Nepal is a land of Festivals. For the Nepalese, festivals are not merely the annual spectacles, but also are a living part of their rich cultural heritage. Festivals effectively bind together the Nepalese people of diverse cultural backgrounds and beliefs into one nation. Most Nepalese festivals are related to different Hindu and Buddhist gods and goddesses and they are celebrated on such days consecrated for them by religion and tradition.

Others are observed in honor of personal relatives such as festivals of Matatirtha and Gaijatra. Yet other are held to herald the different seasons or to mark the beginning or end of agricultural cycle. Some festivals are of national significance such as Dashain or Tihar; some are confined to the Katmandu Valley, while still others are celebrated only within one or two villages or cities. Nepal (New Year's Day) April-May

The Nepalese follow their own calendar system known as the Bikram Era or Bikram Sambat. This festival celebrates the first day of the first month of the New Year and is observed as an official holiday. In Bhaktapur, fifteen kilometers from Katmandu, the new year celebrations take on added importance as the "Festival of Bisket" during a tall wooden post is erected in one of the main squares. This festival commemorates the great battle of Mahabharata, with the wooden post symbolizing victory.

After two days, images of god Bhairab and his female counterpart Bhadra are enshrined in two large chariots and pulled through crowds of cheering onlookers. When the chariot reaches a sloping open square, there is a tug-of-war between the inhabitants of the upper and lower parts of the town. Winners are considered to be blessed with good fortune for the coming year. The festival concludes with several days of dancing and worship. Thimi, another ancient town of the Valley, also celebrates the New Year with special festivities.

Red Machchhendranath Festival
This festival takes place in Patan. During the celebrations the towering chariot of Lord Machchhendranath is pulled by ropes through the narrow streets of the city followed by a large crowd of worshippers. In front of the chariot, a small crowd of musicians and soldiers add even more excitement to the occasion. Over a period of several weeks, the chariot is slowly hauled to Jawalakhel where tens of thousands of devotees burn oil lamps and keep an all-night-vigil. During this chariot festival the "Bhoto" or sacred waistcoat, itself the subject of many legends is displayed from the chariot as all the onlookers strain to catch a glimpse of the lucky sight. A final ritual is then conducted to mark Lord Machchhendranath's departure for one year.

Buddha Jayanti (The Birthday of Lord Buddha)
Buddha Jayanti is a great day for the Nepalese. This day which falls on the full moon of the month of Baisakh is celebrated to commemorate the birth, attainment of knowledge, and the death of Lord Buddha the founder preacher of Buddhism, more than 2500 years ago. It is a thrice-blessed day. It is the day when he attained Nirvana (salvation). Prayers are sung and worship is offered by the Buddhist in leading Buddhist shrines throughout the country. At Swayambhunath temple for example, devout Buddhists gather to chant prayers and burn butter lamps. The next morning, a small shrines are visited and worshipped. Parading groups walk through the streets of Katmandu and Patan while special flags fly from all Buddhist households.

IndrajatraLiving goddess
The festival is celebrated by both the Hindus and Buddhists with great enthusiasm. The festival continues for eight days during which time there is much rejoicing, dancing and feasting. On the first day, along wooden pole is erected in front of the ancient Royal Palace at Hunuman Dhoka, in order to propitiate Indra, the god of rain. Classical dancers also assemble at the spot wearing different kinds of masks and dancing around the courtyard of Hanuman Dhoka to celebrate Indra's visit. On the third day of the festival, the Living Goddess or "Kumari" is taken out in a procession in a chariot. Three chariots of Kumari, Ganesh and Bhairav are taken round the city for three days. The King also pays homage to the Kumari during this time. The festival's many other interesting dances including the Mahakali, Mahalaxmi, and Dasha Avatara masked dances, are staged on the plinth of Narayan temple, just opposite the Kumari temple. On the last evening of the festival, the long wooden pole erected on the first day is lowered amid religious ceremonies and animal sacrifices

Mani Rimdu
This typical Sherpa festival is celebrated exclusively in the Lama monasteries of the Mt. Everest region. It is held in the month of May, mostly on full moon day at the Thame monastery in he Khumbu region, near Namche Bazaar at an altitude of 13,123feet (4000m). A very spectacular masked dance drama played for three full days is the main outdoor highlight of the festival.

