet right before the ‘gompa’ namely Karma- Raj which vitually ends with the mass hurling of barley-flour known as ‘champaa’. Lhosar’s ceremonies and celebrations appear private and domestic for the next several days until the bright morning of the fourth day. The big crowds of colorfully robed and ornamented hill citizens gather at Boudha Stupa (a recognized world heritage site) the largest shrine of Asia. Tenish a hearty procession of monks escorts an image of the Dalai Lama around and up onto the first level of the Great Stupa. He as the Living Buddha is the Religious Head and the Spiritual Leader of the Tibetan Buddhist community. The phrase of Dalai Lama in the Mongolian language signifies ‘Ocean of Wisdom’. The present one living in exile is virtually the fourteenth incarnation and his literal Tibetan name goes Tenzing Gyatso – one of the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.
At the Stupa various persons pay ritual homage for the next half hour or so. The glamorous ceremony concludes with the blast of long trumpets and of course the hurling of ‘champaa’. Lhosar is indeed the best opportunity to view Himalayan Buddhist peoples in a great melanage of primitive and civilized splendor. The Sherpa homelands of Helambu, a location four day trek north of Boudha bazaar, and Solu Khumbu of east Nepal in particular lying adjacent to Mount Everest are pure scenarios of much public merry-making during Lhosar including both religious and folk dances which unanimously contribute to the typical aspects of the ‘Shangrila’!
This is a short Hindu festival tending to remain hostile to other religions of Nepal. Held in sheer honor of lord Krishna the well known epic hero of ‘Vagbad- Geeta’ and Nepal’s favorite ‘abatar’ (incrnation) of Bishnu, Holi joyously celebrates the death of the notorious demoness called Holika. This wicked woman, supposed to be invulnerable to fire, attempted numerous times to kill her own nephew who was an ardent devotee of Krishna. At the end she put the lad on her lap and set fire beneath them thinking he would be burnt up and she would be burnt up and she would fetch an escape. Alas! It did not turn out that expected way. The lad remained safe and sound, that is totally unharmed while Holika to her utter surprise happened to immolate herself. The principal rites of this festival celebrates her death. The week of funand rowdiness also reenacts Krishna’s delliances with the Brindaban milk maidens called Gopinis, and the sentimental lyrics plus love songs herald the coming of the amorous season of spring.
The first day of Holi starts with the raising of the ‘chir’ pole about the hour of noon in front of the Kumari House in Basantpur. The eight meter bamboo pole is topped with three tiers, fringed with multi-color stripes of cloth. This represents the particular tree on which the naughty youth Krishna hung clothes of the beautiful milk-maidens when he caught them all bathing naked in the River Yamuna. (Thus it is to be well understood that Lord Krishna was the horniest Hindu God that ever lived in south Asia. Such an interest on nudity as exposed by an oriental deity precisely reveals that Hindusim sometimes turn out to be a dirty philosophy. Religious masters are constantly obliged to stick to serene chastity). From the moment the ooden pole goes up, after the proper rituals and a martial salute from a small troop of Gorkhali guards in the eighteenth century uniforms, the festival is right on. ‘Rang Khelnu’ or ‘Abir Chhwaakegu’ playing with colors-may begin, through most don’t really take it up in earnest until just before the full-moon day. Young and old, especially the children though they may be Buddhists or non-Hindus, throw balloons filled with water or handsfull of color powder at each other.
Groups and individuals douse each other, strangers, animals and statues with vermilion dust called ‘abir’ and considered to be holy. They also hurl water bags at the female individuals remaining in the windows and verandahs. The small lasses receive the worst of it and try to keep off the streets. Sometimes girl schools and girl colleges go on strike for a few days (the days when the actionseem to go tense leading to unnecessary battles) protesting the nasty culture and demanding social security. Government announcement advises the revealers not to harass the touristic guests at Holi period unless they deliberately choose to join in, but in any case the observer is highly suggested to wear old rough clothes for this purpose, for to proceed out at all is to invite a silly dousing of red powder (a major color of the Hindu faith) at the least.
The full-moon day falls to be the heaviest with roving bands of musicians playing the roads, singing love songs and hurling fistful of vermilion powder. The two popular lyrics Newa juveniles go singing include ‘holiyaa melaa, tanchaayaa laa lyaase?’ and jhyaale chongu tukan maa, wo he lyaase jita maah!’ This obviously progresses in intercity until the lowering of the ‘chir’ pole late in the afternoon. Once the traditional pole goes down the mad crowd scrambles for the fringe bits of cloth. Then men carry the heavy pole to Tundikhel parade ground where it is burned in a ceremonial manner, proudly commemorating the fiery death of Holika. ‘Playing with color’ now comes to an official end though some communities especially Indian Hindus dwelling in Nepal called ‘dhotiwals’ keep it up on a more modest scale another day.
