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Nepal >> Nepal Information >> Culture

Nepal Culture

The Himalayan Kingdom has the richest and most diverse culture landscapes anywhere. Nepal is the holy land of Lord Pashupatinath and Gautam Buddha where the Hindus and Buddhists have lived together in harmony for centuries. The Temple of Pashupatinath is Nepal/s most scared Hindu shrine and one of the four most important cities in the world for Shiva worshippers. Lord Buddha, the light of Asia, was born in Lumbini in Nepal/s southern plains, which makes Nepal a scared pilgrimage destination for Buddhists as well.

The rich tapestry of the cultural heritage of Nepal is synthesized in the Kathmandu Valley. The three ancient cities of the Valley- Patan, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur-represent an epitome of harmony in urban design, elegant architecture and refined culture. These cities pack a concentration of religious monuments unequalled in the world. Don/t miss the seven monument zones named as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO all situated within the small confines of the Valley.

Adding dazzling color to Nepal/s myriad attractions are the many festivals that dot the calendar. Join in the numerous annual festivals that are celebrated throughout the year in traditional style highlighting enduring customs and beliefs. Go for village tours and visit the multi-ethnic groups to get first hand experience of their customs and lifestyles.

As eating is a special affair in Nepal, there is food for each and every occasion and festival. Kathmandu offers an incredible selection of dining opportunities. There are many restaurants that serve only authentic Nepali food complete with ethnic ambience.


Religous Tour

Everything festive in Nepal traditionally begins with something religious and moves with spontaneous spirit into a pleasant family feast. This is because, for Nepali/s, relegion has always influenced and has been the core of Nepali culture.

Most of the festivals celebrated in Nepal are religious. However, they can be generally divided into four sections keeping in mind the main aspects of the festival emphasized:

  1. Religious - These festivals are specially designed to honor a certain god or goddess. For instance, Bada Dashain, the festival of Devi Durga, the universal mother goddess also known as Kali.
  2. Historical - The historical festivals are celebrated to keep alive memories of events of importance. Gaijatra, was introduced by Jaya Prakash Malla.
  3. Agricultural - Since Nepal is an agricultural country there are different festivals like Laxmi Puja which mark the different seasons of harvesting, planting etc.
  4. Seasonal - The different seasonal festivals are celebrated in order to mark the beginning of special seasons. Holi or Fagu is the festival inspired by spring, the season of colours.
  5. Legendary - These festivals are based on legends than on any reliable historical record. Ghantakarna is a festival, which is also based on a legend. It is celebrated as a great relief from the death of a most dreaded legendary monster- Ghantakarna.

One of the interesting ways to understand the beauty and richness of Nepali culture is through its festivals. During festivals in Nepal, cultural dances, songs and performances are practiced. These cultural treasures make the festivals interesting and entertaining. People find more joy participating in performances and watching others perform and so, no festivals are idle gatherings. Instead, they are lively and purposeful.

Body and Soul

Discover Nepal`s Amazing Incentives

Hectic schedules, deadlines to meet and jetsetting around the world! You have worked hard alright. You and your company certainly deserve a break. How about a trip to paradise? Imagine a place where you could gaze at the wonders of the world`s highest range whose beauty is a feast to behold, trek to the lower slopes where a whiff of fresh air and scent of exotic flowers greet you at every step, raft down a snow-fed river, fly across the country by helicopter for candle-lit dinner in the mountains under the clear blue sky with Mt. Everest for company, and enjoy the sunrise as it splashes hues of red on blushing mountain ranges. You think your imagination is working over time? Well, think again. Paradise is closer than you think. Welcome to Nepal - the most happening incentive travel destination in the world - a heady mixture of unique culture proudly preserved, mind boggling adventure and remarkable natural beauty. A land where you can revitalize your mind, body and soul amidst scenery that is simply a knock out. Age- old traditional hospitality is an added bonus, of course. World -class convention facilities, exciting adventure products, special opportunities for sight-seeing, dining, accommodation, and shopping and much more. From toasting the sunrise over the Himalayas to seeking out wild animals in their natural habitat from atop an elephant, from being mesmerized by the artistic excellence of the medieval era to dancing the night away at a theme party, you will have lots to talk about when you get back home. A perfect incentive inspires any one to push a little harder, move a little faster and reach a little higher. Reward your employees with an incentive holiday in Nepal and boost their morale as well as productivity.

