The lifestyle of Nepalese people is as varied as the landscape they live in. Modern consumerism flourishes in the upper middle class while traditional hard manual labor is widespread in rural areas. Religion and deep-seated traditions continue to influence everyday life heavily. But everybody seems to enjoy lingering in the sunshine of the chilly winter mornings with a hot cup of tea.
Nepal’s rich culture comes alive on the occasion of its numerous festivals. Most of the festivals are derived from Hinduism, Buddhism, Indigenous traditions, or even a conglomeration of all three. The calendar is fairly packed with colorful events all year round. Every celebration has its rituals and ceremonies, ranging from serious sacrifices and mysterious mask dances to days of splashing water and colored powder on each other. But underneath all the fun and games, there’s usually deep religious and mythological symbolism buried. Their dates are fixed by the position of the moon and stars, and so they may come in different months in different years.
Nepal Festival Calendar
Here is a quick list of the main annual festivals of Nepal.
Baishak (April – May)
Nepali calendar new year
Bisket Jatra – Only held in Bhaktapur
Balkumari Jatra – Held in Thimi
Buddha jayanti – this is the day when Buddha was born
Rato Machhendranath – Held in Patan
Jestha (May – June)
Sithinakha – Newari festival held in Newari places
Asadh (June – July)
Shrawan (July – August)
Bhadra (August – September)
Krishna janmastami – Lord Krishna’s birthday
Teej – Festival celebrated by ladies only
Ashoj (September – October)
Eid ul-Fitr – celebrated by muslim community
Dashain – The main festival, it’s on countrywide and lasts for 10 days
Kartik (October – November)
Tihar – Lasts 5 days
Chat puja – Tarai festival
Mangshir (November- December)
Balachaturdashi / Sarvicharne – Pashupati, evening. People throw rice on the street to lure out Shiva reincarnated as a deer
Hajj – The Muslim “feast of sacrifice”, held 70 days after Ei
Poush (December – January)
Christmas – celebrated by christian community of Nepal.
Magh (January – February)
Falgun (February – March)
Shivaratri – Pashupati
Sherpa & Tibetan Losar
Chaitra (March – April)
Seto Machhendranath jatra
Long ago, at Samundra Mantha, poison spilled out of the ocean causing a lot of trouble, and destruction everywhere. But a powerful god Lord Shiva drank all that poison to protect the universe and managed to keep it in his throat. His throat turned blue, and people started calling him Nilkantha. Because of what he did, people celebrate a special day called Shivaratri to say thanks to Shiva for keeping the Universe safe. It’s also believed that Shiva got married to Goddess Parvati on this day, so in some places, Shivaratri is like their wedding anniversary. All these important events happened on the same day, so it’s sometimes called Falgun Sukla Chaturdashi. According to the Shiva Puran, chandan (vermilion paste), bel leaves (Marmelos), betel leaves, prasad (various food items), incense, and diyo (oil lamp) are regarded important items to worship Shiva in Shivaratri. Fireplaces are set up in avenues and temples from evening to night.
Indra is the Hindu God of Heaven and also a god of rain and Jatra means festival. Intra Jatra is a traditional festival celebrated in Nepal, particularly in the Kathmandu Valley. It is celebrated for eight days in Kathmandu Durbar Square. During Intra Jatra, people in Nepal celebrate by erecting a tall wooden pole about 36 feet high, called a “Yosin” in Durbar Square.
They also unveil a mask of a god named Bhairab, and it’s pretty unique because it can make alcohol pour out from its mouth as part of the celebration. One of the most famous aspects of Intra Jatra is the Kumari, the living goddess paraded through the streets in a chariot. The festival also involves traditional dances, music, and feasting. It’s a fascinating and vibrant festival that brings lots of excitement to Kathmandu.
Yomari Punhi is a traditional Newa festival marking the end of the rice harvest. It is celebrated in Nepal, particularly in the Kathmandu Valley. It is one of the popular Newa festivals. The main highlight of the festival is the preparation and consumption of a special type of sweet dumpling called “Yomari”. A Yomari is a sweet treat made from rice flour dough (from the new harvest), filled with chaku (a sweet concentrated extract) and sesame seeds which are then steamed. The festival is an important cultural and religious event in the Kathmandu Valley and is an excellent example of the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Nepal.
