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Culture of Nepal PDF Print E-mail

The Nepalese culture is diverse and it reflects people of different ethnic origins. A typical Nepalese meal is “Dal-Bhat”, a kind of a lentil soup served with rice, vegetables and pickles & “Gundruk ra Dhido”. However, the Newar community has its own unique cuisine. It consists of non-vegetarian and vegetarian items as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Mustard oil and a host of spices, such as cumin, sesame seeds, turmeric, garlic, ginger, methi (fenugreek), bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, chili, mustard seeds, vinegar, etc. are used in cooking. The cuisine served in the festivals is considered as the best diet cuisine. Folklore is an integral part of Nepalese society. Traditional stories are rooted in the reality of day to day life,tales of love, affection, battles, demons and ghosts; they reflect and explain local lifestyles, cultures and belief systems. Many Nepalese folktales are enacted in dance and music.

The Newar community is very rich in cultural diversity. Most of the festivals observed in Kathmandu valley are in the Newar community. The Newars are also well known for their music and dance. The Newar Music consists mainly of percussion instruments. Wind instruments such as flutes and similar instruments are also used. String instruments are very rare. There are songs pertaining to particular seasons and festivals. Paahan chare music is most probably the fastest played music whereas the Dapa the slowest. The dhimay music is the loudest ones. There are certain musical instruments such as Dhimay and Bhusya, which are played as instrumental only and are not accompanied with songs. The Newar Dance can be broadly classified as masked dance and dance without the use of masks. The most representative of Newari dance is Lakhey dance. Almost all the settlements of Newar have Lakhey dance at least once a year. Almost all of these Lakhey dances are held in the Goonlaa month. So, they are called Goonlaa Lakhey. However, the most famous Lakhey dance is the Majipa Lakhey dance. It is performed by the Ranjitkars of Kathmandu.

The dance takes place for a week during the week containing the full moon of Yenlaa month. The Lakhey are considered as the saviors of children. Likewise, in hills people enjoy their own kind of music, playing Saarangi (string instrument), Madal and Flute. They also have many popular folk songs like “Lok Geet” and “Lok Dohari”. The Nepali year begins in mid-April and is divided into 12 months. Saturday is the official weekly holiday. Main holidays include the National Day (birthday of the king) December 28, Prithvi Jayanti, (January 11), and Martyr's Day (February 18) and a mix of Hindu and Buddhist festivals such as “Dashain” in autumn, and “Tihar” late autumn. During Tihar, the Newar community celebrates its New Year as per local calendar (Nepal Sambat). Most houses in rural lowland of Nepal are made up of a tight bamboo framework with mud and cow-dung walls. These dwellings remain cool in summers and retain warmth in winters. Dwellings in higher altitudes are mostly stone masonry walls with slate and thatched roof and timber based. Dashain and Tihar are the main festivals among the Nepalese community. Short descriptions of both festivals are mentioned below:

Dashain -month of October / November

Dashain is the 15-days national festival of Nepal. The festival falls around September-October, after the rice harvest. This festival is known for emphasis on family gatherings, as well as on a renewal of community ties. People will return from all parts of the world, as well as different parts of the country to celebrate together. The festival is a blend of Hindu Tantrik and animistic harvest festival traditions. On the first day, called Ghatasthapana, the "Dashain Ghar", or special worship room, is set up. This room is used to worship the Astha-Matrikas (the 8 tantrik goddesses) as well as the Nava Durgas (the 9 durga goddesses), to whom the festival is consecrated. Married women will cite the mantras for the next fifteen days, and guard the goddesses. Barley is sowed in big earthen pots which have a coating of cow dung. These seeds will sprout in ten days. The sprouts, which symbolize a good harvest, will be decoratively placed on the heads of family members later on in the festival as a blessing. On the seventh day, Fulpaati, the town of Gorkha sends an offering of flowers to the King of Nepal. A band associated with the army also plays its music and goes through the old core of Kathmandu. The eighth day, Asthami, is the day of sacrifices. Goddess temples all over the Kathmandu Valley receive sacrifices, ranging from goats and buffaloes to ducks and chickens. Blood, symbolic for its fertility, is offered to the goddesses. This meat is taken home and cooked as "prasad", or food blessed by divinity. This food is offered, in tiny leaf plates, to the household gods, and then distributed amongst the family. Eating this food is thought to be auspicious. Sacrifices continue on Navami, the ninth day. Families will visit various temples around the Kathmandu Valley. On the tenth day, "Dashami," a mixture of rice, yogurt and vermilion will be prepared by the women. This preparation is known as "tika". Elders put this on the forehead of younger relatives to bless them with fertility and abundance in the upcoming year. The red also symbolizes the blood that ties the family together. Elders will give "dakshina", or a small amount of money to younger relatives at this time. The tika continues for five days during which people also gather to play cards around massive amounts of food and drink. In several parts of Nepal, Dashain is the only time of the year when people receive a set of new clothing. Likewise, in poorer families, the animal sacrifice was eagerly anticipated since it might be the only animal protein the family would eat all year. This may be true in certain parts of Nepal where food is in low supply, but is less so in the cities. In general, the tradition of sacrifice is lessening with the easy availability of meat for daily consumption, and with the influences of Vaishnav Hindus (who are vegetarian). In recent times, Dashain has become commercialized, with industries sponsoring events around the festival to sell goods.

Tihar (Dipawali) -month of October / November

Tihar is a five-days Nepalese festival celebrated in late autumn, which comes soon after Dashain. One of these days incorporates the Hindu festival Deepawali although all ethnic groups celebrate it; the Newars in particular celebrate it in a certain way. Crows, Dogs, Cows, Laxmi-the Goddess of wealth are worshipped in this festival. On the final day, sisters worship brothers for their long lives. The first day of Tihar is known as Kag Puja or Worship of Crows. The crows are fed early in the morning. The second day is called Kukur Puja,(Khicha Puja by the Newars) or Worship of Dogs. This is to worship the animal representative of a particular god. In the morning of the third day is Gai Puja, where the Nepalese worship cows, an animal sacred to the Hindus as it is the animal representative of Laxmi, in the evening is Laxmi Puja, to worship the goddess of wealth. Gobhardan Puja and Maha Puja are on the fourth day of Tihar.-there are three different known pujas. Most perform Goru Puja or Worship of Oxen. People who follow Krishna perform Gobhardhan Puja, which is worship towards Cow-dung. Cow-dung is seen as very useful in Nepal, as in the olden days it was used for everything from light at night (Methane) to polish the mud floors of traditional houses. The Newar community at night of this day,does Maha Puja which is Worship of Self. Because this period is also the beginning of Nepal Sambat or the new year of Nepalese especially commemorated by Newars, it ensures prosperity for the New Year. The third and fourth day of Tihar are especially famous for DEUSI AND BHAILO, light and fireworks. Deusi and Bhailo are the songs, which have only been sung on those Tihar days. Social workers, young and children visit local homes by singing those songs, and in return the home owners give them money, fruit, rice and bread (Selroti, a special type of bread made by rice flour and sugar).The fifth or the last day of Tihar is Bhai Tika, the day where sisters put "Tika" on forehead of brothers to ensure long life and thank them for the protection they give.

Gai Jatra -month of August / September

In this festival, teen-aged boys get dressed up as cows, parade the streets of the town. This costume springs from the belief that cows help the members of the family who died within that year to travel to heaven smoothly. Some are also dressed up as an ascetic or a fool for achieving the same objective for their dead family members. Groups of mimics improvise short satirical enactment on the current social scenes of the town for the entertainment of the public. The week beginning from Janai Purnima actually unfolds a season of many good religious and cultural activities. All the Buddhist monasteries open their gates to the visitors to view their bronze sculptures and collections of painting for a week. At Patan, one observes the festival of Mataya at this time. The festivity of Gai Jatra itself lasts for a week enlivened by the performance of dance and drama in different localities of the town. The spirit of the old festival is being increasingly adapted by cultural centers, newspapers and magazines to fling humour and satire on the Nepalese Social and Political issues.