1. Bikram New Year:
“Bikrm New Year”: Biskaa Jatra- This is the first day of the lunar month called Baeshakh. The advent of the”Bikram Era”, although an adaptation from the Indian sub-continent, takes place in the summer season and is marked by a chariot procession in Bhadgoan City where melodious music fills the air and ethnic tunes keep ringing in our ears. This special chariot festival is known as Vairab Yatra. The erection of the wooden pillar abound with colorful banners heralds the start of the enchanting occasion.
2. Voto Jatra:
“Red Karunamya” Chariot Festival takes place on Patan City Lord Karunamaya is the God of Mercy. Thischariot festival is held for many weeks covering the up-town, mid-town and down-town. The local citizens call it Bungdyo as well. For the Buddhists it is equally important as the divine incarnation of Abalokiteshwor and is worshipped by Tibetans also. On the final day the Diamond-Vest is exhibited to all devotees in the Jawalakhel premises amidst the gracious presence of the royal family. This ceremony is known as Bhoto-Jatra and includes as part of the major festival.
3. Maha Buddha Jayanti:
“Maha Buddha Jayanti” or the Great Buddha Anniversary stands as the most important day for all the bonafide citizens of Nepal belonging to the Buddhist society. It is an authentic period celebrated annually throughout the kingdom and marks the Birth, Enlightenment and Death of Lord Buddha- the triple coincidence or a thrice blessed occasion which relevantly took place on the same ritual day of summer full-moon. In Anand-Kuti Monastery of Swayamvu Hill the pure relics of the Enlightened one is exhibited for ritual worship at this special gathering. Shakyamuni Buddha is the Apostle of Peace and the advocate of compassion.
1. Gathanmugha or Ghantakarna:
Ghantakama was a fiendish, bloodthirsty, sex-crazy demon who wore bells on his ears. ‘Ghantakarna’ means ‘bell ears’ so he wouldn’t hear Bishnu’s name and lose any of his evil powers. During one of his orgies he was enraged to find a frog miming his every move. Chasing the frog, who was in fact a God in disguise, the ogre fill into a well where the people killed him. The festival celebrates his undeniable death and shows up as first spectacle since the transplanting work was committed. Children in the morning set up toll gates along the roads by holding a string across to stop pederstrains and demand jagaa (toll). The money is supposed to pay for Ghantakama’s funeral, for he was such a miser of a demon he didn’t leave anything for his family. In the afternoon various neighborhoods erect bamboo effigies of the demon. The structures stand at roadsides and junctions, and are outfitted with horrific demon masks and oversized sexual origins. In mid-afternoon in Kathmandu low caste boys and men roam the streets with lewd symbols painted on their bodies. They beg alms from all passers-by (you’ll be cursed for refusing) while others taunt them the whole route. Around sunset the effigies come down (except Naradebi tole’s) and are dragged to the holy river, accompanied by jeering kids singing obscenities. The beggars of the day ride the bundles until there’s a mere chance to escape.
The demon’s remains are all thrown in the river. The events are nearly identical in the Newar towns and villages, although Bhaktapur burn five demons together at Salan Ganesh Temple around 8.00 p.m. In Kathmandu at midnight the Swet Kali quartet- Bhairab, Swet Kali, Barahi and Kumari-cut done the Nardebi Tole demon and others come to drag it away. Fighting evil spirits and demons in general is the main theme behind all the festival’s rituals. This is a ‘chaturdashi’- a major dark moon and from now until Dashain every chaturdashi a major demon perishes. In the afternoon peddlers hawk special iron rings to ward off the evil this day. House owners pound an iron nail into the threshold of the entrance. After dark, housewives leave strange offerings of rice husks and buffalo entrails at roadsides for the witches of the nights. And at the various piths and secluded shrines in the Valley, the night is considered especially auspicious for the practice of black magic.
2. Janai Purnima & Rachhyaa Bandhan:
This combined Hindu festival consumes two obvious days the evening before and the full moon of Shrawan. The religious sectors include Patan (Kumbheshwor Mahadeb Temple), Debpatan (Pashupati Nath Temple) and Gosainkund of Silu up in the Himalayas. Public rituals are the holy bath in the spout of Kumbheshwor Mahadeb Temple, the holy bath in the Bagmati River and the holy bath in the alpine lake of Gosainkund. Special divine images are on full display. The Janai is the sacred thread worn by upper caste Hindu maleswhich is ceremonially changed annually this very full-moon day.