Festival Nepal

Nepal has more festivals than the number of days in a year. A festival is always a meaningful and memorable event in the life of Nepalese people. Every festival has some purpose to serve. From bringing in the rain to honoring the dead or averting calamities, every festival has something spiritual about it. Festival is a way of life in Nepal. With the number of festivals that Nepal has, it is one of the best ways to understand and appreciate the Nepalese ways of life.

Dances

Dances are almost always associated with festivals in Nepal. There are many forms of popular dances, and their flavor changes as one moves up from the lowland Terai to the doons and valleys to the high hills and mountains. Every dance is performed for some spiritual purpose. The choreography include simple wood stick dances in the south to the intricate details of the trance-induced dances of the Kathmandu Valley to the furious mask dances to the north. Basically, the dances are divided into Hindu and Buddhist cultures. Dance events are also a form of social gatherings. The hilly regions have very simple dance forms which involve the shaking of the hips and hands, and easy for anyone to learn. It is worthwhile for visitors to take part in such dances.

People

Nepal has a population of more than 23 million consisting of more than 70 ethnic groups having different cultures and speaking above 70 languages. According to some recently calculated figures (based on the 1981/1982 census) 80% of the people are Hindus, 15% are Buddhists and around 3% are Muslims. The rest are divided into other religions. Whatever might be the figures, the perfect harmony maintained beautifully by people despite the religious differences is truly remarkable in Nepal. The distribution of the different ethnic groups reflects the geographical diversity of the country. The majority of Nepal's population is of Indo-Aryan origin the remaining are of Tibetan and Bhotiya inhabitants of Northern Nepal (such as Sherpas, Dolpas and Lopas of Mustang) and the Mongoloid inhabitants of the central belt (such as Newars, Tamangs, Rais, Limbus, Sunuwars, Magars and Gurung communities).

The four main divisions of castes in Hindu Nepal are Bahun, Chhetri, Vaishya and Shudra. The family names of some Hindu castes may reflect locality as well as caste specific occupation. For instance, in Newari Society potters are known as Kumal (kumale), while masons are known as dakarmis. The common surnames of East and central Nepal are Gotame, Sharma, Regmi, Acharya, Nepal, Upadhyay, Aryal, Bhandari, Adhikari and Paudyal; those from West Nepal include Pant, Joshi, Bishta, Bhatta, Pandey, Awasthi, Lohani.

Let us now look at some major ethnic groups of Nepal.

Newars
Kathmandu, the capital city has been the homeland of the Newars. The Newars are inhabitants of a Tibeto-Burman origin speaking in Newari(their own dialect) as well as Nepali. The Newars are among the largest indigenous groups of Nepal and Make up the 7% of the total population (/ 800000). Several Newar Families follow Buddhism as well as Hinduism. They are usually inclined towards commerce, trade and farming. The Newars, who have been divided into 64 occupational groups by King Sthiti Malla, are a unique testimony of the richness of Nepali cultural heritages. They have excelled in arts literature, sculpting, casting bronze and silver and fascinating forms of architecture.

Brahmins
Brahmins, the priestly class of Indo-Aryan origin, occupy the highest position in the Hindu hierarchy. They are said to have come to Nepal from different Parts of India. Today they are found in every part of Nepal and have taken up different occupations.

Chhetris
The Chhetris, who like the Brahmins also have an Indo-Aryan origin, have been traditionally classified as warriors and administrators. They are recognized for their bravery and administrative skills. Today, they are distributed in almost all the parts of Nepal and have been working in different fields. They are said to have originally come from northern India during and after the time of the Buddha. The Khas are generally regarded as Bahuns and Chhetris who set up their own kingdoms in the far- western parts of Nepal. Their language, khas-kura (Nepali) which had evolved out of Sanskrit, was later introduced as the state language after the king, Prithvi Narayan Shah, conquered the Kathmandu valley in 1778.

