20 Major Festivals in Nepal You Must Experience
Nepal is an ancient country, never colonized. The Nepali Bikram Sambat calendar is at least 56 years older than the Georgian. For these reasons, Nepali festivals are unique and less influenced by outsiders. Yet, as a Hindu nation, our festivals have a common theme that resonates with the Hindus in India to a greater extent. S
ome ethnic cultures in the mountainous regions show Buddhist influences from Tibet. Here are some of the biggest festivals that Nepalis celebrate.
1. Dashain (Vijaya Dashami)
Dashain is the longest and most significant Hindu festival in Nepal, celebrated for 15 days either in September or October. Vijaya Dashami is celebrated for the victory of good over evil.
During this time, goddess Durga, who killed the demon Mahisashur, is worshipped. This festival celebration includes animal sacrifices and putting tika on the foreheads.
2. Tihar (Deepawali)
Tihar is a captivating and vibrant festival celebrated for five days in October or November and is a time of joy and reverence. The animals worshipped are crows, dogs, cows, and oxen.
For this festival, the homes are adorned with intricate rangoli designs, marigold garlands, and oil lamps, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere.
The lighting of diyas (oil lamps) not only illuminates the physical surroundings but also symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil. Tihar is unique as it celebrates the kinship between brothers and sisters.
Chhath is a four-day Hindu festival, mostly celebrated in the Terai region of Nepal. This ancient festival, dedicated to the worship of the sun god, Surya, takes place in October or November.
The festival involves offerings to the sun at sunrise and sunset, including taking holy dips in rivers, fasting, and standing in water for extended periods. In addition to the Sun god, Chhathi Miaya (goddess) is worshipped for the well-being of the children and their long lives.
You can trace the roots of Chhat Puja as far as the early Vedic period when the sages celebrated this festival with mantra recitation from Rigveda.
People also believe that Karna, the son of Lord Surya, used to perform Chhath Puja. The festival showcases a strong sense of community and cultural pride as people come together to celebrate and express their devotion to the sun god.
4. Shree Krishna Janmashtami
Shree Krishna Janmashtami commemorates the birth of Lord Krishna, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. This festival falls on the eighth day (Ashtami) of the dark fortnight of the Hindu month of Bhadrapada, usually in August or September.
Devotees observe fasts, sing bhajans (devotional songs), and participate in elaborate temple celebrations to mark the divine birth of Lord Krishna. Hindus believe that celebrating Lord Krishna's birth with devotion brings blessings, joy, and spiritual enlightenment.
5. Maha Shivaratri
Maha Shivaratri (The Great Night of Shiva) honors Lord Shiva, one of the principal deities of Hinduism. This significant festival holds great spiritual and cultural importance in Nepal and other Hindu-majority countries.
Maha Shivaratri falls on the 14th day of the dark fortnight in Falgun, usually in February or March. According to the scriptures, this festival celebrates the marriage of Lord Shiva with Parvati, and it is the night when Shiva performs Tandava dance.
Ardent Shiva's followers stay awake throughout the night, and some even smoke marijuana as Shiva is depicted as a god who chooses to remain intoxicated. Shivaratri is celebrated grandly at Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu as Pashupatinath Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Lhosar is observed by the ethnicities typically living in the mountainous region near Tibet. Different ethnicities, such as Sherpas, Gurungs, Tamangs, and Thakalis celebrate this festival with huge significance. However, each ethnicity celebrates Lhosar on different days.
The Gurungs celebrate Tamu Lhosar around December-January in the Georgian Calendar, performing Selo dances and rituals to ward off evil. The Tamangs and Hyolmo have their own Lhosar called Sonam Lhoshar, which falls between January - February. Finally, there is Gyalpo Lhosar Sherpas celebrate in between February-March.
The colorful spring festival is known for its joyous water and color fights. It falls in the spring, marking the victory of good over evil and the arrival of the season of renewal and rebirth.
People celebrate this festival by throwing colorful powders and water at each other, turning streets and people into a mesmerizing canvas of vibrant hues. Families and friends come together to revel in the festivities, dance to traditional music, and indulge in sweet treats.
Teej is a Hindu festival celebrated primarily by women in Nepal. This festival is dedicated to the goddess Parvati (consort of Lord Shiva) and typically falls in the month of Bhadra (August or September). This festival is celebrated for three days.
The first day is the Dar Khane Din (the day for rice puffing) when feasting takes place. On the second day, married women fast for the longevity of their husbands while unmarried girls pray for a loving husband.
