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A brief insight into Nepal's vibrant festivals

Festivals in Nepal

06 March 2014

Throughout the year, Nepal is host to a number of world-famous festivals, which can not only provide great fun, but also a unique insight into Nepalese culture. Work & Volunteer has a number of great volunteering opportunities available in Nepal, a country of astounding diversity and beauty, so, if you do get a chance to visit or volunteer there, here are a few glimpses of the colourful sights that will capture your imagination.

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The majority of the population of Nepal is Hindu, so one festival widely celebrated there in the spring is ‘Holi’, the festival of colours, also known as the festival of love. Although it is an ancient Hindu religious festival, today many other communities join in with the festivities, both in Nepal and around the world. This year it falls on 17th March. Holi is a celebration of good triumphing over evil; the legend, in short, is that an evil demon, Holika, was ordered to kill her nephew, Prahalad, because he declared that God was greater than his father, the king. Holika had the gift of immunity to fire, so sat in a fire with Prahalad in her lap. However, the God, Vishnu, protected Prahalad and Holika’s power was revoked, so she burned. To symbolise this, many bonfires are lit during Holi, and symbols of Holika burned. Holi is known as the Festival of Colours as, famously, it is also marked by people throwing coloured water and paint at each other. The festival also demands equality and so the abandonment of usual separation rules, as people become covered in colours and are wearing old clothes they don’t mind getting dirty, it is impossible to tell whether someone is rich or poor, a prime minister or a shop owner. Holi is light-hearted all-round, and promises plenty of dancing, singing, and, of course, throwing of paint.

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The longest and most popular festival amongst the Nepalese is Dasain, falling around October or November. This festival celebrates victories of gods and goddesses over evil, and during this period family gatherings and renewing community ties are a focus. There are various ways in which Dasain is celebrated. During Dasain, you can expect the sky to be filled with a colourful variety of kites, which is said to remind god to stop sending rain. Bamboo swings, known as ‘ping’ are constructed, aimed at presenting an image of fun and community spirit. There are also a number of fairs and celebration events, and feasts overflowing with delicious food. On the slightly darker side of celebrations, to fuel the feasts and as sacrifice to the gods, the slaughter of animals is very common.

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Another popular Hindu and Buddhist festival in Nepal is Tihar, the Nepalese celebration of Hindu’s Diwali. This is a five day festival which falls during October or November, just after Dasain, where not only Gods are paid respect to, but also important animals like crows, dogs, (which you will often see wearing wreaths of flowers during Tihar), and cows, (considered mothers of the universe in Hinduism who are also adorned with flower wreaths). Each of these are commonly honoured on the first three days of Tihar. Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, is also celebrated. The fourth day marks New Year, and on the fifth siblings exchange gifts. Depending on specific cultural backgrounds, Tihar is celebrated in different ways, but for everyone in Nepal family gathering is very important. Tihar means ‘festival of lights,’ and so during this period expect to see plenty of candles outside people’s houses, brightening up the night.

These are just three of the biggest festivals celebrated in Nepal; the diverse culture means it would be surprising for a month to pass without there being something interesting going on, whether you plan on visiting Nepal during the spring, summer, autumn or winter. Whenever you choose to visit, prepare to embrace a truly unique culture through some really fun and exciting experiences.