Gurungs
The Gurungs, originally belonging to the Tibet-Burman ethnic group, live mostly in the central region of Nepal in places like the foothills of Kaski, Lamjung and Annapurna Himal. The Gurung villages surrounding the hills of Pokhara have attracted tourists because of their beautifully maintained stone houses. The Gurungs are good farmers as well as warriors. They, like the Rais, Limbus and Magars, have introduced themselves internationally as the brave Gorkha- soldiers. They follow Hinduism or Buddhism.

Kiratis
The Kiratis ( Rais, Limbus and several other minor groups living in eastern Nepal at present) are among the first group of people ruling over Nepal. Ancient Hindu texts like Himvat-khanda, and Mahabharata have mentioned their names. They basically come from eastern Nepal's Tamakoshi, Bhaotekoshi, Arun and Tamor. These people of Tibeto-Burman origin worship their ancestors and at the same time follow Buddhism, Hinduism, Animism and so on. They are very good farmers and warriors. They are rich in culture and have several languages and scripts called the Sri-Jung.

Magars
The Magars, having Tibeto-Burman origin, live in the Kali Gandaki region on the South of Dhaulagiri. They speak the Tibeto-Burman language and are Hindu by faith but they also follow Buddhism. They are mostly farmers but their martial qualities and physical fitness have made them good soldiers.

Sherpas
The Sherpas, who are said to have come from Tibet, speak the Tibeto-Burman language and live in the Himalayan region of Nepal. They are hardworking, friendly, and reliable in nature. The largest Sherpa settlement is in Solu Khumbu at the foothill of Mt.Everest, the worlds' highest peak (8848m). The Sherpas are adventurous mountaineers of international repute. Tenzing Norgay was the first guide, who with Sir Edmund Hillary from New-Zealand, successfully climbed Mt.Everest in 1953. Ang Rita, Babu Chiri(late), Pasang Lhamu(late) are a few well known Sherpas in the field of mountaineering.

Tharus
The Tharus are the only people living in the forests of the hot Terai along the southern base of the Shivalik hills. Their age-old religion has been Animism, which often reflects their mixed belief in Hinduism and Buddhism. The Tharus, who are said to be descendants of the Rajput(ruling class ) of India, have spread from eastern to western part of Nepal. We have many Madesi or Terai people living along the border Between India and Nepal. They speak Languages like Maithali in the eastern Terai, Bhojpuri in the central Terai and Avadhi in the western terai.

World Heritage Sites

Of the many sites, ten of them have been incorporated into the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. The list includes both natural as well as cultural sites. Of the eight cultural heritage sites, seven of them which glorify the Kathmandu Valley, are within the distance of 20 kilometres. Kathmandu Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Swayambhunath Stupa, Pashupatinath Temple, Bouddhanath Stupa, Changu Narayan Temple are within the valley whereas the birht place of Lord Buddha, Lumbini is the only cultural Heritage site outside the valley. Everest (Sagarmatha) National Park and Chitwan National Park are the two natural heritage sites.

Famous Pilgrimage Sites

Besides those many included in the World Heritage Sites, Nepal has other heritage and pilgrimage sites as well that are very important to the people and their distinctive and respective cultures. These range from the Nuwakot Palace to Gorkha Palace, from Mukti Nath to Dev Ghat dham. Most of these sites are remotely located, and have communities grown around them. These sites are important from historical as well from religious points of view. Most of these sites are also proven to be very good trekking routes, as in Muktinath and Gosaikund. Tours to these sites are highly encouraged not only for religious purposes but also for witnessing and appreciating the various cultural and traditional ethos of this small but diverse country. Most of these sites are open throughout the year for tourism because they are considered living museums.

