The diverse geography of Nepal ranging from Himalayas in the north to the southern Terai region renders it home to a wide range of culture. Customs and traditions differ from one part of Nepal to another. A conglomeration lies in capital city Kathmandu where cultures are blending to form a national identity. Kathmandu Valley has served as the country's cultural metropolis since the unification of Nepal in the eighteenth century by Late King Prithvi Narayan Shah from Gorkha. The Valley comprises cities of Lalitpur, Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. Some parts of the three cities provide a peek into the ancient world of the Valley.
A prominent factor in a Nepali's everyday life is religion. The natives of Nepal still follow age-old customs of Hindu and Buddhist religious practices. Adding color to the lives of Nepalis are festivals the year round which they celebrate with much pomp and joy. It is said that Nepal has more number of festivals than the days in a year. Food plays an important role in the celebration of these festivals.
Nepal is a patriarchal society. Men usually go out to work while women are homemakers. However in cities, roles can differ. Most Nepalis abide by the caste system in living habits and marriage. Rural Nepal is mostly agrarian, while some aspects of urban life carry glitz and glamour of the ultra-modern world.
Nepal is the ‘Land of Festivals’ with at least one part of the kingdom celebrating a festival every day of the year. Festivals may be linked with the memory of the departed soul, to herald a different season, to mark the beginning or end of the agricultural cycle, to mark national events or for family celebrations etc.. On a festival day the Nepalese take their ritual bath, worship different gods and goddesses, visit the temple, observe fasting and undertake feasting. The most important aspect of Nepalese culture is the religious harmony and that is why understanding prevailing among the Hindus and Buddhists.
Festivals in Nepal begin with religion, ending as social event. There are more than 50 major festivals in a year celebrated by Nepalis. Although most of these festivals are religious some have historical significance, while others are seasonal celebrations.
The dates of most festivals are fixed by famous astrologers after consulting the lunar calendar. The biggest and most popular festivals are: Dashain, a celebration of Goddess Bhagabati's victory over evil Mahisashur; and Tihar, a celebration of lights dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi. It is not hard to catch colorful processions in different streets of the Valley almost every other day of the week. Cultural acts of dances and songs are integral parts of some celebrations while some celebrations are just quiet family gatherings. Grand celebrations like Ghode Jatra and Gai Jatra entertain participants and spectators every year.
There are many special or holy days held throughout the year by the Buddhist community. Many of these days celebrate the birthdays of Bodhisattvas in the Mahayana tradition or other significant dates in the Buddhist calendar. The most significant celebration happens every May on the night of the full moon, when Buddhist all over the world celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha over 2,500 years ago. It has become to be known as Buddha Day.
Buddhist Festivals are always joyful occasions. Typically on a festival day, lay people will go the the local temple or monastery and offer food to the monks and take the Five Precepts and listen to a Dharma talk. In the afternoon, they distribute food to the poor to make merit and in the evening join perhaps in a ceremony of circumambulation a stupa three time as a sign of respect to the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha. The day will conclude with evening chanting of the Buddha's teachings and meditation.
There are two aspects to take into consideration regarding Buddhist festivals: Most Buddhists, with the exception of the Japanese, use the Lunar Calendar and the dates of Buddhist festivals vary from country to country and between Buddhist traditions. There are so many Buddhist festivals.