Within the marvelously rich Nepali culture are deeply rooted customs and traditions that differ from one part of the country to another, whilst a conglomeration lies in the capital City of Kathmandu where cultures blend to form a distinct national identity.

The most prominent element of Nepali culture is religion – adding colorful festivals to typical Nepali life all year round and making for the most interesting and magical of stories!


Religion:

Nepal was declared a secular country by the Parliament on the 18th of May 2006. Religions practiced in Nepal are:

  • Hinduism
  • Buddhism
  • Islam
  • Christianity
  • Jainism
  • Sikhism
  • Bon
  • Ancestor Worship
  • Animism.

The majority of Nepalis are either Hindus or Buddhists, and the two have co-existed in harmony for centuries; Buddha is widely worshipped by both Buddhists and Hindus of Nepal.

The five Dhyani Buddhas listed below represent the five basic elements: earth, fire, water, air and ether. Buddhist philosophy conceives these deities to be the manifestations of Sunya or absolute void.

  • Vairochana
  • Akshobhaya
  • Rathasambhava
  • Amitabha
  • Amoghasiddhi

Mahakaala and Bajrayogini are also Vajrayana Buddhist deities worshipped by Hindus.

Hindu Nepalis worship the ancient Vedic gods. Bramha the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer, are worshipped as the Supreme Hindu Trinity – People pray to the Shiva Linga or the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva in most Shiva temples and Shakti, the dynamic element in the female counterpart of Shiva, is highly revered and feared.

{Mahadevi, Mahakali, Bhagabati, Ishwari are some of the names given. Kumari, the Virgin Goddess, also represents Shakti.}

Other Popular Deities:

  • Ganesh for luck
  • Saraswati for knowledge
  • Lakshmi for wealth
  • Hanuman for protection
  • Krishna: believed to be the human incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
MANAKAMANA: The Reincarnation of a Goddess Queen

The mythical history of the Manakamana goddess dates back to the reign of King Ram Shah of Gorkha. Every night, the king‘s wife would awake and make her way to a nearby hill. Finding out, Ram Shah decided to feign sleep & follow his queen on her nightly sojourn. He soon found himself outside a large hall guarded by two massive lions. The hall was lined with various gods and goddesses awaiting the queen to chair their meet.

Astonished by the fact that his queen was possessed of divine power, the king returned with a heavy heart and told his wife in the morning of all that he’d witnessed, claiming it was a dream. Ram Shah was struck dead as soon as he revealed what he knew. Back then; the practice of a wife committing “Sati” by throwing herself on the funeral pyre of her husband was very much in vogue. However, Ram Shah‘s personal secretary (Lakhan Thapa Magar) beseeched the queen not to commit Sati – following which the queen assured him that she would return.

Months after the death of the king and queen, Thapa Magar heard of a stone discovered by a farmer. When struck, the stone leaked an excess of blood and milk. Thapa Magar rushed to the area believing the stone to be an incarnation of the late Queen and built a temple to serve the goddess Manakamana.

Unlike other Hindu temples, where Brahmins are the priests, the Manakamana temple is served exclusively by the descendents of Lakhan Thapa Magar, who are now in their 17th generation.

RATO MACHHINDRANATH JATRA: The Months-Long Rain Fest

The Rato Machhindranath Rath Jatra is the only festival that lasts for months. Dedicated to the Rain God Machhindranath, this festival takes place in Patan and is supposed to bring rain to the Kathmandu Valley.

As the myth goes, the Valley experienced a 12-year fearsome, mysterious drought. It was later discovered with the help of a saint to have been caused by Lord/Guru Gorakhnath who had been angered by the Nags (serpents that brought rain) when he came to Kathmandu and had captivated them. Retiring to meditation & keeping the serpents in captivity, the Valley suffered. So, the advisors to the King Narendra Dev suggested bringing Machhindranath (his teacher) from Assam, India in hopes to end the famine. Having heard of his teacher being in Patan, Gorakhnath went to him setting the serpents free and allowing it to rain on the Valley once again.

Thankful worship of Machhindranath began in 879 A.D., and King Narendra Dev started the festival of Rato Machhindranath: A large (32 “haat” ft.) chariot is made of wood and tied with vines and pulled through the streets of Patan coming to rest at various traditional spots where crowds of devotees arrive to pay homage and lay offerings. Newar musicians playing traditional folk instruments accompany the chariot procession.

The red idol of Rato Machhindranath deity first goes through a ritual bath and a makeover with fresh paint. When the initial rites are over, the chariot houses the idol. The four wheels of the chariot represent the powerful Bhairab – the fierce incarnation of Shiva.

{The chariot is several stories high and with no nuts and bolts to hold it together, it is normally tilting to one side. However, it’s collapsing is still ominous!}

After several months of moving through major parts of Patan, it finally comes to rest in Jawalakhel where a huge crowd gathers to watch the display of an ancient bejeweled vest on Bhoto Jatra. The head of state as well as the Living Goddess Kumari attends this event.