Educational

Nepal is a premier destination for Hindu, Buddhist, Sanskrit and Tantric studies. Community education and historical surveys are also very popular. Study of the ancient Bon religion is also gaining ground, besides studies in animism and shamanism that are still extant in Nepal. Serious studies of Nepal are also quite an experience. Most of Buddhist studies are done in monasteries located in remote areas of the country. Sanskrit studies are normally taken up in Kathmandu and the Terai lowlands. Study visits have to be pre-arranged. Most of the monasteries allow students only on special requests. Sanskrit learning also must be pre-arranged. Visits to the places of learning can be done through direct contact.

Museum & Galleries

Nepal and its heritage sites, historical landmarks and pilgrimage destinations as well as the peoples and their communities are all open museums The three Durbar Squares of the Kathmandu Valley have all been open-air museums for decades. Most of the museums in Nepal are dedicated to the arts and craft of the past centuries. There is also a museum of natural history, and some others that are dedicated to contemporary arts. The most important museum in Nepal is the National Museum. It is located at the western end of the Kathmandu Valley. This museum holds a large collection of weapons, art and antiquities of historical and cultural importance. Another famous museum is the Hanuman Dhoka Palace. One museum of historical significance is the Kapilvastu Museum located at Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha. This museum has a unique collection of coins, pottery, toys and other artifacts.

Art & Craft

The art and craft of Nepal are basically based on the religious themes taken from Buddhism and Hinduism. Nepalese art has been influenced and promoted since the earliest recorded times by the Newars. The history of arts in Nepal is divided into five major periods prior to the Gorkha dynasty. These are Pre-Licchavi, Licchavi, transitional, Early Malla and late Malla periods. Pre-Licchavi art is represented by the many terra-cotta figures being discovered and excavated. The Mallas contributed immensely to the arts and architecture of the Kathmandu Valley. Buddhist thanka and Newar paubha paintings have been executed in Nepal since time immemorial. Cave paintings by Buddhist monks are found in very remote areas such as the Sagarmatha region and Mustang. Watching the Nepalese arts and craft can be a cultural walk in historical times.

Nepali Music and Dances

Music and dances have always been an integral part of Nepali culture. The many forms of dances and music differing from one region to another are one of the best sources of entertainment, which has its own uniqueness and beauty. Nepali music, unlike western music, does not have any written notations. It is based on melody and improvisation.

The different Raaga`s are the bases of classical music in Nepal. Different raagas are meant for different times of a day or different seasons. These raagas are generally named as Basanta (spring), Malshree (autumn), Sinyamein (summer), Deepak (monsoon) etc.
Communities of people like the gaine`s and badi`s, who pass on their talents from one generation to the other, still entertain people with their songs and dances in some parts of Nepal. The Gaine`s also make good sales-men as they sell Sarangi`s (the musical instrument they make for sale and to play themselves). Music, in Nepal, has also been widely used for religious purposes. Bhajans and Charya songs and dances are very fascinating.

The different dances (folk and classical) are a talent of displaying different emotions. In these Nepali dances even a flicker of an eyelid and the movement of a hand would have a meaning. Dances are performed not only for entertainment, but also for different social and religious purposes. Classical dances like the Gan Payakhan (a panel of eight mother goddesses) of, Patan, the Nava-Durga dance of Bhaktapur, The Bhairav dance of Halchowk are among the wide range of classical dances in Nepal. These dances and songs are performed by different public and private organizations committed to preserve them like 'The Royal Nepal Academy', 'Rastriya Naach Ghar' etc.

Musical instruments

Many ancient stone statues and other evidences show that Nepali music was alive even before the Kirant and the Licchavi dynasties. 7th century inscriptions show the existence of a well-organized musical team (orchestra) even during that era.
There are many musical instruments most of which are made with the help of local resources. Nekoo, made of the horn of a water buffalo, is believed to scare evil spirits once played. The Panche Baaja is a group of musical instruments without which no Nepali wedding is said to be complete. It comprises of five instruments played together, they are:

  1. Shehnai - It makes a wailing sound, which is very moving.
  2. Nagara or tyamko - It is a single headed round drum made of animal skin played with two sticks.
  3. Karnal - It is curled up and produces a piercing and powerful sound.
  4. Damaha - It is a small single-headed drum with a sharp sound. 5. Jhyali- These are a pair of small bars which gives a tolling sound when played by hitting against one another.

