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Nepal - Katmandu Festivals
Martyn Carruthers

Online Shamanic Coaching with Martyn

There is hardly a week without some festival in Katmandu. Most festivals are associated
with Hindu or Buddhist divinities and all festivals are celebrated by both religions.

Katmandu Festivals

Annual religious festivals are an important part of life in Nepal. As the Nepalese calendar does not match the Christian calendar. it is difficult to give a precise equivalent date, so festivals have been arranged according to month.

Coaching & Coach Training Holidays  Shamanic Coaching in Nepal  Nepal Religions

Basant Panchami

This festival at the end of January celebrates the arrival of spring. On this day, the goddess of learning, Saraswati, is worshipped, especially by students about to take exams. Many people go to the Saraswati shrine in Swayambhu, and later picnic on the slopes below the stupa. At Hanuman Dhoka, the king goes in procession to the Nasal Chowk to hear the recital of the song to spring, in which prayers are offered for good crops in the midst of a colorful ceremony.


From the end of February to the beginning of March is a spectacular festival that attracts people from all over Nepal and northern India. A great fair is held in Pashupati, to which thousands of people pay homage at this important Hindu shrine. They arrive the night before to prepare for a ritual bath in the Bagmati River in front of the temple. Thousands queue to offer flowers to Pashupati. The rest of the day is spent feasting, singing and dancing. Pashupati is teeming with people and street traders. The road is lined with beggars and there is usually a colorful group of sadhus from India, in loincloths and ashes with uncut hair piled high upon their heads.

Visit Pashupatinath shortly after dawn, as the color provided by the worshippers as they shed their clothes and plunge into the waters to put on their beautiful red and gold saris before paying homage is a beautiful sight, especially when the sun penetrates the mist rising off the river. In the evening, bonfires are lit at the major crossroads to ward off evil spirits.


In mid-March is the Festival of Color, of Indian Hindu tradition. It is a week of fun, especially among children, who shower each other with colored water. The week culminates in a day when projectiles filled with colored water are thrown at unsuspecting passers-by! In Basantapur Square, a bamboo pole is erected and decorated with a colorful mass of streamers at the beginning of the week. At the end of the festival, this pole is burned.


In mid-March, a Newari festival centers around feasting and worshipping Bhadrakali and Kankeswari, two deities that are paraded through the narrow streets of Asan the night before the festival. At the same time, the Demon Gurumpa is feasted on the Tundikhel. On the day of Ghodajatra sports such as horse racing and cycling and a display by the army take place on the Tundikhel. It is becoming a military pageant.

Chaitra Dasain and Seto Matsyandranath

Two separate festivals occur at the same time, in the third week of March. The Chaitra Dasain is timed to be exactly six months before the Maha Astami day during the festival of Dasain in late September. Sacrificial offerings are made to Durga at mid-day. It is also the start of the Katmandu Rath festival. The Seto Machhendra image is taken from its shrine off Asan Tol and is placed in a towering chariot.

This festival takes four days, the chariot stopping each night where the image is worshipped and cared for by the local Nepalese. The chariot, towed on 2 meter wheels by hundreds of young boys, is spectacular, as it dwarfs the streets. It is moved in the early evening. On the fourth or final day the chariot is dragged around a tree in Lagan Khel, after which the deity is transported back to its temple on a small palanquin.


The festival is special to Bhaktapur and may be the most exciting and frenetic festival. During the mid-April week-long celebrations, the goddesses of Bhairab and Bhadrakali are paraded in chariots throughout the town. The revels start with a major challenge between the inhabitants of the eastern and western halves of the town, who confront one another in a tug of war of surprising dimensions beginning in the square beneath the Nyatapola Temple around dusk. The challenge is to ascertain who is to become hosts to the main deity during the festivities.

A chariot is erected in the centre of the square and two long ropes, attached to each end of the chariot, run out along the main streets of the square. The deity is installed and, while protected by her guardian priests, each half of the town endeavors forcibly to drag the chariot into its territory. This battle continues throughout the night until one side accepts defeat. To witness this festival, it is best to go in the company of a local as, often, the participants get a bit out of control in their endeavors to win the honor of hosting the god.

The second stage is to escort the deity to the river banks down a steep, twisting road. This is difficult and often hampered by the surging crowds or a collapsed building. Once the chariot reaches the river, a huge pole is hoisted to commemorate victory during the great battle of Mahabharata. The following day the pole is felled to signify the Nepalese new year. To give the losers of the tug of war a chance to absolve themselves from the ignominy of their earlier defeat, a return match is held at the end of the festival by which time, it is hoped, their opponents will be handicapped by excessive feasting.

Rato Machhendranath Jatra

This chariot festival in late April, is a major festival of Patan and similar to the Rath Festival in Katmandu. The difference is that it takes a month to complete and the chariot is much larger. The deity is shared with the village of Bungamati, close to Patan, and every twelfth year the chariot itself has to be taken to Bungamati. This is a major undertaking as the road is hilly and rough. Each year the deity spends three months in Bungamati.