July-August Ghantakarna
Taking place towards the end of the Nepalese month of Sravan, this festivals celebrates the exorcism of a mythical demon, Ghantakarna, who, according to legend, was greatly feared throughout the Katmandu Valley. The festival is celebrated by acting out the legendary drama in the streets. To begin with, children of each Katmandu Neighborhood collect money from passersby which is then used to make an effigy of the demon god. While this effigy remains in the center of a rough tent-like structure erected from bamboo poles, one man impersonates Ghantakarna by smearing himself with white paint and roaming the local area collecting donations in a begging bowl. Surrounded by the crowds of small children, the group then returns to the effigy and proceeds to take it to the river for burning, thus marking the victory of the local inhabitants over the demon god.

August-September Gai JatraGaijatra
According to tradition dating back since time immemorial, every family who has lost one relative during the past year must participate in a procession through, the streets of Katmandu leading a cow. If a cow is unavailable then a young boy dressed up as a cow is considered to be a fair substitute. It is believed that the symbol of a cow, revered as a holy animal by all devout Hindus, will assist the deceased relative's heavenward journey. Later in the Afternoon, nearly everyone takes part in another age-old tradition in which all participants dress up and wear masks; jokes, mockery and humor of every kind become the order of the day until the late evening.

Krishnashtami or the birthday of Lord Krishna, is celebrated in commemoration of the hero of the Hindu epic, Mahabharata. On this day, worshippers carry ornate and decorated idols and pictures of Lord Krishna through the streets, often with bands of musicians following or preceding the procession. In Patan, thousands of devout flock to Krishna temple to worship and receive blessings.

Dashain is Nepal's most important and lavishly celebrated festival. The first day of the festival is known as Ghatasthapana-the placing of the sacred vessel. According to the tradition, all devout Hindus should take an early morning bath in the holy river and return carrying some sand from the riverbed. At the same time, a small clay pot is filled with water from the same river and placed by the sand. Barely seeds are planted in this pot and nurtured for nine days. As with other Nepalese festivals, this ritual has also a specific meaning. In this case, the river water represents the mother goddess Durga, who according to legend, crushed many powerful demon hordes in an epic battle. For the next nine days, devouts, go to different prescribed sites for early morning bathes.

The next major even occurs on the 7th day of the festival when the sacred flowers and leaves are brought from the old palace of Kind Prithvi Narayan Shah at Gorkha. When the flowers reach Katmandu, there is a large procession to Hanuman Dhoka gate where brass bands are waiting to celebrate the occasion. At the same time, guns and cannons are fired at Tundikhel parade ground.

The eighth day of the festival is known as Mahashtami and is marked by a fast by all orthodox Hindus. In the morning, animal sacrifices are carried out at temples dedicated to Goddess Durga.

On the 9th day, all temples dedicated to Durga are bathed in sacrificial blood. On this day, even vehicles and other mechanical items are worshipped and sacrificed so as to prevent accidents during the coming year. Similarly, all instruments, weapons and implements of all professions are worshipped in the hope that Durga will bless their usefulness and accuracy. In the evening, there is an elaborate sacrifice at the Taleju temple near Hanuman Dhoka.

The peak of Dashain celebration is reached on the tenth day known as Vijaya Dashami, or the Day of Victory. On this day, all the Hindus are supposed to visit their elders or superior relatives, starting with their parents. The main purpose of this visit is to receive tika and shoots of the barley known as jamara. Tika is a red dot or smear placed on the visitor's forehead by the senior relative. Also frequently used in other festivals and even in daily worship, the tika consists of vermilion powder, rice and curd. As all visits cannot be completed in one day, they continue until the end of the festival.

October-November TiharTihar (Bhai Tika)
After Dashain, Tihar is probably Nepal's second most important festival. The first day of the festival is crow's day. In the early morning, worshippers bathe either in the Bagmati or some other river. After this the devouts light a small lamp made of cotton wool and mustard oil, and placed in a leaf pot. Then the first portion of every family meal is offered to the crows.

The second day is known as the dog's day. On this occasion dogs are given a red tika on their foreheads and garlanded with flowers. They are then worshipped and offered large plates of food, including many delicacies.

The next day is the cow's day and these animals are also worshipped in the similar fashion. This day is even more important day, as Laxmi Puja, or the day for worshipping Laxmi the goddess of wealth also falls on this day. Towards the evening, small candles or wick lamps are lighted and placed outside the main door and along windowsills. This becomes a very beautiful spectacle as the whole city, town and village become filled with little lights.

The fourth day of Tihar is "self day" or "self worship". As the name implies, this ritual aims to felicitate the sprit dwelling in one's own body.

Brother's day or Bhai Tika is the fifth and last day of Tihar. On this day, every sister worships her brothers by placing a multicolored tika on their foreheads and offering her blessings. The brothers then in turn give tika to their sisters after which gifts are also exchanged. As with many other festivals, Tihar ends with a grand feast with all family members present.