Dashain is the biggest and most significant festival in Nepal. It is also the symbol of unity. It is a multi-day festival celebrated by all castes and throughout the whole country. The fifteen days of celebration take place with the most important days being the last nine days, known as “Navaratri”. It is the longest and most auspicious festival in the Nepalese annual calendar. Dashain is a festival that symbolizes the victory of the goddess Durga over the demon king Mahishasura. During Navaratri, various manifestations of the goddess Durga are worshiped through prayers, rituals, and offerings.
The first day of Dashain is called Ghatasthapana. The seventh day is called Fulpati. The eighth day is called Maha Asthami. The night of the eighth day is called Kal Ratri, the night. Goats, sheep, and buffaloes are sacrificed in the temples of the goddess. The ninth day is called Nawami. The tenth day is the Dashami and on this day, people receive tika and Jamara from the elders and receive their blessings. On this day, close family members and distant relatives come for a visit to receive the tika. This event continues for four days and Dashain ends on the full moon day (Kojagrata, meaning “who is awake”).
Key aspects of Dashain include:
Animal Sacrifice: One of the central rituals of Dashain is the sacrifice of animals, particularly goats, chickens, ducks, and buffaloes.
Tika and Jamara: On the tenth day of Dashain, known as “Vijaya Dashami” family members receive tika (a mixture of yogurt, rice, and vermillion) and jamara (barley sprouts) from their elders as blessings.
Family Reunions: Dashain is a time when families come together, and people from all over the country return to their ancestral homes to celebrate the festival with their loved ones.
Kite Flying: Flying kites is a popular pastime during Dashain, especially among children. The sky is filled with colorful kites, and kite-flying competitions are common.
Swing Sets: Swings made of bamboo and decorated with flowers and leaves are set up in public places. People, especially children, enjoy swinging as a traditional part of the festival.
Dashain is a time of happiness, blessings, and togetherness. It is a culturally rich and deeply spiritual festival that holds great significance in Nepali society, and it reflects the values and traditions of the Nepali people.
Tihar is the festival of lights also known as Deepawali. The Goddess of Wealth, Laxmi is worshipped during this festival, especially on Laxmi puja day. Every house is decorated with oil lamps and colorful lights. Tihar is a five-day celebration of Kaag Tihar (Crow Puja), Kukur Tihar (Dog Puja), Laxmi Puja (Cow Puja), Govardhan Puja, and Bahi Tika. Tihar is a time of celebration, family gatherings, and cultural significance. The festival represents the deep-rooted cultural and traditional values of Nepali society and the importance of harmony and respect for all living beings.
Maghe Sankranti is a Nepalese festival that is celebrated on the first day of the month of Magh in the Nepali calendar. It marks the end of winter and signifies a new holy season. The Nepali people celebrate the end of this phase that ends with the month of Poush. People offer various food items like tarul, sesame seeds, molasses, ghee, and various sweets as part of their prayers and rituals.
Shree Panchami also known as Basanta Panchami and Saraswati Puja is one of the most important festivals in Nepal. Basanta Panchami is the day when winter ends and spring starts. Shree Panchami is primarily dedicated to the worship of the goddess Saraswati. Goddess Saraswati is regarded as the Goddess of Knowledge and is worshipped on this day. She is the creator of arts, music, wisdom, and learning. On this day, people get married or start new businesses.
Shree Panchami is not only a religious festival but it is a day dedicated to seeking knowledge and wisdom, and it holds special significance for students and educators. The festival highlights the importance of education and the arts in culture and promotes the pursuit of knowledge and creativity.
Holi is the festival of colors, celebrated on the full moon day in Falgun. Hence, it is also called Fagu Purnima. It is one of the most vibrant and joyous festivals celebrated in Nepal. The festival is celebrated with colors, water, and music. People of all ages, gather in open spaces and throw colored powders and water balloons at each other. Modern Holi celebrations often involve the use of water guns (pichkari) and water balloons. These playful water fights add an extra layer of fun to the festivities.
Holi is a time for socializing and strengthening bonds. The festival breaks down social barriers and brings people from diverse backgrounds together. Holi is not only a fun and colorful festival but also a time for forgiveness and reconciliation. People use this occasion to mend broken relationships and start anew.
