What comes to your mind when you think of Nepal? If you are like most people, you probably envision beautiful scenic landscapes, sacred religious temples, and brightly colored handmade goods. Nepal is also famous for its fun and vibrant festivals. If you are thinking about visiting the country soon, you should try to experience at least one event before you hop on a flight to go back home. Just remember to run errands, stock up on groceries, and do other important tasks before the festivals start, since some of the local businesses may close during the events. Below you can find more information about the five best festivals in Nepal.
The Holi Festival – March
Holi, also known as the Festival of Colors, is considered one of the most popular festivals in Nepal and marks the arrival of spring. The week-long event is primarily celebrated in the Hindu community since it symbolizes the triumph of good over evil.
The Holi festival celebrates the death of Holika, a person who tried to kill Lord Vishnu’s loyal follower Prahlada. According to an Indian religious story called Mahabharata, Holika was the sister of King Hiranyakashipu. The king was jealous and only wanted the townspeople to worship him and not Lord Vishnu. Despite his threats and intimidation, Prahlada refused to stop worshipping Lord Vishnu. In a fit of rage, King Hiranyakashipu ordered his sister to burn Holika to death for his defiance. However, Lord Vishnu protected Prahlada and allowed him to survive the fire while Holika burned to death. Once the townspeople found out about the miraculous event, they threw water and colored powder on Prahlada to bless him and denounce evil.
To this day, crowds of people honor the memory of during Holi by splashing water and throwing colored powder everywhere to bestow blessings on each other. If you want to experience the Holi festival in person, try to wear light colored clothes so you can easily see the vibrant colors.
The Buddha Jayanti Festival – April
Both the Buddhist and Hindu community participate in the Buddha Jayanti festival. The April event is supposed to commemorate the life and death of Lord Buddha, who was born on the Western plains of Nepal in a town called Lumbini. Buddhists from all over the world come to join the procession and show their respect for Lord Buddha.
The temples and monasteries in Lumbini open their doors during the Buddha Jayanti festival so people can come inside and pray or give an offering. Many people bring flowers, scarves, and candles to place on or near different statues of Buddha. You may also be able to hear the echoes of monks chanting ceremonial prayers and beating drums while you walk through the streets. Sermons promoting world peace and compassion are also commonplace during the Buddha Jayanti festival.
The Indra Jatra Festival – September
Indra Jatra is an extravagant annual street festival that is meant to give honor and thanks to the god of rain Indra. Both Hindus and Buddhists come together to celebrate the occasion for eight days in September.
The Indra Jatra festival is usually only observed in the capital city of Kathmandu. Many people flock to the city so they can see masked performers called Lakhay tell the story of how Indra came to Earth using interpretive dance. Spectators can also enjoy a parade of chariots and dance around ceremonial poles. Every year, the Hindu priests choose one young village girl to represent the spirit of Kumari during the festival. If you’re lucky, you may be able to see her riding in one of the main chariots as the Living Goddess Kumari.
The Dashain Festival – September and October
Dashain is considered to be one of the most important and longest Hindu festivals in Nepal. The event commemorates the victory of good over evil and usually lasts around 15 days. The celebration occurs between September and October and ends on the day of the full moon.
The locals usually perform many rituals (including animal sacrifice) during the festival. If you go, you’ll probably notice the villagers building a large tent-like structure with bamboo and rope. Once the base is secure, they’ll attach a home-made swing inside of it and take turns riding it. It’s also not unusual to see hundreds of colorful kites in the sky since there are multiple kite competitions over the two weeks. If you didn’t get the opportunity to swing with the locals, you can always purchase a kite from a local vendor and enter one of the competitions if you want to participate.
A common Dashain ritual is to tidy up the house so that the goddesses will be tempted to visit and bestow prosperity and good wealth onto the family. Another is to offer several gifts like animals and other food products to the goddess Durga. It’s customary for the older generation to place a mixture of rice, yogurt, and red vermillion on the foreheads of children to give them their blessings at the end of Dashain. Overall, the annual tradition is a time for everyone to feast on delicious food, open presents and spend lots of time with loved ones.
The Tihar Festival – October and November
Another festival you should try to see while visiting Nepal is the Festival of Lights or Tihar. The Tihar festival is meant to pay homage to Yama, the God of Death and Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth. Similar to the Indian festival of Diwali, the event is celebrated during October and November and can last up to five days. Each day has different rituals and traditions.
In contrast to the wild and colorful celebration of Holi, the Festival of Lights is a time for people to sit down and reflect on the past year and what they’d like to accomplish in the next. It also marks the end of the lunar calendar. Tihar is a time of prayer and spiritual renewal to the Nepalese community. Many families come together over the holiday to eat large meals and exchange gifts with each other. People also use decorative candles and lanterns to celebrate the occasion since it serves as a visual symbol of how the light will always triumph over the darkness. If you look up into the sky, you may also be able to see colorful lanterns and fireworks that are supposed to help usher in a prosperous and healthy new year.
This list of popular festivals merely scratches the surface of what Nepal has to offer. There are a variety of national and regional festivals every month dedicated to different deities and special occasions that you can explore during your time there.