Sometime preparation is more exciting than the festival itself. Tihar, Nepali’s second biggest festival is probably one of them. The festival, that immediately follows Dashain, the biggest festival, is one of the highlights of autumn season in Nepal. Nepal’s autumn is normally not considered to be as colourful as the one in the west. To be honest, we don’t have the second spring with all those colourful maple leaves, mellow pumpkins and scary stories! However, autumn is not less exciting as we have Tihar, the festival of lights and flowers!
People milling at Indra chowk for Tihar shopping
Flowers at display in New Road! The street looks unusually quiet, thanks to the Traffic Management Team!
Preparation of Tihar is all about buying, buying and buying! So, as the days draw closer, you will come across an unmistakable crowd in almost every chowk of Kathmandu. The streets of main bazar get thronged with people from early morning. They get so full that if you can save yourself some space to behold the spectacle or can make it to the other end of the street without squeezing yourself, you are lucky!
Flower vendors in front of Annapurna Temple at Ason chowk
As the festival is all about rituals, flowers, lights and delicacies, the shopping list goes really long. And equally long is the row of different stalls on the either side of the streets. The stalls are laden with flowers, jhilimili (electric lights, paper decoration etc), bhai masala (a concoction of nuts and dry fruits for brothers) and an exhausting array of ritual items. Every item is weaved with myths and is equally important. So people don’t miss any of them, which is why the shopping spree seems to be never ending. Evenings are really beautiful as the shops are lighted with all those colourful lights. If you are around New Road, you won’t want to miss the extravagant decoration of jewellery shops there.
Local utensil shops with extra extension displaying ritual wares for Tihar shoppers
So walking down the streets during Tihar can be a rewarding experience as it offers you not just the fun of a festival, but also the chance to witness a different dimension of Nepali culture! Just be a bit prepared for the impatient crowd and unruly traffic, and the fun is all yours!
Just name it, and we can do it: Stalls at Ason chowk!
Flowers are the foremost prerequisite for Tihar. The flowers used in the festival are exclusively sayapatri (marigold), godawari (chrysanthemum) and makhamali (globe amaranth). Sayapatri (literally hundred petalled), with its golden hue is the flower that matches the mellowness of the season. Sayapatri is used for both garlands and house decoration. Whereas, makhamali and godawari are used just for garlands only. It is believed that makhamali never gets withered. So, sisters offer makhamali garland to brothers on bhai tika, the fifth day of the festival, with a wish that their brothers would remain immortal like the flower.
Globe amaranth garlands are offered to brothers by sisters on Bhai Tika
Array of marigold garlands at public footpath in New Road
Why to worry if you can carry: A walking garland showcase in New Road
Another thing people don’t miss in Tihar is lights. Lights are used for both ritualistic and decorative purpose. People light their houses with colorful lights from Laxmi Puja, the third day of the festival. People use diyo (a small clay lamp with a cotton wick), candles and electric lights that come in different shape and size.
Candles of different shape and size
Artistic and plain clay lamps used during Laxmi Puja
One of the main delicacies of Tihar is bhai masala. It is the concoction of nuts (cashew nuts, almond, raisin, walnut etc) and dried fruits, offered by sisters to brothers on bhai tika. A stall or shop without bhai masala is a rare sight.
Bhai masala at display
The shops and stalls are heaped with different ritual items ranging from walnut to seven colored tika. Some of the items that include the seemingly endless list are rato mato (red mato), amala (Indian Gooseberry), citrus fruits, coconut etc. Though it seems like a herculean task to know the name of all items at once, you would enjoy the neat arrangement displayed in all its glory!
Motley of ritual items: walnut, Indian gooseberry, groundnut
A type of citrus fruit used in Bhai Tika
Dhaka Topi, national cap made from local fabric called Dhaka, is presented to brothers by sisters on Bhai Tika
Vendors selling varieties of colours (used for Bhai Tika and Rangoli decaoration) at Ganesthan, Chabahil
Among the many local festivals in Bhaktapur, “Bisket Jatra” is one of the main enthusiastically celebrated festivals, which falls on the month of April. It is observed annually, four days prior to Nepali New Year (Baisakh) and last for next nine days. It is a festival of chariot pulling, erecting a large wooden pole (Yoshin Deo/Lingo) in two different places of Bhaktapur, one is in Pottery Square, which is locally known as “Talako” and next is in Yoshin Khel/Bhelukhel. Tongue-piercing and Sindur Jatra are other highlights of Bisket Jatra celebrated in Thimi, Bhaktapur.
First day of Bisket Jatra begins by enshrining the wrathful God Bhairab and Goddess Bhadrakali in their respective chariots, which brought out from the sacred temple. It takes place in Taumadi Sqaure, near Nytapole Temple (Five storied Temple) with the various ritual processes. In the same evening, both the chariots are being pulled by hundreds of people as tug of war from eastern (upper) and western (lower) part of the Taumadi Sqaure. Both the parties try to draw the chariot to their direction, but as this first day is Deo kwayo Bijaayegu, which means “ God comes down to the mass of people from his own sacred home” as a ritual, the chariots are to be pulled down toward the west direction from Taumadi Square.