Other important Nepali instruments are:

  1. Dhime - This is a double-headed cylindrical drum with a big wooden body. Its right side is beaten with a light cane and the left is beaten with the hand of the player. It is widely used by the Jyapu`s (farmers) of Kathmandu on festive occasions.
  2. Nayekhin - it is a samll double headed drum with a sharp sound. It was used to attract public attention to announce important news.
  3. Madal - This is the most popular and widely used drum in Nepal. It is made of leather with a wooden body. Most Nepali folk songs are accompanied by the playing of this drum.
  4. Sarangi - This is a seven stringed musical instrument produced and played by Gaines (professional folk singers of Nepal).
  5. Dholak - This is a double headed drum widely used in the Terai part of Nepal for public fairs and festivals.
  6. Mridang - This is a very ancient double headed drum with a very heavy wooden body. It produces a gentle and pleasant sound.
  7. Shahnai or Mridang - It is like a small trumpet and it makes a wailing sound, which is very moving. It is used for many religious ceremonies.
  8. Damphu - this is a double- sided disk shaped drum topped with leather and with a long wooden handle. It is played with great zeal with jumping and leaping in the air.
  9. Pongah - This is about 6 ft long and is made of copper with intricate carvings and art-work on it. It is used mostly by Buddhist monks and is somewhat similar to a Karnal.

Some interesting Nepali customs

Nepal is full of cultural wonders. Some of these cultural practices might seem strange to a person without prior-knowledge about what one should expect to see. So, we now see some general cultural practices practiced in Nepal.
Tika and kohl lined eyes.

Tika, a mark on the forehead, symbolizes the blessings of god. The colours of the tika varies according to the occasion and type of temple one visits. The black gajal or kohl is used to line the eyes of children to keep away evil eyes.

Love.
Most Nepali`s do not feel comfortable with the display of love in presence of others. Public display of love would embarrass the onlookers and could put the lovers in a very awkward position.

Marriage
Child marriage, polygamy and polyandry, though illegal now, once fed Nepali newspapers with interesting stories. The marriageable age has been legally set as 18 for girls and 21 for women. Even today, most people do not have love marriages, the decision is usually made by the parents. Yet, the divorce rate is considerably low.

The costumes
Since Nepal is a country rich in ethnicity, there are different costumes worn by different ethnic groups. But generally, the men wear Daura suruwal`s and women wear sari`s.

Rituals for purification and cleansing

Touching a pig
Certain castes of people, in Nepal, are not supposed to touch pigs. If they happen to touch a pig, they are supposed to purify themselves by taking a holy-dip in a river or by going to a temple. The golden temple of Kwabaha is known for this ritual.

Cleansing the house with cow-dung
Before almost every religious ceremony, the house is first mopped and then the house is cleansed by painting the floor with a mixture of red clay and cow-dung.

Soap is considered impure
In certain orthodox families soap is considered to be impure because they believe that it is made of pigs fat. So, they further purify their hands, after washing it with soap, by touching fire or by rubbing a piece of yellow clay.

Serving water
Drinking water, in orthodox Nepali homes, is served in a water-pot with a little faucet. The faucet allows the drinker to drink the water without touching it with his/her lips.

Menstruation periods
A female having her menstruation periods is restricted from coming in physical contact with men and religious places until she takes four complete purification baths on the fourth day of her periods. In far-western Nepal there is a special hut for women having their periods.

A sarki (shoemakers)
It is believed that as a shoemaker a Sarki always wishes to get cowhide (cows are considered to be holy and killing of a cow is punishable by law). Thus, Sarkis or shoemakers in Nepal are considered to be of the so called lowest of castes and are treated as untouchables.