On the last day, after Puja women worship seven saints or sages and perform a holy bath to appease the deities. Hindus believe that on the third day of Teej, Lord Shiva agreed to marry Parvati. Hence, this day is observed at this time.
9. Gai Jatra
Gai Jatra, which translates to "Fair of Cows," is a traditional and culturally significant festival celebrated in Nepal either in August or September, primarily in the Kathmandu Valley, mainly among the Newars.
The most distinctive feature of this festival is the procession of cows, often accompanied by people dressed in colorful costumes and unconventional attire. Families who have lost a loved one in the past year participate in the procession, leading a decorated cow or young children dressed as cows.
The festival has both religious and social significance. People believe the procession helps the departed souls find their way to the afterlife. The cows are considered sacred animals in Hinduism, and they can guide the souls to Yama, the god of death.
Gai Jatra is also an occasion for social and political satire. People engage in various forms of humor, including satirical performances and the use of masks, to highlight social issues and criticize the government or other institutions. This tradition of satire and humor is a way for Nepalese people to express their grievances and seek changes.
10. Maghe Sankranti
Maghe Sankranti marks the transition of the sun into the northern hemisphere, symbolizing the onset of longer, warmer days. It falls on the first day of the month of Magh in the Nepali calendar ( around mid-January in the Gregorian calendar).
This festival holds cultural and agricultural significance for the people of Nepal. Maghe Sankranti is observed with great enthusiasm, and it signifies a time for renewed hope, abundance, and togetherness among families and communities.
The central part of Maghe Sankranti is the special food prepared on this day, consisting of Til (sesame seeds), Chakku (Molasys), Ghee, Spinich, and yam. People believe that these foods keep a person warm. Tharus in western Nepal celebrates this festival elaborately for a week.
11. Indra Jatra
Indra Jatra is one of the most vibrant and culturally significant festivals celebrated in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. This week-long festival, which usually falls in September, is dedicated to Lord Indra, the Hindu god of rain, and Kumari, the living goddess of Kathmandu.
The highlight of Indra Jatra is the Kumari Jatra, where the living goddess in the form of Kumari is paraded through the streets of Kathmandu in a grand chariot.
The festival also features colorful processions, traditional music and dance performances, and the raising of the lingo, a ceremonial pole, at Basantapur Durbar Square. The Kathmandu Durbar Square becomes the center of all activities during this time, and locals and tourists alike gather to witness the cultural performances and rituals.
12. Ghode Jatra
Ghode Jatra (The Festival of Horses) is a traditional Newar festival celebrated in Kathmandu, Nepal. This annual event typically falls in March and is a unique and vibrant cultural celebration.
The central activity of Ghode Jatra is an impressive horse race held at Tundikhel, a large open ground in the heart of Kathmandu. Participants, both military and civilian, ride beautifully adorned horses, showcasing their equestrian skills in a grand spectacle. The race is not only a thrilling competition but also a display of Nepal's historical connection with horses and horsemanship.
Beyond the horse race, Ghode Jatra also features various other cultural and traditional activities. People gather to enjoy picnics, watch the races, and participate in community events. The festival holds religious significance as well, with certain rituals and ceremonies taking place at various temples in Kathmandu.
13. Nepal Sambat New Year and Mha Puja
Nepal Sambat is a lunar calendar of Nepal that holds cultural and historical significance, particularly among the Newars in the Kathmandu Valley. Nepal Sambat began as an official calendar during the rule of King Raghavadeva in the 12th century and is still in use today.
Hence, Newars celebrate Nepal Sambat New Year. Mha Puja (worship of the self) also falls on this day, and at the end of Mha Puja, a feast is organized. The Nepal Sambat New Year reflects the rich cultural heritage of Nepal and showcases the resilience of its unique traditions and history. Nepal Sambat New Year and Mha Puja falls on the fourth day of Tihar.
14. Janai Purnima
Janai Purnima is another significant Hindu festival celebrated in Nepal. This auspicious festival typically falls in the month of Shrawan (July or August). The main ritual of Janai Purnima includes changing the sacred thread (janai) worn by Hindu men.
Hindus believe that changing the janai purifies the individual and protects them from negative influences. This is also the day when sisters tie Rakhi (a sacred thread) around the wrists of their brothers, symbolizing the bond of love and protection, while the brothers offer their sisters gifts and blessings.