The rachhya bandhan is a ‘protective bond’ which anyone, regardless of caste, may being wearing this day. It is a yellow or orange thread tied around the wrist, left for females and rights for males, worn for three months until Gai Puja- the day of Dipabali. Then it is tied to the tail of a cow, so that the cow will lead the wearer’s soul to the Gates of Yam-Raj upon death. Kumbheshwor, where the festival’s main ceremonies take place, is a five-strayed pagoda temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Water in the adjacent pond is locally believed to have been connected by underground channels to the sacred Lake Gosainkund which lies at an elevation of 15,000 feet in the mountains to the north of the Valley.
Hardy pilgrims journey up to this lake for a full-moon mela in sheer honor of Shiva who come from the Great Himalayas. On display from the evening preceding the full-moon are the two Shiva lings at Kumbheshwor. The smaller, with five faces, remains inside, while the large, with a gilded snake cast around it, is removed to the special platform in the pond around midnight. The courtyard begins to fill from sunset when Tamang shamans, beating drums and dressed in long white robes and crowns of peacock feathers, perform a special dance to purify the area. Individual shamans (called jhankri) keep this up all night and throughout the following day. The large lingam is taken out around midnight and carried in a slow procession that takes about an hour.
The priest carrying the idol turns this way and that, so that all may get a clear view, and in the end dashes across the platform. Once the image is installed, devotees line up to touch their foreheads to it and leave offerings. Brahmans begin tying on rachhya bandhans in the courtyard while boys splash about the pond. A steady stream of worshippers files by throughout the night and especially the day following. Pashupati Nath Temple is closed the day before the full-moon for it is said this day Shiva pays a particular visit to Gosainkund.
It reopens from the full-moon morning and is thronged by day break. Hindus commit puja to the sacred lingam and receive the rachhya bandhan. Males in small groups along the river change the janai. Towards midnight at Kumbheshwor the sacred lingam is removed from the platform in the pond and, with the same pomp and slow ceremonial walk, the priest returns the lingam to the temple and locks it up. Farmers also mark this day as Byaaan Jaa Nake- Feed the Frog Day. For their amphibious friends, long associated with guarding the rice crop, they leave a leaffull of rice and Kwati- the nutritious bean mix that is today’s special food.
3. Gai Jatra:
It is a nine-day Hindu festival starting from the full moon the 8th of dark Bhadra. The focal point is without doubtKathmandu Valley, especially Bhaktapur. It consists of jatras, masked dances, street skits and khat yatras. The 1st of dark Bhadra is the day Yam-Raj, the God of Death, opens the Gates of Judgment. The Newars believe the soul after death wanders about until this date, having to travel a hazardous route that is best braved with the assistance of a sacred cow. Thus on this day, all Newars in whose families a death has occurred since the previous year parade a cow or cow effigy through the streets. Wealthier city folks and villagers parade a real cow, dressed in yellow, which must be given to a Brahman afterwards; but most families either construct an effigy or dress up a child to represent a cow. The costumes vary with the locality.
Be it known that the cow is the national animal of Nepal. Feeding on beef is strictly forbidden for the Hindus. Beside the cows, the processions include men dressed as friendly women, ghosts, demons, animals, tourists (with cameras) and other odd characters. This is in line with the licensed satiric mood of the week in which Nepalese are free, and always were even in the darkest polical periods, to lampoon every aspect of society except the sovereign monarchy itself . The satire is evident in the costumes, especially in the Bhaktapur yatra, as well as in the spontaneous skits throughout the week, the special edition of the newspaper (heavy on the cartoons) and in Bhaktapur’s night skits plus dances.
This tradition dates back to the 18th century, when the Malla king sought to console his grieving queen, who had just lost her son. He invited the populace to try to make the queen laugh and they responded with a variety of outlandish costumes and social mockery that succeeded so well the king institutionalized the event. The deep religious significance and the color of the procession and skits make this one of Nepal’s most attractive festivals. In Bhaktapur the festival is called Gun Punhi- nine day full-moon and begins a day earlier than the rest of the Valley.
Every afternoon except the following day, which is the opening day of everyone else and the day the whole city participates, the men and boys of one of Bhaktapur’s major neighborhoods dress up in funny costumes and parade through the town, the role shifting to another quarter the following day. Here and every other Newar towns and villages events on the morning after the full-moon begin with family rites to the dead before the smaller outlying village devotees go in one long line from village to village for the day, returning home late afternoon. The skits are usually staged onfrom mid-morning.