Some things to keep in mind for visitors

  • Do not encourage children to beg by giving them money.
  • Do not step on wayside stones dotted with religious marks, flowers and grains, they are worshipped as sacred symbols representing divine spirits. You may come across them when you walk around.
  • Ask for permission before taking pictures of the images enshrined in the temples.
  • Do not walk into temple courtyards with leather shoes on until you make sure that it is alright for you to do so. (Non-Hindus are not allowed in some temples, like Pashupatinath and Guheshwari.)
  • Ask people before taking their pictures.
  • Do not carry too much money in cash.
  • Do not open wallets full of money in public.
  • Do not go anywhere you are not familiar with without an escort or guide.
  • If you bargain while buying souvenirs in the streets you will be saving a lot of money.

Nepali Dishes
There are different types of Nepali food depending on the region the kind of food belongs to but most Nepali`s have Dal (lentil soup), bhat (steamed rice) and tarkari (curried vegetables). It is often accompanied by aachar (pickles). Curried meat is popular, but since meat is expensive people save it for special occasions.
Tibetan influences increase as you go north and perenial favorites like momo`s (steamed or fried dumplings stuffed with meat), are widely available. As we move towars the south Indian influences are seen in the food.
Most Nepali`s do not use cutlery to eat they eat with their right hand.

A few Nepali food

  • Daal - Bhat : The taste of Daal and Bhat vary, depending on the cook. It always tastes wonderful with aachar. It is often available in restaurants.
  • Chapatis : They are flat pancake-like breads made of wheat or rice flour. They are available in restaurants and can be eaten accompanied by Daal and curry.
  • Dhedo : most average Nepali people have this as a meal. It is made of different kinds of flours, ranging from wheat to millet, which is boiled until thick.

Religious Symbols

SHREE YANTRA
Different yantras, for tantricpuja or meditation, are used by tantric pundits. Among the many yantras prevalent the shree yantra (shree stands for 'Lakshmi' the goddess of prosperity) is said to be the most important and is called the king of yantras by the tantric adepts.

Shree yantra is composed of two sets of triangles one of which is composed of Shreekanthas (four male Shiva triangles denoting gradually involved energy) and the other set of triangles is composed of Shivayavatis ( five female or shakti triangles denoting five senses of knowledge and action, and five subtle and gross forms of matter). These two triangles reflect the unison of Shiva and Shakti.

A noted Nepali Scholar says that Shakti is always in unison with Shiva, existing within each and every being as the inner self; the state of existence, consciousness and bliss. Shiva is the Ashraya (basis) of Shakti which in turn, being his creative faculty, is the basis of the whole universe. Hence, she is known as Shree the primordial energy existing within Shiva and yantra is her divine extension network. Without her operation, this visible cosmos would not be possible.

This universe and all it's contents are basically composed of panchtatva or five basic elements comprising of Prithvi (earth), Apas (water), Tejas (light), Maruta (wind) and Aakaash (sky). It is believed that our body is also composed of the same basic elements called pinda. The unison of Pinda, the individual body, with Brahmaanda, the cosmic body, is beautifully represented by this great yantra. The objective of meditation on Shree-yantra is to unite with the universal mother, in her forms of mind, life and matter, to attain consciousness and divinity. The Yantra is therefore transformed from a material object of lines and curves into a mental state of union with the universe.

Satkon
The Satkon is composed of two sets of overlapping triangles. One is the symbol of Shiva, which stands for eternal being (static by nature), and the other is a symbol of Shakti, the most active female. This popular symbol of the union of Shakti and Shiva, that indicates the union of the two, is represented in several Nepali works of art like the Mandala paintings, windows and doors etc. The beautiful temple residence of Devi Annapurna Ajima, at Bhotahiti Tol in Kathmandu, has one of the most exquisite Satkon patterns in its windows. Many people seem to mistake the Star of David, which has nothing to do with it. The Satkon signifies the five basic senses and the extra sensory perception, that significantly makes it the six -pointed star. This symbol is believed to have originated from ancient tantric Hinduism. On the other hand the Buddhist story about the Satkon says that it symbolizes the perfection of the highest form of wisdom (Pragya), however, the Mahayanists accept it as a great symbol of Pragya (knowledge or enlightenment) and Upaya (active force or the power of the female principal) united. This ancient symbol appears to be the central core of all the highly sophisticated symbols in Nepali religious culture.