The festival begins in Pulchok where the chariot is built, and for about a month it wends its way through the streets of Patan. Because of its immense size, members of the army are called upon to assist in pulling the chariot. The culmination of the festival is at Jawalakhel when the bejewelled tunic, supposedly belonging to a serpent king, is publicly displayed, on a selected day, in front of the king. The purpose of the festival is to ensure a satisfactory monsoon for the rice crop in the fields.

Buddha Jayanti

Lord Buddha's birthday is celebrated throughout the country in mid-May. Ceremonies take place in the major Buddhist sites of Swayambhu and Baudha, with both processions and large prayer gatherings in the neighboring monasteries. The pilgrims from all over Nepal make a colorful scene when they come to these sites to celebrate Buddha Jayanti.

Janai Purnima

This festival in early August mainly concerns the Brahmins but most Hindus will nevertheless participate. The Brahmins bathe in the sacred rivers of the Vishnumati and Bagmati, after which they change the sacred thread worn across their chest. Other people have yellow sacred threads tied round their wrist to protect them from dangers. On this day, thousands of people visit the Kumbheswar Temple in Patan where they bathe in the sacred waters which supposedly come from the holy lakes in Gosainkund.

The courtyard around Kumbheswar is a colorful sight during this festival as, after their symbolically cleansing bath, the throngs of people pay homage to the beautiful gold and silver linga, usually kept in the temple but which on this day is placed on a platform in the middle of the tank reached only along a narrow plank.


In early August, this festival, like a carnival, takes place in Katmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. Families in which deaths have occurred during the previous year will send a cow, or a young child masquerading as a cow, in procession around the streets of the city as a tribute to the deceased. This procession takes place during the morning and is followed in the afternoon with a more carnival-like procession when participants mimic the social and political scene of the day.

The processions staged in Bhaktapur are perhaps the most extensive and amusing, with a wide range of tableaux typifying all aspects of the people’ culture. The festival lasts about eight days, the first and second day being the most important. On the second day, an important Buddhist festival known as Mataya takes place when all the viharas (Buddist monasteries) of Patan are visited in sequence. As there are as many as 150 viharas, this is a formidable undertaking. Offerings are made by the pilgrims and butter lamps are lit along the route.


This three-day festival, held at the end of August, is more for women. It consists of a period of fasting together with a ritual cleansing in the Bagmati River. Women, dressed in their finery, go to Pashupati to bathe in the river and worship at the shrine of Pashupati, creating a colorful spectacle on the river bank.


At the beginning of September is a spectacular festival, celebrated by both Hindus and Buddhists. The festival lasts for about eight days during which time there is dancing and ceremony. On the first day, a long pole is erected close to Hanuman Dhoka to propitiate Indra, the god of rain. Then a display of classical dancing by masked dancers.

On the third day, the living goddess Kumari comes into the streets in her chariot, accompanied by her attendants, Ganesh and Bhairab, represented by two boys. On this day the king attends the festivities, is entertained by the masked dancers and pays homage to Kumari. Throughout the cities, many wooden masks of Bhairab are exhibited and at certain times of the day local beer pours forth from their mouths through a spout to revive the local revelers. Indra, with his arms outstretched, can also be seen at vantage points, atop a high platform. On this day King Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered Katmandu and unified Nepal. Throughout the festival, many displays of classical dancing and religious tableaux can be seen in Katmandu Durbar Square.

Durga Puja-Dasain

From the end of September to the beginning of October is Durga Puja - the national festival of Nepal and lasts for fifteen days. It is a time for family reunion and for rejoicing, therefore most of the festival’ activities take place within the family groups as it is often the only time throughout the year when the whole family is together. The basic theme is the conquest of evil ; legend has it that during this time Ram Chandra vanquished Ravana of Lanka. On Phulpati, the day of flowers, there is a colorful procession to Hanuman Dhoka, attended by the king.

The following day, Maha Astami, Durga is feted and thousands of buffaloes and goats are sacrificed at shrines all over the country symbolizing the cleansing of the soul. On this day, the Taleju shrines in the main cities are opened to the faithful and throughout the night thousands of pilgrims pay homage. The following days are for family gatherings, and on Bijaya Dasami relatives visit the house of their elders to receive their blessing and tikka.


Over five days in late October, animals and gods are worshipped and houses are lit with hundreds of candles (sadly, these are being replaced with electric lights). On the first day the crow, symbolizing Yama Duta, the messenger of death, is called to the house and fed. Dogs are feted and garlanded on the second day, as they are the mounts of Bhairab.

On the third day, the cow - an incarnation of Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity - is worshipped, and on the last day brothers are feted by their sisters with garlands and sweetmeats and they are rewarded with money. Every evening Laxmi is given special attention and her footprints traced by worshippers. During this the Newari new year is celebrated with feasting.


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Plagiarism is theft. Copyright © Martyn Carruthers 1996-2018  All rights reserved. Soulwork Systemic Coaching was primarily developed by Martyn Carruthers to help people solve emotional problems and relationship conflicts to achieve their goals. These concepts and strategies are for general knowledge only. Consult a physician about medical conditions and before changing medical treatment. Don't steal intellectual property ... get permission to post, publish or teach Martyn's work - email