Kathmandu resident send either a cow or a boy dressed to be a cow through the old city called Kantipur in the morning. Skits are most common around Hanuman Dhoka. In Patan one of the larger bahals organizes the yatra each year. All participants gather here in early morning and make the route together. The most spectacular procession is Bhaktapur’s. Here cows are represented five different ways: by a real one; by a boy carrying a draped, upside-down basket with a cow mask attached; by a tall conical effigy mounted on a khat; by a statue of a cow borne on a khat; or by a girl dressed in cowhorns, brocade gown and traditional heavy jewelery.
The khats are accompanied by bands of costumed dancers and buffoons. Each group, departing at different times, makes a circuit through the city. The final round is made by the ‘public cows’- effigies by the responsible guthi to represent those families who couldn’t afford even the simplest effigy of their own making. Costumed dance groups this week in Bhaktapur may include the Mahakali troupe in Malla style dress with huge masks of deities and their benevolent attendants. The latter include the ‘betals’ in white masks, long hair, often with long tongues as well as Debi’s little helpers the Kawanchaa (little skeleton) and the furry khyah (devils). The Lyashe Pyakhan troupe dresses as farmers and dance with the rice-pounding poles. Energenic youths may take on the role of the monkey dancer Hanuman.
Smaller boys are recruited for the Radha-Krishna dances, often also called Nagcha- Nagchin (little Nags) in which the Radha player dresses in brocade and ornaments and the Krishna in a jeweled crown with a `manual sword. Such troupes give a relay of their performances at about two dozen different localities over the next several nights, concluding on the final night, sacred to Lord Krishna. The satirical skits, usually very political, begin from the afternoon after the major procession. Players, like the dancers, perform all over the town and so it makes them take three or more days, especially if interrupted by rain. On this and the following two nights khat processions take the images of the three deities including Vairab, Mahalaxmi and Barahi respectively around the city. The special food for Gai Jatra/ Gun Punhi is kwati- a mixture of five kinds of beans boiled in a tasty soup, said to contain all the vitamins missing from the ordinary seasonal diet.
4. Krishna Janmashtami:
This is a one day religious festival dedicated to Lord Krishna. It takes place on the 7th of dark Bhadra. It is a very important Hindu mela and parade of Kathmandu Valley. The authentic day celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna, the 8th ‘abatar’ (incarnation) of Lord Bishnu. Celebrations today are in preparation for the midnight hour that traditionally marks the God’s birth. Special displays of pictures by affluent devotees narrate many of the well-know incidents in Krishna’s life-time from the great epic “Vagbad- Geeta”.
The beautiful Krishna Mandir in Patan’s Drubar Square is the focal point of devotional activity. All day people line up for a walk through the temple to the second floor of the sanctuary. Women especially, many down from the hills, keep an all-night vigil on the steps. In Kathmandu a parade featuring images mounted on decorated cars and trucks, rolls down New Road about 3-4 in the afternoon and onto Hanuman Dhoka. Devotees at various temple and dharmashalas play and sing religious music, often amplified till past midnight.
1. Tihar (Swoti):
Tihar is also annual festival much attached with both the Buddhist and Hindu religions. It commences soon after Dashain. To the Newars it is delightful ‘Swonti Nakha’. This auspicious occasion keeps occupying five particular days. It is special ritual of lights which honors Luxmi- the consort of Lord Bidhnu. Luxmi is the main Goddess of Wealth & Good Fortune. The days also honor Yam-Raj the Lord of Death and mark the end of the Nepal Era (N.E) calendar which stands very important for the bonafide Newa community. This occasion precisely pays respect to divine beings, human beings and animals beings. As traditionally practiced by the Nepalese,
Tihar involves rites which symbolize the surrounding of the broadest definitions of life plus death. It ritually appears different from Dipabali as performed in India by running an extra two days and featuring homage to the beasts of death, namely the crow and the dog as well as those of life such as the holy cow and the holy bullock and one’s own self. The crow, the dog, the vulture and the jackal are all regarded as the dutiful messengers of Yam-Raj because they do feed on carrion. However vultures and jackals are only seasonal visitors to the Valley, so they are not involved in the ‘Puja’ rituals. The first day of the Tihar vacation is dedicated to the crow.