Swastika
Swastika, a Sanskrit word which means doing good for all, is a very ancient oriental symbol. This symbol can be seen in wood -carvings, bronze castings, thangka paintings and many other traditional forms of art.

In Buddhism, the four hands of Swastika signifying Maitree (friendship), Karuna (compassion), Mudita (happiness) and Upershya (indifference), are four divine merits or talents. This theory is very dominant in our culture. According to Sadhanmala(one of the most authentic Buddhist texts), the four merits represent four ideal ways to Nirvana every aspirant should mediate on.
It is believed that the Mahayanists, in due course of time, developed an iconography based on all those four merits and soon created Swastika to proudly add to their pantheon of gods. The many deities were all given the same merit names like Maitree, Karuna, Mudita and Upekshya. Hindus as well Buddhists worship them in Nepal. Among many such deities of Nepal, the four most beautifully built bronze statues of these merit gods can be seen in Hiranyavarana Mahavihar(Golden temple)of Patan built by Vaskar Varma in 12th century.

Shiva Linga
The linga is the phallic symbol of lord Shiva and it displays supreme power generally identified analogue of cosmic deity. It occupies the "womb cell" in temples while the outer structure of this double sex diety signifies its determined creative function. Creation, in tantra is described as sexual self-relation. The Brihadaranyaka Upanisad says that one alone knows no delight and so the female partner was generated.

According to the Puranas, Lord Shiva assumed the form of Lingam(the phallic symbol of universal pro-creation), on the night of Shivaratri, to save the universe from a big threat of destruction. It is said that when Lord Shiva swallowed the Halahala poison, which had emanated from the intensive churning of the milky ocean, the heat of the poison proved to be so unbearable that he could not wait for a Himalayan shower. Ganga, the river goddess, is said to have rushed to him and poured all the water she had in possession. This helped him and so, even today, holy water is offered through Jalahari(a copper cup that hangs above the Shivalinga). It is believed that Shiva was not cooled enough even after Ganga poured all the water she possessed over him. He was cooled only when the whole of the moon was tucked in the matted lock of his head. Shiva, after having cooled himself became ecstatic and started dancing the Tandava Nritya.

Religious objects and symbols in the context of Nepal

In Nepal, we have thousands of fascinating old buildings and temples almost all of which have religious figures and symbols. It would be almost impossible to know about each and every one of them. So, we discuss some important figures and symbols.

Shankha
Shankha is a Sanskrit word used to denote a sleek and smooth conch shell. It is believed that if the Shankha is blown with skill, it can scare away evil spirits and is described as a killer of germs and enemies. According to some scholars, it can also be used for preparing many kinds of Ayurvedic medicines and that a certain dose of its powder can cure jaundice, gall bladder, etc.
The Hindus as well as the Buddhists drink water from a Shankha before they break a fast and almost all temple prayers are accompanied by the blowing of the Shankha.

It is strongly believed that the Shankha had been shaped from the holy waters showered from heaven. Thus it is regarded as a divine jewel always held by Lord Vishnu on his right hand. It was also used as safety bands for young ladies to wear, around their hands, in the form of bracelets and its necklaces were worn to cast away evil eyes.

Chakra (The wheel of right action)
Chakra or the wheel of righteousness is an emblem or tool used as a holy symbol by Hindus and Buddhists. Vishnu, the Hindu god of preservation, always holds a chakra to do away with demons and to protect his devotees and to make sure that Dharma(righteousness) does not retrograde.

In Buddhism, some interpret the Chakra as the wheel of life and see it as the teachings of Buddha. We might as well say that it's purpose is similar in Buddhism and Hinduism because the first teachings of Buddha began with the turning of the wheel of Dharma.

Sinhamoo(Ceremonial vermilion container)
This ceremonial container is used for storing vermilion powder for religious purposes. The consecrated vermilion inside the container represents Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and abundance. The upper portion of the Sinhamoo is either shaped like three, five or seven tiered oriental umbrella serving as a ceremonial canopy of Laxmi. Sinhamoo is used in almost all-religious ceremonies particularly in the Newari community.