This tradition signifies the arrival of spring and the victory of good over evil. The people in the Terai celebrate Holi one day later than in Kathmandu Valley and other hilly regions of Nepal. You can find Holi celebrations and color festivals in other countries outside of Nepal as well.
Father’s Day is also known as “Kuse Ausi”, or “Buba ko Mukh Herne din” and this is the special day dedicated to honoring fathers. The primary purpose of Father’s Day is to express gratitude, love, and appreciation for the contributions and sacrifices that fathers make in the lives of their children and families. It is a day for children to show their affection.
People who have already lost their fathers give Daan (a mixture of rice grains etc). Nepal has over 70 ethnic groups and almost all of them have their own way of celebrating Father’s Day. Some communities celebrate in the morning with an empty stomach and some celebrate in the evening.
Mother’s Day is also known as “Mata Tirtha Ausi”. On this day, people pay their mothers respect, presenting her with her food, and sweets. “Mother’s Day” in the Nepali language is known as “Aama ko Mukh Herne Din”, which means to see Mother’s face.
Rama Nawami is a Hindu festival, celebrating the birth of the god Rama to King Dasharatha and Queen Kausalya.
Buddha Jayanti celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha. This strange, three-fold coincidence, gives Buddha Purnima its unique significance. This festival is observed on the full moon day in April or May, depending on the lunar calendar. Buddha was born around 543 BC in Kapilvastu in Nepal as the son of King Suddhodhan Gautam and Queen Maya Devi. He was born in a garden of sal trees (shore robusta), situated in the Lumbini zone in the Rupandehi district of Nepal. UNESCO has listed Lumbini in Nepal as a world heritage site and birthplace of Gautama Buddha. Buddha Jayanti serves as a reminder of the Buddha’s life and teachings, the path of enlightenment, and the principles of Buddhism.
Guru Purnima is the day to show gratitude to one’s Guru. The term “Guru” in Sanskrit means “teacher” or “spiritual guide”. Devotees visit ashrams, or the homes of their spiritual teachers to pay respect and seek their blessings.
The birthday of Lord Krishna is a special occasion for Hindus. Krishna was born at midnight and is regarded as the 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Krishna had a very important role in the Holy Battle of Mahabharat. He was the Chariot Rider of Arjun and also the main character in supporting the Pandavs against the Kauravs to win the Holy War. His holy advice is known as “Bhagwat Gita”. He also taught Arjun about Dharma (Good) and Paap (Sin). He is known and revered by so many names: Krishna, Murari, Hari, Gopal, Shyam, and Nanda Lala.
In the Nepali language, “Gai” means cow, and “Jatra” procession and the festival of cows. It is one of the most popular festivals in Nepal mostly in Kathmandu. Traditionally, every family that had a family death in the past year must attend the procession with a cow. If a cow is unavailable, then a young child, dressed as a cow, is considered a fair substitute.
The story behind the celebration of Gai Jatra
King Pratap Malla lost his young son and the queen was in great misery. So, the king announced that the person who could make the queen laugh again would be rewarded. He asked the people to hold the cow procession for the queen. So, the people tried their best – with various costumes and humorous acts. Eventually, the dances and the cow procession managed to make the queen smile again and she felt that she was not alone in losing someone she loved.
Teej is a four-day festival celebrated by Nepalese women. Teej is also known as “Hari Talika Teej”.
The first day of the festival is called “Dar Khane Din”, the married and unmarried women, gather in one place and the grand feast takes place until midnight known as “Dar”. After midnight, nothing is allowed to eat and the 24-hour fasting starts. The second day, the fasting day is the main day of Teej. Women visit the Shiva temple and offer flowers, sweets, and coins, for their husband’s long life. The third day of Teej is known as “Ganesh Chaturthi” and women get up at dawn, take a bath, and perform a puja. The fourth day of Teej is known as “Rishi Panchami”.
Janai Purnima / Rakshya Bandhan
Janai is a cotton string worn across the chest by Hindu men which initiates the transition from youth to manhood. This Janai is only given to males during a religious ceremony, called Barthabandhan. It is a formal process of accepting someone into one’s religion.
Rakshya means “to protect” and Bandhan is “bond”. Rakshya Bandhan is a bond or tie of protection. During Rakshya Bandhan a “Doro” (thread) is tied around the hand.