Thus it is known as Crow Worship. Nepalese leave special leaf-trays of food for the local birds just as the day following they prepare something extraordinary for the dogs. So the second day of the Tihar vacation is known as dog worship. On this day even the mangiest pariahs and other stray dogs plus street dogs are also garlanded, given ‘tika’ and a wholesome meal. The dog is a favorite animal to many because it serves as a guard and a companion. Owners respect the dog for its faithfulness andloyalty to the family.
On the third day of the festival, Nepalese devotees worship Luxmi by performing a ‘Puja’ in the morning in honor of her glorious symbol and scrubbing the entrances to their homes for Luxmi’s nocturnal visit. All Hindu families light small oil-fed lamps of candle-sticks in their windows and door-ways at dark. Children play joyfully with sparklers which at other times of the year is against the law. The towns and neighborhoods, already decorated for the Newar New Year (Nepal Era), become a beautiful display of light. It is especially worthwhile to go trodding through the old city at night time, for an hour or so after the sun has eventually set, to enjoy the vivid illumination.
The Narayanhity Royal Palace and the Shiva Temple at Rani Pokhari (Queen Pond) is also lit up during the entire Tihar. Some folks paint footsteps on the front approaches to their residences in order to guide Luxmi inside for witnessing the rituals towards a display of family wealth. They mean to beseech the Goddess for multiplying their fortune at hand. Later on groups move door-to-door singing and dancing for the traditional ‘paisa’ offerings. Tonight is the turn of the girls and children; it is called ‘vaili’.
The next night awaits the boys and young men; it is called ‘dyousi’. On the fourth day of the festival, peasants worship bullocks and field implements in the morning. Hindus make ‘Gobardan Puja’. This day is highly important for the Newar Community because it inaugurates a new year in the Newars calendar, its era dating back as far as to 880A.D. The ethic Nepal Era (N.E.) as opposed to Bikram Era (B.E) is the national calendar session of the country; the latter one solely belongs to the Indians though also currently used and Nepal is obviously never a part of India.
The original inhabitants of the state were the decent Newars who speak a genuine dialect Tibet- Burmese in nature as today. Referring to the story, the holy King of Bhaktapur divined that sand taken from Lakha Tirtha (a certain religious point at the bank of the sacred Bishnumati) in Kantipur would turn into gold if collected at a specific hour. Accordingly then he dispatched several persons to gather the sand where a witty Kantipur man named Sakhwa got suspicious and deceived them into leaving their sand at his home and picked up more, but by now worthless late sand.
When the sand duly changed into gold the startled Sakhwa performed a ‘Mha Puja’- the worship of one’s sell- and sped to inform the then King that if he would formally start a new calendar ear he would willingly pay off each and every debt remaining in the kingdom. This is how the tradition of ‘Mha Puja’ (body worship) began commencing and the practice of a new Nepal Era as well. Buddhist Newars this night perform their own special ‘Mha-Puja’ at homebefore the authentic mandals they make for the grand occasion. A recent supplement to the New Year activity is the motorbike rally that roars thought each of the three important cities in the afternoon in fond support of their mother language plus ritual culture.
However thousands of jealous eyes are cast upon the long rally! The verbal slogans of the juveniles that go ringing in our ears include “NEPAL ERA!-NATIONAL ERA!” AND “OFFICIAL RECOGNITION!- MUST BE GIVEN!” to which the stupid government has bee turning a deaf ear only in a deliberate manner for years. Even the arrival of the multi-party democracy very recently has not been found so helpful for the mandatory recognition nationwide. This is indeed a sheer mockery to the pure citizens who today live in a right society trying to be absorbed by the Tibetans and the Indians.
The last day (obviously the fifth day) of the Tihar festival is known as Bhai Tika or Kija Puja where all elder sisters honor and worship their younger brothers. Those who don’t have one can accept cousins though this is not a must; it is a tradition put in practice so as to avoid any sadness creeping on the part of the acting sister when witnessing another committing brother-worship and herself not being able to perform so.
Nowadays an added formality is the worship of the elder-brother as well by the younger sister, as in India (but where practiced since a very long period back). They there by emulate the girl Jamuna who in the south Asia myth delayed Yam-Raj (the Judge of Death) from snatching away the valuable life of her brother by demanding consent to complete worship of him. Miss-Jamuna them drew out thesisterly ceremony so long that Yam-Raj was eventually forced to relent and grant a lengthy life to her brother. On this morning among non-Newars and in the evening among Newars, sisters seat their brothers inside a ritually inscribed circle, pray to him, garland him, and then paint a multi-colored ‘tika’ on his forehead.