Teej (Ladies Festivals) -month of August / September

This is the festival of women. On this day, the Nepalese women go to Shiva temple in colorful dresses to worship Lord Shiva. In Kathmandu Valley, they go to Pashupatinath and then worship Lord Shiva (Hindu God of Destruction) with a belief that whatever they wish that will be fulfilled.

Indra Jatra (The god of rain) -month of August / September

Like Gai Jatra, this also heralds a week of religious and cultural festivity in Kathmandu. There are several faces of this festival.. At night when this festival begins, members of the family in which death has taken place within one year, go around the town limits of Kathmandu burning incense and putting lamps along the route.
The same morning, a tall wooden pole representing the statue of Indra and large wooden masks of Bhairav are put on display in the bazar. Several groups of religious dances like the Devinaach, Bhairava and Bhakku as well as Mahankalinach come into life during this week. The week also commences with pulling of chariot of Ganesh, Bhairav and Kumari in Kathmandu. On this historical day, King Prithvi Narayan Shah made a victorious march with his troops into the town and ascended the throne of Kantipur, the old name of Kathmandu, displacing the Malla King Jaya Prakash Malla.

Krishna Janmastami (Birth day of lord Krishna) -month of August / September

The birth anniversary of Lord Sri Krishna, believed to be the 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu falls sometime in August/September. All the devotees assemble in Krishna Mandir, the ancient Krishna Temple in Patan Durbar Square and other temples with the idol of Sri Krishna and offer prayers, flowers, food, sweets and chant hymns too.

Prithvi Jayanti

The day is celebrated as the birth anniversary of the great conqueror of Nepal, the first Shah King of United Nepal. The great festivity celebrates particularly around the bronze life statue of the great monarch in front of the magnificient unique Lion Palace, “Singha Durbar”, in Kathmandu. On that day, a large procession will be marching in its front with a big life size photo of the King Prithvi Narayan Shah in a well-decorated chariot from Basantapur in the ancient Royal Palace square and ends in front of Singha Durbar. On the same day evening, the ritual bath of White Machendra takes place at Kel Tole, Kathmandu.

Maghe Sankranti

Sankranti signifies the first day of any month in the Nepali calendar . The first day of the month of Magh, which falls in January is sacred day in Nepal because the sun, on this day, is believed to be astrologically in a good position. It starts on its northward journey, in its heavenly course on this day, thus announcing the commencement of the Uttarayana. In the Nepalese belief this day marks the division of the winter and Summer Solstices. Bathing in rivers is prescribed from this day especially at the river confluence and feasting with rich foods of special preparation is common in the family.

Basanta Panchami

On this day, Nepalese people bid farewell to the winter season and look forward to the spring season. Most of the people of Nepal worship Goddess of learning called “SARASWATI”. The people of Kathmandu valley go to a little shrine near Swayambhunath to worship this Goddess.

Lhosar (the Tibetan New Year) -month of February

This is the New Year of the Tibetans and Sherpas of Nepal which falls in February. The Buddhist monasteries in Kathmandu like Boudhanath and Swayambhunath are decorated with eye catching colorful prayer flags pulling the crowd. The people perform their traditional dances and welcome their New Year with feasts and family gatherings wearing all the new clothes and finest jewelries and exchanging gifts.