15. Buddha Jayanti
Buddha Purnima is one of the most important religious festivals in the country. As the birthplace of Gautama Buddha, Nepal holds a special significance in the global observance of this sacred day. Buddhists converge on Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, to pay homage and participate in various religious rituals. Buddha Purnima falls on a full moon day in April or May.
During this festival, monasteries and stupas across the country host prayer sessions, religious discourses, and cultural events. Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike join in the festivities, emphasizing the universal message of peace and compassion taught by Buddha. The occasion serves as a reminder of the importance of his teachings in fostering harmony and understanding in a diverse and multicultural society.
16. Bisket Jatra
Bisket Jatra, also called Bisket Festival, is a vibrant event celebrated in Bhaktapur, Nepal. It typically occurs during the Nepali month of Chaitra (March-April), coinciding with the Nepali New Year around mid-April. The festivities commence with special rituals and prayers held at the Bhairab Temple in Bhaktapur Durbar Square. This temple venerates Lord Bhairab, a powerful incarnation of Lord Shiva.
A central attraction of Bisket Jatra involves the pulling of chariots containing idols of Lord Bhairab and Goddess Bhadrakali. Another notable aspect is the erection of a sizable wooden pole, known as "Yosin" or "Linga," at various locations across Bhaktapur. This symbolic act signifies the triumph of righteousness over malevolence and welcomes the advent of the New Year.
17. Yomari Purnima
Yomari Purnima falls on the full moon day of the Nepali month of Margashirsha (November-December) and holds special significance for the Newar community in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. During Yomari Purnima, people mark the occasion by making and enjoying a unique treat known as "yomari”.
Yomari is a rice flour dumpling filled with ingredients like molasses, sesame seeds, or khoya. Families gather on this day to prepare yomari together, often spending time cooking in elaborate sessions.
Afterwards, they offer the yomari to deities in temples, seeking blessings for prosperity and well-being. Additionally, yomari is shared with relatives, friends, and neighbors as a gesture of goodwill and unity.
18. Rato Machhendranath Jatra
Machhendranath Jatra, also called Rato Machhendranath Jatra, is an annual festival observed in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Typically held during the Nepali month of Baisakh (April-May), it extends over several weeks.
Devotees pull a large wooden chariot containing the idol of Machhendranath through the streets of Kathmandu and Lalitpur. The procession is accompanied by traditional music, dance, and cultural performances. As the chariot travels, devotees offer prayers, seeking blessings for prosperity and well-being.
More than just a religious occasion, Machhendranath Jatra is a cultural extravaganza that unites communities and showcases the vibrant heritage of the Kathmandu Valley. It's a time of celebration, devotion, and togetherness, fostering a sense of joy and unity among the people of Nepal.
19. Naga Panchami
Naga Panchami is a Hindu festival devoted to honoring snakes, known as Nagas. It falls on the fifth day (Panchami) of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Shravan (July-August) in the Hindu calendar.
In Naga Panchami, people pay homage to snakes by offering prayers, milk, honey, and other items to snake idols or images found in temples or designated snake pits known as Naga Ghara. Additionally, they draw snake symbols on walls and doorways, believing it will safeguard them from snake bites and bring prosperity.
Devotees observe fasting and visit temples dedicated to snake deities, such as the Nag Panchami Temple in Nepal or the Nagercoil Nagaraja Temple in India, to seek blessings and protection from snake-related dangers.
20. Saraswati Puja
Saraswati Puja is an important Hindu festival dedicated to the goddess Saraswati, known as the divine embodiment of knowledge, wisdom, arts, and learning. Typically observed in the month of Magha (January-February) across Nepal, India, and various parts of South Asia.
In Saraswati Puja, students, educators, and intellectuals pay homage to Saraswati, seeking her blessings for success in their educational endeavors. The puja involves creating a sacred space adorned with flowers, fruits, and other offerings dedicated to the goddess. Participants recite mantras, offer prayers, and perform rituals while presenting incense, lamps, and sweets to Saraswati.
In educational settings like schools and colleges, Saraswati Puja is celebrated with great enthusiasm. Students take part in cleaning and beautifying their classrooms, arranging books, and showcasing musical instruments. Cultural events, dances, and musical performances are organized as expressions of reverence for Saraswati.
These are the most significant festivals observed in Nepal. However, this list is far from complete, as many more festivals are observed in Nepal, including Maghe Sankranti, Basant Panchami, Mani Rimdu, and those followed by other ethnic groups. If you want to experience these festivals in person, you can book a trek with us. For inquiries call/Viber/WhatsApp us at +977-9840055491 or email [email protected].