Thereafter they exchange gifts- the boy hands her clothing and/or get involved in the gambling spirit over the cards, dices, etc. In the evening oil-lamps and fire-works, while not so numerous as the previous two evenings, decorate the night sky of the season one more time. The colorful street banners remain up several more days yet.
2. Yomari Punhi:
This is a special full-moon day for the Newa community in particular. It is held for two successive days, the daybefore and the day after the full-moon of the bitter month of Poukh. The important sectors for the charming celebration include Thecho, Kathmandu Valley and Banepa Valley with domestic rituals and masked dances both thrown in.
A ‘Yomarhi’ is a rare confection of rice-flour dough, technically shaped like a fig and filled with an edible blend of brown cane sugar and sesame seeds. It is the traditional grub of the winter full-moon,the shape varying but the term actually translating as ‘fig-bread’.Rituals this day are practically affiliated with the completion of the harvest task. Masked dancers in Thecho Village perform an enchanting variety of folk plus religious dances all afternoon the day before the full-moon.
There occurs a short repeat presentation the following day. ‘Yamarhi’ cakes are offered to the Gods of the Buddhist and Hindu pantheons everywhere this day, with the largest multitudes seen at the Dhaneshwor Mahadeb Temple in Banepa. Families at sunset perform rites at home with the ‘Yomarhi’ rice-cakes before their distribution as part of the feast. The same evening later Newa children proceed singing front-door to front door appealing for ‘Yomarhi’ donations.
3. Bada Dashain (Mohani):
This is the harvest festival of Nepal celebrated annually in a grand manner. In fact Dashain is the greatestHindu festival. It is a period of family reunions, the trade of fervent gifts and elderly blessings, profuse pujas, ritualbaths and animals sacrifices. As the most auspicious time for certain ‘tantric’ rites and yearly pageants, Dashain respects Goddess Durga; so some all the festival Durga-Puja as well.
She was created out of the ‘Shakti’ power of all the Gods armed with weapons from each of them. The many armed Goddesses, whose decent mount is a ferocious lion, was then dispatched to kill the terrible buffalo-monster named Mahisasur. Durga’s success symbolized the ultimate victory of the good over the evil. Simultaneously, the Hindus of India (Hindusthan) celebrate Lord Ram’s conquest of the ten-headed demon King Rawan of Lanka (Ceylon).
Many hold that Ram first spent nine nights in solid preparation, involving the ‘Shakti’ power vested in Dugra Bhawani (according to its full from or complete usage) before sending his foe on the tenth day and freeing his kidnapped spouse Sita from the demon’s captivity. Dashain is celebrated all over the Nepalese Kingdom and is anticipated with the same anxiousness as the Christmas season in the Western Hemisphere.
Dugra Bhawani as Taleju is regarded the Divine Protesters of the nation and her festival is a stable reminder of the state’s underlying unity. Most government offices remain closed for the entire duration, as servicemen return home to the villages and the hills for the cultural vacation. In preparation for the great Dashain Nepalese scrub and clean their houses giving their traditional mud-brick houses a fresh coat of paint which comes from a blend of red- lay, cow-dung and plain water. Both prior to and during the merry festival rural stock-breeders lead their herds to the Tundikhel before placing them on the bazaar.
The beginning day is eventually known as “Ghatasthapana”-the Establishment of the Holy Kalash (Vasse). Nepalese early in the morning plant seeds of corn and unhusked rice in a tiny vessel filled with river-bed sand, sprinkle it with water, cover and put the vessel truly represents Goddess Dugra and is sprinkled every day. Rich families often hire a Brahmin (an orthodox Hindu high-priest) to attend the vessel for ten days. The sprouts are several inches long by the tenth day and are worn in the hair for the rest of the Dashain period.
The first nine nights are called Naba-Ratri and are solely dedicated to separate forms of the Mother-Goddess. Devotional citizens congregate at a specific Hindu temple each morn for a sacred bath at dawn time. Then in the evening, until just before dawn, an endless stream of devotees arrives to pay special homage to the Goddess. Some hold portable lanterns while others come in groups playing their caste music. Because the activity continues all night, the Valley’s cities during the Dashain season seem never to take sleep. This is particularly true in Bhadgaon where groups vie with each other in producing special, temple-shaped lanterns and individuals willfully volunteer to sit or lie perfectly still with oil-fed lamps attached different parts of their bodies by cow-dung paste. Festival activity appears mighty big in the outlying villages as well.