Maha Shivaratri (festival of lord Shiva) -month of March/ April

This is the most famous and celebrated festival of Nepal which attracts large crowds from far flung places both in India and Nepal. The festival is considered in honour of Lord Shiva. It is observed by bathing and holding of a religious fast. All Shiva shrines become the places of visit for “Darshan”, but, the greatest attraction of all is held by the temple of Pashupatinath in Kathmandu. One gets to see thousands of Hindu devotees coming to visit the temple of Pashupati.
Among them are a large number of Sadhus and naked ascetics. Many people like to keep awake for the whole night keeping vigilance over an oil lamp burnt to please Lord Shiva. Similarly children are seen keeping awake over a burrning fire in many localities. In the afternoon, an official function is held to celebrate this festival at Tundikhel. The Royal Nepal Army organizes a show in which series of gun fire are sounded. The ceremony is witnessed by His Majesty the King.

Fagu Purnima (Holi colour festival) -month of February / March

This is known as Holi. Holi is the festival of colours. It is observed for eight days just before the full moon of Falgun and during this time, people indulge in colour throwing at each other. This festival does not have any religious flavour as it is practised in hills of Nepal. Nevertheless, the festival has got some official status because the colour festival is always heralded by the sticking of a wooden pole with colourful streamers beside the old Royal Palace at Basantapur by the arrangements of the Government Religious Endowment Office.

Ghode Jatra (Horse riding festival) -month of March / April

The festival has two sides of its celebration. Its cultural side involves the Newars of Kathmandu who celebrate it for several days; the idols of the Gods of many localities are taken in a procession in their area in portable chariots. Every household will be feasting at this time. A demon called “Gurumapa” is also propitiated at Tundikhel. The other aspects of the festival are provided by the function organized by the Royal Nepalese Army at Tundikhel in the afternoon of the main day. Horse race and acrobatic shows are presented at this time in which His Majesty the King will be present. The visit of Kumari, Bhadrakali, Kankeshori and Bhairab at Asan on the second day of the main celebration is another highlight of the festival.

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.

Buddha Jayanti ( Buddha's Birth day) -month of May

Buddha Jayanti or also known as Buddha Purnima is the most sacred festival of Buddhists. Buddha Purnima (Buddha Birthday) is celebrated in remembrance of Lord Buddha. Lord Buddha is the founder of Buddhism. This day is the birth anniversary of Lord Buddha. It falls on the full moon of the fourth lunar month (month of Vaisakh) i.e. April or May. This day commemorates three important events of Buddha's life - His birth in 623 BC. - his enlightenment i.e. attainment of supreme wisdom, in 588 BC. - his attainment of Nirvana i.e. the complete extinction of his self at the age of 80. This day is a thrice blessed day. Lord Buddha is considered the ninth avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu (Preserver in the Hindu Holy Trinity of Creator-Preserver-Destroyer). Gautam Buddha "lived and died in about the fifth century before the Christian era". Buddha means "enlightened one" - someone who is completely free from all faults and mental obstructions. Gautam Buddha was not a god and the philosophy of Buddhism does not entail any theistic world-view. The teachings of the Buddha are solely to liberate human beings from the misery and sufferings of life.
On the ocasion of Buddha's birth day; people swarm in Swayambhunath and Boudhanath to pay homage to Lord Buddha and also visit Buddha’s birth place in Lumbini and chant prayers and burn butter lamps. Lord Buddha was born as Prince Siddhartha Gautam but he abandoned his luxurious life when he realized the misery of mankind and went in search of enlightenment.

Nag Panchami

Snakes must be kept happy or the rains might fail. On Naga Panchami, people worship the holy reptile by sticking images on their doors and leaving bowls of rice and milk out for the serpents' delectation. The snake is a potent force in Nepal, and greatly feared: the images on doorways are also there to keep the naga away from entering the home. Failure to observe Nag Panchami may induce their wrath, resulting in an onset of general evil and, worse, the stopping of the monsoon, over which they have magical powers.

Janai Purnima or Raksha Bandhan

Janai Purnima, a full moon day, high-caste Hindus chant the powerful Gayatri mantra and change their Sacred Thread (janai), while a raksha bandhan, a red or yellow protection cord, is tied around the wrists of other Hindus and Buddhists. 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 its center is filled with water believed to have come from Gosaikund.