On the second and third day, the particular group who takes care of these chariots performs various rituals. Local people visits and offer Puja to the God and Goddess, which was pulled on the first day.
The fourth day is the last day of the year, according to the Nepali Calendar and the very special day of the festival. On this day, two poles are erected in two different areas of Bhaktapur. The first pole is erected in the morning in the Pottery square (Approx time is at around 11 AM to 1 PM). All the local peoples actively participate in the process of erecting the pole successfully. Once, it is erected, people perform various ritual and offer puja.
Similarly, another pole with two extended arms is erected in the evening in Bhelu Khel (Approx time is at around 6 PM-12 PM) with great excitement. The huge crowd gathered for this occasion and sings songs of joy during the procession. Energetic youths attempt to climb the pole, using big ropes in order to get the plants placed on its top. It is believed that anyone who is able to do so will increase his chances of siring a male child. On the same evening, the chariots are also being pulled into this area.
The pole in Pottery Square remains standing for another five long days, while the wooden pole of Bhelu Khel is kept for only 24 hours.
Another day is the fifth day of the festival, which begins with gathering of huge masses of devotees in Bhelukhel and in Pottery Square. Devotees from the whole city in the early morning sacrifice cocks and goats to the chariots of God Bhairab and Bhadrakali. Apart from that, people offer puja to other Gods and Goddess like Ganesh, Barahi, Mahakali, Mahalaxmi in their own locality. Afterwards this event is followed by a big feast all over Bhaktapur. In the evening, the lingo in Bhelu Khel is pulled down. This is the moment of danger and excitement too.
The following day is the sixth day of the festival. On this day, devotees in Thimi celebrate the Bisket Jatra by welcoming the advent of spring and New Year by throwing vermilion powder over each other, as Sindur Jatra. Beside this, tongue piercing Jatra is also observed. One of the volunteers from the Shrestha family gets his tongue pierced in a spiritual trance with an iron spike and walks around the town shouldering a round bamboo rack with flaming torches. With this extreme ascetic practice, the person is supposed to secure his place in heaven. Tongue piercing is the ceremony that takes place during the chariot demonstration.
In the same way, Kha lawayaakeu jaatra(God and Goddess from two opponents getting together) is celebrated in various areas. In Pottery Square, small chariots of Lord Ganesh and God Bhairabs’ from two different places are brought together and throw vermillion powder to each other marking as Sindhur Jatra. Further, In the Suryamadi tole (which is the eastern part from Dattatreya Temple), Jatra is observed by carrying the small chariots of God Bramayeni and Maheshori. In this way, Bisket Jatra is celebrated in different places of the city on their own local god and goddess.
The seventh day of the festival is also celebrated by worshipping their local God and Goddess in different areas. People from different places gather together to celebrate the festival. They invite their friends, family and relatives for the special feast.
The second last day of the festival is celebrated by offering the various delicious food items to all the local God and Goddess of Bhaktapur city. On this day, most people wear their own traditional dress and visit the whole city in a procession and offer varieties of food items, sweets, fruits to all the local God and Goddess. This day is full of crowd with the traditional music, dance with great enjoyment.
The ninth day is the last day of the festival. The pole, which was erected before 5 days in Pottery Square, is drawn down today performing various rituals. In the evening, chariots of God Bhairab and Goddess Bhadrakali are pulled towards the upward direction, as “Deo tha bijaayegu” which means “God now return back to his own sacred home”. All the peoples gather together and play various traditional musical instruments marking as the end of the festival “Bisket jatra”.
A part of Bagmati zone, Nuwakot district lies northeast of Kathmandu valley. The name, ‘Nuwakot’, is made up of two words ‘Nawa’ and ‘Kort’. ‘Nawa’ means Nine in Nepali and ‘Kort’ means sacred religious sites at the top of a hill. During the 18th Century, it used to serve as an important stopover on the Tibetan-Kathmandu Valley trade route. Referring to the pages of history, the Great King Prithvi Narayan Shah invaded Nuwakot which was under the ruling of Jaya Prakash Malla and made Nuwakot as the capital of his ruling area. At an elevation of 900 m, the ancient citadel stands proud as if untouched by changing times, amid the quaint Nuwakot Bazaar. The seven-story palace fortress was built during the reign of King Prithivi Narayan. It takes about 3 hrs/75 km to reach the historical city by land transfer from the capital city Kathmandu. Newar, Brahmin, Chhetri, Tamang and Magar is the main inhabitant of Nuwakot.