The routine and kind of events may differ form one to another Khokana, a Newar village several kilometers south of Patan, vividly stages masked dances from the morning of the seventhday. The public performance is done by the Naha-Durga troupe with four masked dancers, believed to be in deep trance from the moment they don the masks and drink the fresh blood from the split throat of a dying sacrificial buffalo. This is indeed a Tantric interpretation of Durga Bhawani’s victory. The afternoon of the seventh day in Kathmandu City customarily features the Fulpati Parade. The term signifies “sacred flowers” and denotes the royal vessel known as ‘Kalash’ from Gorkha which is the original Nepalese home (among the western hills) belonging to the currently reigning dynasty- the shah.
Men from Gorkha carry it for four days to the capital, arriving around twoish or threeish this very afternoon at Rani Pokhari (the Queen Pond). The Monarch here receives the ‘Fulpati’ and there proceed formal ceremonies for about an hour following which the procession resumes. The holy bouquet in its ‘Kalash’ is borne on a ‘Khat’ by a Brahman, shaded by a protective umbrella. Accompanying contingents include the Gorkha army and government officers as well as three respectable ladies who reside in Narayahity Royal Palace and never come out otherwise, plus the masked ‘debi’ (Goddess) dancers.
The parade returns to Hanuman Dhoka via Asan Tole and Indra Chowk, arriving about dark. When the King arrives this historical complex the ‘Fupati’ is officially installed, guns boom and the band strikesu p the national anthem. The royal family later leaves in a unique motorcade. While it is possible to watch the procession and fetch a short glimpse of the King, the ceremony unfortunately takes place within the restricted confines of the old kingly palace. In Patan, Naba-Ratri is joyously highlighted by the nightly performance for the Astha Matrika dancers who form eight in number. These are men and boys dressed to represent the Mother-Goddesses along with Shiva, Vairab, Sima and Durma. The act was introduced by a certain Malla king of the seventeenth century. The show begins eighths or so each evening at Naka Bahil, around the corner from the cinema hall.
Devotees come to worship the posed masks themselves first which are mounted on the wall existing behind the dancers. The performers don their masks and now, seized with the divine spirit of the deity, begin shaking and must be properly guided into the right position. The group proceeds slowly in single file, to the Durbar Square, alternatively breaking into stylized dance steps and gestures, and being led forward while they happen to tremble. Upon reaching the Durbar Square, after about half an hour’s walk, the group performs on a plinth in front of a temple. The traditional act lasts about twenty minutes and concludes with the dances removing their face masks in correct all at once.
The eighth night is called Kal Ratri or Black Night because precisely at midnight time, when the moon has set, the great sacrifices of the buffalo’s begin. These take place under the fatherly direction of the Tantric high-priests remaining inside the forbidden precincts of the Taleju Temple. So they can not be witnessed at all. (Devout Buddhists gather at Swayamvu Hill this afternoon to perform an authentic rite for the special sake of the sacrificial victims). The sacrifices, which inaugurate Nabami-the nineth auspicious day, are in the enthusiastic sprit of ‘Syakko- Tyakko’ the principle of which signifies the more you kill the move you gain. The slaughter of animals this day symbolizes the slaying of an animal’s part of one’s self. Ecologically speaking, the blood letting may be the virtual means for the control of the goat and buffalo populations plus the distribution of meat products. Peasants will lack the extra dose of protein now to build up their stamina for the taxing work of outdoor harvest.
On the last morning army units sacrifice the cattle beings including goats and buffaloes with regimental pomp. In Kathmandu City the courtyard behind the police station at Hanuman Dhoka officially called ‘Kot’ is the major scene of the yearly slaughter. This event stands liberally open to the common public with a special balcony reserved for alien observers. The sacrifices begin eighths and last for two hour or so. According to the annual tradition, the executioner is absolutely required to sever the animal’s head with a single stroke of the blade.
In Patan and Bhadgaon smaller scale rites take shape in the respective Durbar Square. Throughout the day Nepalese perform ‘Bishwo- Karma’ puja in special honor of the God of Crafts & Vehicles. Citizens lay out and decorate technical tools and other implements of their professional trades. The handy looms inside the houses are also festooned. They sacrifice a goat to their automobiles, including the aircrafts at Trivuban International Airport by spraying its blood onto the wheels and the fore-part. The goat’s long intestine is also inflated to decorate the vehicle with it. Religious butchery of goats and fowls occur throughout the day of the Mother- Goddess.
