Buddhist Festivals celebrated in Nepal

July 17, 2023

In addition to Hindu festivals, Nepal also celebrates several Buddhist festivals due to the significant presence of Buddhism in the country. Buddhism, being one of the major religions in Nepal, has its own set of festivals that are observed by Buddhist communities. Here are some of the prominent Buddhist festivals celebrated in Nepal:

  1. Buddha Jayanti (Buddha Purnima):

    Buddha Jayanti, also known as Buddha Purnima, is a major Buddhist festival celebrated worldwide to commemorate the birth, enlightenment, and death (parinirvana) of Lord Buddha. It is observed on the full moon day of the lunar month of Vaisakha (April/May), according to the Buddhist calendar. Buddha Jayanti holds immense significance as it honors the life and teachings of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.

    Here is an elaboration on the customs and traditions associated with Buddha Jayanti:

    1. Birth of Buddha: Buddha Jayanti marks the birth of Lord Buddha in Lumbini, which is now part of present-day Nepal. Devotees visit sacred Buddhist sites, such as Lumbini, Bodh Gaya (where Buddha attained enlightenment), and Sarnath (where he delivered his first sermon), to pay homage to Buddha and reflect on his life and teachings.
    2. Observing the Eight Precepts: On Buddha Jayanti, devout Buddhists observe the Eight Precepts, which are additional moral and ethical guidelines followed for a day. These precepts emphasize abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, consuming intoxicants, eating after midday, using luxurious beds or seats, and adorning oneself with ornaments or cosmetics. Observing the precepts helps practitioners cultivate mindfulness, discipline, and spiritual development.
    3. Offerings and Dana: Devotees engage in acts of generosity and make offerings to Buddhist monastics and temples. This includes providing food, donations, and other essentials to support the sangha (community of monks and nuns) and their monastic activities. Offering alms and practicing dana (charitable giving) is considered meritorious and an expression of reverence towards Lord Buddha.
    4. Circumambulation and Prayers: Buddhists often perform circumambulation around sacred stupas or temples on Buddha Jayanti. This involves walking clockwise while reciting mantras, turning prayer wheels, and offering prayers. Devotees express devotion and seek blessings by prostrating, chanting sutras, and engaging in meditation and mindfulness practices.
    5. Lighting of Lamps: Lighting lamps and candles is a common practice on Buddha Jayanti. Devotees illuminate their homes and Buddhist monasteries with numerous oil lamps and candles, symbolizing the dispelling of darkness and the spreading of wisdom and compassion. This act represents the enlightenment of Buddha and the illumination of one’s own spiritual path.
    6. Dharma Talks and Meditation: Buddha Jayanti is a time for engaging in dharma talks (sermons) and discussions on the teachings of Buddha. Monastics and experienced practitioners share insights, wisdom, and reflections on the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, and other essential teachings. Meditation sessions are also conducted to cultivate mindfulness, concentration, and insight.

    Buddha Jayanti is a day of reflection, gratitude, and deep reverence for Lord Buddha’s life and teachings. It serves as an opportunity for Buddhists to renew their commitment to following the path of compassion, wisdom, and liberation taught by the enlightened one. The festival promotes peace, harmony, and spiritual growth within the Buddhist community and beyond.


  2. Lhosar:

    Losar is the Tibetan New Year festival celebrated by Tibetan Buddhist communities around the world, including in Nepal. The word “Losar” translates to “New Year” in the Tibetan language. It is a vibrant and joyous celebration that typically takes place in February or March, according to the Tibetan lunar calendar.

    Here is an elaboration on the customs and traditions associated with the Losar festival:

    • Preparation and Cleansing: Leading up to Losar, homes are thoroughly cleaned, and decorations are put up to welcome the New Year. Special care is taken to ensure that negative energy and impurities are cleared away. This cleaning symbolizes purification and the removal of obstacles for the coming year.
    • Rituals and Offerings: Losar begins with religious rituals and offerings in Buddhist monasteries and homes. People light butter lamps, burn incense, offer prayers, and make offerings of food, flowers, and symbolic items. These acts are believed to bring blessings, prosperity, and auspiciousness for the New Year.
    • Ritual Ceremonies: One of the significant ritual ceremonies during Losar is the “Lama Losar.” On this day, the spiritual leader of the community, often a Lama or a high-ranking monk, performs specific rituals and bestows blessings upon the community. These ceremonies involve chanting of sacred texts, performing dances, and offering prayers for the well-being of all.
    • Monastic Dances: Losar is characterized by vibrant and colorful monastic dances known as “Cham” or “Masked Dances.” Monks don ornate costumes and masks representing various deities and perform ritualistic dances. These dances are not only a visual spectacle but also serve as a way to purify negative energies and invoke blessings for the community.
    • Feasting and Family Gatherings: Losar is a time for families to come together and share festive meals. Traditional delicacies and dishes are prepared, and feasts are enjoyed. Families exchange gifts, express well wishes, and strengthen familial bonds. It is a time for joy, merriment, and strengthening of community ties.
    • Tibetan Games and Activities: During Losar, traditional Tibetan games and sports are played. These activities include archery, horse racing, tug-of-war, and various board games. They bring people together in a spirit of camaraderie and friendly competition, adding to the festive atmosphere.

