Dashain is the 15-day-long national festival of Nepal. It is the longest and the most auspicious festival in the Nepalese annual calendar, celebrated by Nepalese people throughout the globe. It is not only the longest festival of the country, but also the one which is most anticipated. As one of the popular countries,Nepal has its national festival as Dashain. The festival falls in September or October, starting from the shuklapaksha (bright lunar fortnight) of the month of Ashvin and ending on purnima, the full moon. Among the 15 days for which it is celebrated, the most important days are the first, seventh, eighth, ninth and the tenth. Throughout the country Shakti is worshiped in all her manifestations. This festival is also known for its emphasis on the family gatherings, as well as on a renewal of community ties. People return from all parts of the world, as well as different parts of the country, to celebrate together. All government offices, educational institutions and other offices remain closed during the festival period.
Dashain symbolizes the victory of good over evil.
For followers of Shaktism, it represents the victory of the goddess, Shakti. In Hindu mythology, the demon Mahishasura had created terror in the devaloka (the world where gods live) but Durga killed the demon. The first nine days of Dashain symbolizes the battle which took place between the different manifestations of Durga and Mahishasura. The tenth day is the day when Durga finally defeated him. For other Hindus, this festival symbolizes the victory of Rama over Ravana as recounted in the Ramayana.
Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth is celebrated during Tihar.
In Nepal all Hindu ethnic groups celebrate this festival with their own variation. Among the Newars, it is known as Swanti. The festival is celebrated from Trayodashi of Kartik Krishna to Kartik Shukla Dwitiya every year. Tihar in general signifies the festival of lights, where diyas are lit both inside and outside the houses to make it illuminate at night. The five-day festival is considered to be of great importance as it shows reverence to not just the humans and the Gods, but also to the animals like crow, cow and dog, who maintain an intense relationship with the humans. People make patterns on the floor of living rooms or courtyards using materials such as colored rice, dry flour, colored sand or flower petals outside of their house, called “Rangoli” which is meant to be sacred welcoming areas for the Hindu deities. During the celebrations gamblers are found in the streets and some gamblers are known to make extreme bets such as staking their properties and sometimes their own daughter and wives jewelries.
Khicha Puja is a Nepal festival held on the 15th of Kartik in late autumn as part of the Tihar Festival. Dog, crows and cows are especially prominent during this festival and dogs are commonly seen with wreaths of flowers around their necks. Crows are worshipped by offerings of sweets and dishes. The cawing of the crows symbolises sadness and grief in the Hindu mythology, so the devotees offer the crows food to avert grief and deaths in their homes. Cows are commonly celebrated on the third day of Tihar, as they are regarded as the mothers of the universe in Hinduism, where after weaning by the birth mother, the cow acts as the surrogate mother to humans, providing milk for the rest of the human life. A tika is placed on the forehead of the cow and a flower garland is placed on the neck. The cow festival is known as Gai Puja in Nepali but commonly referred to as Sa Paru.
This entirely Newar festival is held on the 1st day of Bhadon. Newars who have lost loved ones during the year traditionally disguised themselves as cows and danced around the palace of the king. However, in modern times, the ceremony is performed only as a masked dance with the singing of songs. Gaijatra, the festival of cows, (gai means cow and jatra means festival in Nepali: गाईजात्रा, and Nepal Bhasa: सापारु) is celebrated in Nepal, mainly in Kathmandu valley by the Newar and Tharu community. The festival commemorates the death of people during the year. During the festival, cows are marched in the streets and generally celebrated in the Nepalese month of Bhadra (August–September).
It falls on the 1st day of the dark fortnight of Gunla according to the lunar Nepal Era calendar. Peoples also distributes food to others. The festival of cows is one of the most popular festivals of Nepal. The whole complex of Gaijatra festival has its roots in the ancient ages when people feared and worshiped Yamaraj, the god of death. However, the ironic sessions synonymous with the Gaijatra festival entered the tradition in the medieval period of Nepal during the reign of the Malla Kings. Hence, the present form of Gaijatra is a happy blending of antiquity and the medieval era. According to the traditions since time immemorial, every family who has lost one relative during the past year must participate in a procession through the streets of Kathmandu leading a cow. If a cow is unavailable then a young boy dressed as a cow is considered a fair substitute.
In Hinduism, a cow is regarded as the most venerated among all the domestic animals. It is believed that the cow, revered as a holy animal by Hindus, will help the deceased relative’s journey to heaven. According to the historical evidence, when King Pratap Malla lost his son, his wife, the queen, remained grief-stricken. The king was very sad to see the condition of his beloved queen. The king, in spite of several efforts, could not lessen the grief of his wife. He desperately wanted to see a little smile on the lips of his sweetheart, and so he announced that anyone who made the queen laugh would be rewarded adequately.
During the festival of Gaijatra, the cow procession was brought before the grief-stricken queen. Then the participants began ridiculing and be-fooling the important people of the society. Finally, when the social injustices and other evils were highlighted and attacked mercilessly, the queen could not help but smile. The queen laughed and the king instituted a tradition of including jokes, satire, mockery and lampoon into the Gaijatra celebration.
After the procession is over, in the afternoon, nearly everyone takes part in another age-old tradition in which the participants dress up and wear masks. The occasion is filled with songs and jokes. Mockery and humor of every kind become the order of the day until late evening. Hence, Gaijatra is a healthy festival which enables the people to accept the reality of death and to prepare themselves for life after death. According to Hinduism, “whatever a man does in his life is a preparation leading to a good life after death”.