The Living Goddess Kumari, as the divine incarnation of Taleju Bhawani, is part of the Dashain activity. She is taken to Taleju Temple for Kal-Ratri rites sometime in the hours of the morning and again in the early evening of Nabami. Bhadgaon’s Kumari makes her only appearance of the year during Dashain. Each morning she is carried to Taleju Temple and back. She sits enthroned in her quarters at Kwathadau which is accessible to all devotees daily. On the occasion of Nabami only she is accompanied by nine little lasses selected to be the Mother-Goddesses for this day. They are escorted before a large and curious crowd to Taleju Temple in late afternoon. On the ninth evening in Bhadgaon the new masks of Naba- Durga are on public display at Yachhe Tole. The dancers themselves perform without masks at Kalache Tole in the eastern part of Bhadgaon. Later they proceed to Brahmayani Temple, a few kilometers further east, for secret rites and returning to Yachhe Tole after midnight to ‘steal’ the masks.
The tenth day is called Bijaya Dashain and celebrates Ram’s unanimous victory over Rawan. This is also known as Tika Day for Nepalese call on their elders as a respect to receive the vermilion mark on the forehead. This is indeed a fervent blessing towards the junior relatives. All dress their best, plucking the jamra or nalaa-swaan flowers from the Dashain kalash to fix in their hair and perform especial rites at their residences.
In Bhadgaon the Kumari dispenses the divine blessings to the faithful ones from the hour of sun-rise till about mid-day in the square behind the Narayan Temple past Datta Traya. Local citizens stroll to the Brahmayani Temple to pay homage to the mother-Goddess and get a view of the Naba-Durga masks which are all transferred here in the middle of the night. Some or a few exceptionally devoted ones roll themselves down the streets and paths. Pious types of other will either sit or lie down here and there at the Wakupath Narayan Temple enroute with the burning bright oil-fed lamps attached to their bodies with cow-manure paste.
In Kathmandu the Monarch receives ‘tika’ of ‘sinha’ from his Guru- Priest (teacher) and mid-morning to the formal accompaniment of a thirty-one gun salute. Ladies queue up all day at Kumari House in mid-town for the opportunity of ‘tika’ from the Living Goddess inside. The long line takes place in the stair cases of the respective floors, continuing to the courtyard and even outside in the stone-paved street adjacent to the Durbar Square. In mid-afternoon the general publics are also granted the once a year permission of entering the Royal Palace premises at Narayanhity to receive the ‘tika’ from the Majestic couple itself. Aliens too who are willing to bear the patience of standing for at least an hour on the line are welcome to fetch the sovereign head’s blessings. In the olden part of the capital city particularly around Kilagal, Kwabahal and Thamel, especial local Kumaris are taken out for brief publicites and ‘guthi’ worship. Emerging from different ‘bahals’ about this time are the momentum Sword Processions known as the ‘Khadga Jatra’ or ‘Paayaa’.
Tranced out descendants of the bahal’s original founders carry cutlasses of old design which represent the Mother-Goddess in tardy processions, circling the immediate neighborhood and come back in an hour or so. Staged at various late afternoon hours, these are usually finished by sunset. By this time ‘Khat Yatras’ start from Annapurna Temple in Asan Tole and the Ashok Binayak Temple in Maru Tole. Ashok Binayak is the main Ganesh of Kathmandu City today. (Every street has a Ganesh temple; it is the pride of the Hindu city). The Ganesh ‘Khat’ houses a special image of the God in bronze metal and goes round the famous wooden temple named Kastha Mandap (Maru Sattat) thrice. It then leaves for the southern part of the capital city, stays outside overnight and returns the following day in late afternoon.
In Patan urban residents line up at Gabahal quarters for ‘tika’. The dancing troupe of Astha Matrika performs for the last time fourish early evening in the holy courtyard of the old royal palace established by theMalla dynasty. In the morning a rather spectacular procession commences from the Mahaluxmi Temple nearby Lagankhel. Merry devotees carry heads of buffaloes and dance in disguise to represent in slain Mahisasur . The line files past Tyagal, Hogal and ends at Mangal Bazaar.
Now the major activity of Dashain is over though certain of the next few days a wait for visiting special relatives. For instance married daughters call in their natal homes on the eleventh while Bhadgaon stages the ‘Taleju Khat-Yatra’ late the twelfth night. On the bright full-moon day Buddhist stupas and shrines are auspiciously decorated. The ‘Kalash’ that held the ‘Jamra’ shoots is this day dumped before the main doorway. Patan Buddhists in the morning follow a procession that goes along much the ditto route as Mata-Yaa and includes the same scattering of grains to feed the souls of the deceased ones.