    Losar is a time to bid farewell to the old year and welcome the New Year with renewed hope, positivity, and aspirations. It is a celebration of Tibetan culture, heritage, and spirituality. The festival fosters unity, gratitude, and the sharing of joy among the Tibetan Buddhist community, while also being embraced and enjoyed by people from diverse backgrounds.


  3. Mani Rimdu:

    Mani Rimdu is a significant festival celebrated by the Sherpa community in the Everest region of Nepal. It is a traditional Buddhist festival held at Tengboche Monastery, located at an altitude of around 3,867 meters (12,687 feet). Mani Rimdu is observed over several days, usually falling in October or November, according to the Tibetan lunar calendar.

    Here is a detailed explanation of the customs and traditions associated with Mani Rimdu:

    • Preparation and Rituals: Preparations for Mani Rimdu begin well in advance. Monks engage in intensive prayers, meditation, and rituals to purify the monastery and its surroundings. The rituals involve elaborate chants, offerings, and the creation of intricate sand mandalas.
    • Empowerment and Blessings: The festival begins with the sacred empowerment ceremony performed by the head lama (religious leader) of Tengboche Monastery. During this ceremony, devotees receive blessings, empowerment, and spiritual guidance. The lama bestows blessings for health, prosperity, and well-being.
    • Masked Dances: The highlight of Mani Rimdu is the performance of traditional masked dances known as “Cham” by the resident monks of Tengboche Monastery. The Cham dances depict various deities, demons, and mythical figures from Buddhist lore. The dancers wear elaborate costumes and intricately crafted masks representing different characters.
    • Symbolic Rituals and Offerings: Throughout the festival, monks perform symbolic rituals, offer prayers, and make offerings. These rituals are aimed at appeasing deities, purifying negative energies, and generating positive blessings. Offerings of food, incense, and butter lamps are made to invoke spiritual forces and express gratitude.
    • Community Participation: Mani Rimdu is a community celebration, and both locals and visitors are welcome to witness the festivities. The Sherpa community comes together to participate in the rituals, dances, and prayers. People dress in traditional attire, and families gather to enjoy the festival with joy and reverence.
    • Cultural Exchange and Tourism: Mani Rimdu has also become a platform for cultural exchange and an attraction for tourists. Travelers from around the world visit Tengboche Monastery to experience the unique atmosphere of the festival, witness the colorful Cham dances, and gain insights into Sherpa culture and Buddhism.

    Mani Rimdu is a time of spiritual renewal, community bonding, and the celebration of Sherpa heritage and Buddhist traditions. The festival serves as a way to preserve and showcase the rich cultural heritage of the Everest region, while also allowing devotees and visitors to connect with the profound teachings and symbolism of Buddhism.


  4. Gunla: Gunla is a month-long festival observed by Newar Buddhists in the Kathmandu Valley. Gunla Festival is a significant religious festival celebrated by Buddhists in Nepal, particularly by the Newar community. Gunla is the tenth month of the Nepal Sambat, the lunar calendar used in Nepal. The festival typically falls between July and August.

    During Gunla, devotees engage in various religious practices, including reciting Buddhist scriptures, performing rituals, and visiting monasteries and shrines. It is a month-long observance that focuses on spiritual purification and merit-making.

    One of the notable traditions during Gunla is the Gunla Bajan, a musical procession in which devotees play traditional musical instruments while walking through the streets. This practice is believed to bring blessings and positive energy to the communities.

    Gunla Festival is primarily observed in the Kathmandu Valley, where numerous Buddhist monasteries and shrines are located. However, its significance and celebrations may vary across different regions and Buddhist communities in Nepal.


  5. Dakini or Tiji Festival: The Tiji Festival, also known as the Dakini Festival, is celebrated by the Tibetan Buddhist community in Upper Mustang, a remote region of Nepal. The Tiji Festival, also known as the “Tenchi Festival” or “Teeji Festival,” is a vibrant and ancient religious celebration observed by the Tibetan Buddhist community in the Upper Mustang region of Nepal. Tiji is derived from the words “ten” meaning “hope,” and “ji” meaning “prayer” or “peace.”

    The festival is centered around the victory of Lord Buddha’s incarnation, Dorje Jono, over a demon called Ma Tam Ru Ta, who brought drought, destruction, and suffering to the region. Tiji is celebrated over three days, during which the local monks perform intricate mask dances representing the battle between good and evil.

    The Tiji Festival is characterized by colorful costumes, elaborate masks, and ceremonial dances accompanied by traditional music. The masked dancers, dressed as deities, demons, and animals, enact various mythological stories and legends. These performances are believed to dispel negativity, bring good fortune, and protect the region from future harm.

    The festival is not fixed to a specific date but usually occurs in late spring, typically between April and May, following the Tibetan lunar calendar. It attracts both local communities and tourists who gather to witness this unique cultural and religious event in the breathtaking landscape of Upper Mustang.

    Please note that my knowledge cutoff is in September 2021, so there may have been developments or changes regarding the Tiji Festival since then.

These are just a few examples of the Buddhist festivals celebrated in Nepal. Each festival carries its own unique traditions, rituals, and cultural significance, reflecting the rich Buddhist heritage and spiritual practices observed by different Buddhist communities in Nepal.