Nuwakot Seven Stored Palace (Sattale Durbar)
Sindure Jatra is one of the main festivals in Nuwakot. This Jatra is celebrated on Chaitra Purnima (April) which is celebrated for 10-12 days. The festival is celebrated every year and is mostly observed by people from Newar community. The festival marks the Nepali New Year and arrival of spring season. During the festival, devotees gather and take out a procession carrying a woodenchariot containing the idols of Goddess Bhairabi. People smear each other with Sindur (orange vermillion powder) and sing and dance to the tune of traditional music during the procession.
NOTE: Festivals dates change yearly.
Day 01: 28th Chaitra (10th April 2017): On the very first day of the festival, at the evening time, Living Goddess Kumari and Holy Priest (Dhami) perform a special ritual bath for the priest by Goddess Kumari. After the ritual of the purification process, the priest performs special puja in the temple. On the premises of the temple, two wooden poles are praised and plunked.
Living Goddess Kumari
Living Goddess Kumari
Lingo( Wooden Pole)
Wooden Pole (Lingo)
Day 02: 29th Chaitra (11th April): Devotes carry the chariot of Goddess Bhairabi and pull it up to the Devighat (Riverbank) as per the tradition. This is where Two Goddess will meet as siblings.
Chariot of Bhairabi
Day 03: 30th Chaitra (12th April): Early morning, the Priest offer goats and buffaloes as per the rituals.
Following that people pray and sacrifice animals. On this day, the huge mass of devotees gathers, near the temple on the bank of a river. Mid-Night Goddess Bhairabi Chariot is returned back to her own Temple. This process will take whole night.
Day 04: 31st Chaitra (13th April 2017): Sindure Jatra (vermillion powder) festival is celebrated on this day. It is celebrated on after two days of Chaitra Purnima. Festival starts, after the guardian of Goddess Bhairabi scatter Sindur to the Priest, following on priest scatter Sindur to devotees.
Dhami and Dhamini
Dhami Sucks Blood During Jatra
Day 05: –New Years Day- 1st Baishakh (14th April 2017): On the 1st day of New Year, Priest performs another ritual following on sacrificing the goats in the premises of the Bhairabi Temple. Where priest will offer the goats and buffaloes to Goddess with few amount of blood. He will suck the blood the blood for three times as part of ritual.
Priest (Dhami) Suck blood during festival
Day 06 to Day 10: 2nd – 6th Baishakh (15th – 19th April): Family gets together for celebration and invites each other for a special feast.
Day 11:- 7th Baishakh (20th April): Special Puja is performed to the Wooden Pole which was established at the starting of the Festival and Today it will be pull down with special Puja rituals. Devotee’s gather around Bhairabi Temple to pull down the wooden pole.
Day 12: – 8th Baishakh (21st April): It is the last day of the festival. The second wooden pole is brought down in a same ritual process as performed on the previous day. This is the last day of the Festival of the year.
If the days were enough in a year, Nepal would probably be worshipping almost all the animals.
On the fifth day of bright half of Lunar month of Shrawan, Hindus celebrate Naga Panchami – a festival dedicated to serpents. Snakes are considered as a god and have a huge cultural significance in Hindu Mythology. Naga means snake and Panchami are the fifth days of the bright half of Lunar month. The festival falls during the month of August every year.
Astika, the young Bramhin, stops the snake sacrifice
There are various stories in Hindus explaining the significance for worshipping serpents. The myth behind the celebration of Naag Panchami is from Mahabharata. Long ago, Janamejeye wanted to sacrifice all the serpents through with the help of Bramhins by erecting a sacrifice fireplace for the vengeance of his father’s death with a bite of the king of snake Takshaka. The powerful mantras caused all the serpents to fall in the sacrificial fireplace. A young Bramhin named Astika saved the serpent race by asking for a boon with Janamejeye who never said no to Bramhins. That day was also the fifth day of bright half of Lunar month of Shrawan. Since then, on this day, serpents and snakes are worshiped.
People place the image of Naga on the door of their houses and worship it. Snakes are offered milk, sweet, flowers on the day of Naga Panchami. People also visit several temples related to serpents on this day. Changu Nararayan in Bhaktapur is one of the places to observe this festival.
Nepal is well-known for its colourful festivals and culture, and the annual Horse festival is example of the diverse festival celebrated in Kathmandu Valley. Every year, on no-moon day of Chaitra Sukla Pakshya of Lunar calendar Nepalese Army and Nepal police host the annual horse racing and skills demonstration event. The Gorkhalis perform different stunts and parade on the horseback in the premises of Tundikhel . This occasion falls on March or early April of Gregorian calendar.
According to legends Ghode Jatra was organized to celebrate the victory over a demon named Tundi who rested over the field known as Tundikhel, at the center of Kathmandu Valley. Tundi was a terror for the citizens of Kathmandu. When he died people cheered by dancing onto his body with horses. It is believed that galloping of horses on Ghode Jatra at Tundikhel keeps the demon’s sprit under the ground. Especially Newar community of Kathmandu valley perform Puja and perform animal sacrifices for the eight goddesses at different Shaktipiths (power centres) including Bhadrakaali, Kankeshwori and Mahankal.