Festivals by month
Tibetan peoples from Dolpo to the Khumbu celebrate their New Year with parades, pujas (religious offerings or prayers) and prayer flags. Find celebrations in the Kathmandu Valley at Bouddhanath, Swayabhunath and Jawalakhel, near Patan
Shiva’s birthday heralds festivities at all Shiva temples, but particularly at Pashupatinath, and hundreds of sadhus flock here from all over Nepal and India. The crowds bathing in the Baghmati’s holy waters are a colorful and wonderful sight.
Known as the Festival of Colors, when colored powder and water are riotously dispensed as a reminder of the cooling monsoon days to come. Foreigners get special attention, so keep your camera protected and wear old clothes. It can be in February too.
Kicking off in the wake of the sacrificial festival of Chaitra Dashain, crowds drag an image of Seto Macchendranath from its temple at Kel Tole in Kathmandu on a towering, tottering rath(chariot), through the backstreets of the old town, for four days.
Nepalis celebrate their New Year as a huge crowds drag tottering chariots through the winding backsreets, pausing for a quick tug-of-war.
Thimi celebrates New Year by hosting palanquins from 32 nearby villages at the town’s Balkumari Temple, for three days of festivities. Nearby Bode holds a grisly tongue-boring ceremony at the same time.
Thousands of pilgrims keep an all-night vigil at the Swayambhunath temple during the full moon of Baisakh. The following day they trek to the Baise Dhara(22 watersprouts) at Balaju in the northern Kathmandu for the ritual bath.
Patan’s biggest festival involves the spectacular month-long procession of a temple chariot, culminating in the showing of the sacred vest of the god Macchendranath.
A great full-moon fair at Lumbini (the birthplace of Lord Buddha) marks Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing into nirvana, and there are celebrations in Bouddhanath, Swayambhunath and Patan. Swayambhunath displays a collection of rare Thangkas(Tibetan religious paintings for one day only)
This festival celebrates the destruction of the demon ‘bell ears’ when a god, disguised as a frog, lured him into a deep well. Ghanta Karna is burnt in effigy on this night throughout Newari villages to cleanse evil from the land for another year.
On this day, nagas(serpent deities) are honored all over the country for their magical powers over the monsoon rains. Protective pictures of the nagas hung over doorways of houses, and food is put out for snakes, including a bowl of rice.
On the full moon, all high-caste men (Chettri and Brahmin) change the janai (sacred thread) loped over their left shoulder. Janai Purnima also brings crowds of Hindu pilgrims to sacred Gosainkunda lakes and the Kunbeswar Temple in Patan.
Newars believe that, after death, cows will guide them to Yama, the God of the underworld, and this ‘Cow Festival’ is dedicated to those who died during the preceding year. Cows are led through the towns and small boys dress up as cows(especially in Bhaktapur)
Krishna Jayanta( Krishna’s Birthday)
The birthday (also known as Krishnasthami) of the popular Hindu god Krishna is celebrated with an all-night vigil at the Krishna Mandir in Patan: oil lamps light the temple and singing continues through the night.
The Festival of Women starts with a sumptuous meal and party; at midnight, women commence a 24-hour fast. On the second day, women dress in their red wedding saris and head to Shiva temples across the country to pray for a happy marriage.
This colorful autumn festival combines homage to Indra with an annual appearance by Kathmandu’s Kumari (living goddess), who parades through the packed streets of the old town in a palanquin. It also marks the end of the monsoon.
The fearsome form of Bhairab, Pachali Bhairab, is revered to on the fourth day of the bright fortnight in early October or September. Bhairab’s bloodthirsty nature means that there are numerous animal sacrifices.
Nepal’s biggest festival lasts for 15 days. It celebrates the victory of the Goddess Durga over the forces of the evil (personified by the buffalo demon Mahisasura): across the country, hundreds of thousands of animals are sacrificed and swings are erected at the entrances to the villages.
Fulpati(sacred flowers) is the first really important day of Dashain. A jar of flowers symbolizing the Goddess Taleju is carried from Gorkha to Kathmandu and presented to President at the Tudikhel parade ground before being transported on a palanquin to Durbar Square.
The ‘Great Eight Day’ and Kala Ratri, the ‘Black Night’, mark the start of the sacrifices and offerings to Durga. At midnight, in a temple courtyard near Durbar Square, eight buffaloes and 108 goats are beheaded, each with a single stroke of a sword or knife.
The sacrifices continue on Kathmandu’s Kot Square the next day: visitors can witness the bloodshed but you’ll need to arrive early to secure a place. Blood is sprinkled on the wheels of cars (and Nepal Airline’s aircrafts) and goat meat is on almost everyone’s menu.
The 10th day of the Dashain festival is a family affair: cards and greetings are exchanged and parents place a tika (sandalwood paste spot) on theor children’s foreheads, while evening processions and masked dances celebrate the victory of Lord Rama over the evil demon-king Ravana in the Ramayana.
The full-moon day in Septembet/October marks the end of Dashain. It is celebrated with gambling in many households: you will see even small children avidly putting a few coins down on various local games for chance.
Tihar (also called Diwali or Deepawali) is the second most important Hindu festival in Nepal. The festival honors certain animals, starting with offerings of rice to the crows (‘messengers of death’, sent by God Yama), followed by dogs (who guide departed souls across the river of the dead), cows and bullocks on consecutive days.
Deepawali(Festival of Lights)
The third day of Tihar is when Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, comes to visit every home that has been suitably lit for her presence. No one likes to turn down a visit from the goddess of wealth and so homes throughout the country are brightly lit with candles and lamps.
Newari New Year
The fourth day of Tihar is also the start of the New Year for the Newari people of the Kathmandu Valley. The following day marks Bhai Tika, when brothers and sisters meet to offer gifts of sweets and money and place tikas on each other’s foreheads.
On the 11th day after the new moon the god Vishnu awakens from his four month monsoonal slumber. The best place to see the festivities is at the temple of the Sleeping Vishnu in Budhanilkantha, north of Kathmandu.
Patan’s Durbar Square fills with music and dancers for this festival that traces its origins back to choreographed human sacrifices ordered during the seventeenth century rule of King Siddhinarsingh Malla. Dancers wear mask to represent the god Narsinga and demon Hiranyakashipu. Dates can fall in late October as well.
This popular Sherpa festival takes place at Tengboche Monastery in the Solu Khumbu region and features masked dances and dramas. Another Mani Rimdu festival takes place six months later at nearby Thame Gompa.
On the new-moon day in late November or early December, pilgrims flock to Pashupatinath, burning oil lamps at night, scattering grain for the dead and bathing in the holy Bagmati River.
Sita Bibaha Panchami
Tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the sub-continent flock to Janakpur( the birthplace of Sita) to celebrate the marriage of Sita to Rama. The wedding is re-enacted with a procession carrying Rama’s image to Sita’s temple by elephant.