Jwala Nhyekan (A ceremonial metal mirror)
Jwala Nhyekan, an ancient religious object, has a plain circle as the central portion surrounded by stylized flames that come to the peak at the top. It is indispensable in all kinds of religious ceremonies in the Newari community of Kathmandu Valley. This is used by Buddhist`s as well as Hindu`s to symbolize inner vision and is also regarded a representation of Saraswati, the goddess of learning and creative arts.

Kalasha (a holy ceremonial water jar)
Kalash is a typical traditional water jar usually made of brass, which has a round body with the base and mouth beautifully designed like a full blown lotus. Kalasha, the symbol of the universal mother goddess, is supposed to contain Amrit(inexhaustible elixir) which never dries and makes one immortal. It was said in ancient times that the sprinkling of Kalash- water, accompanied by mantra, over ones head would ensure plenty, purity and prosperity.

Lotus (the flower of wisdom)
The lotus is among the most popular motifs in Nepali arts, it is a symbol of mental purity and detachment. In Nepal, it is also a symbol of divinity as some Hindu as well as Buddhist gods are seen sitting on them showing that they are divine.

Torana
Torana, a gateway leading to a temple or a holy place of worship, is semi-circular in form and is placed above temple doorways. Torana`s mostly found made on wood or stone and some are lavishly gilded with brass, others are even beautifully embellished with several artistic designs.

Vajra
Vajra, which means "thunderbolt", is used in the Vajrayani as well as Mahayani sect of Buddhism. It is described as an ever illuminating, indestructible and adamantine element, often identified as a divine symbol of the changeless absolute, in a Buddhist text. The Vajra is always accompanied by a bell, for Vajra stands for the male principle whereas a bell for the female principle. A Vajra accompanied by a bell is a ritualistic requirement for every Buddhist religious ceremony. In every Buddhist religious ceremony, the Buddhist priest holds a Vajra on his right hand and a bell on the other.

Bell
The sound of a bell in Hindu philosophy symbolizes the Nata-Brahma(seed-sound) originating from Brahma, the supreme being. The ringing of a bell has always been an integral part of prayers for most religions in Nepal. We find bells in every temple and thus, it is of importance to every religion.

Prayer Wheel
Almost every Buddhist temple have prayer wheels which was introduced by Tibetans. These cylindrical wheels have prayers carved on them. The prayer seen in almost all prayer wheel is- om mani padme hum (I bow down to the divine jewel or Buddha seated on the lotus).

Sukunda
Sukunda is a traditional Nepali oil lamp made of brass. The front part of a Sukunda is shaped like the god Ganesha, the god of success and good luck. It has a tiny cup to put the wick and a fascinating loop handle designed with a five- headed serpent raising its head. It also has a small spoon, with the Naga-kanya atop, used for replenishing the oil from the reservoir. The artistic work on this traditional lamp reflects the remote past of a very famous Buddhist legend about a Naga(snake) and a lake. A long time ago Kathmandu valley was a lake inhabited by snakes. In the middle of the lake, there was a beautiful flame of a lotus with a thousand petals. Buddha Mahamanjushree after hearing about it rushed to the valley, all the way from China, and he drained the lake by striking his magic sword at the southern hill of the valley leaving the valley open to all. The most famous Buddhist stupa of

Swayambhunath is believed to have originated from the same legendary lotus-flame.
In Newari language sukunda means a beautiful lake. It is said that the oil reservoir of a sukunda represents the legendary lake, its mouth with the unfolded lotus motif represents the lotus with a thousand petals and the cup attached to it in which the lamp is lighted represents the self- existent divine flame. The lord Ganesha in front represents the great guru who is there to teach everyone the supreme acts of god. No ceremony in Nepal is started without the lighting of the Sukunda.

Khaadalu
This traditional is a bit different from the Sukunda. Khaadalu, in Newari, means a hanging window lamp. Many years ago, when there was no electricity, these lamps were used for lighting shrines and the streets of Kathmandu. We can still see these oriental brass lamps, with a few mythical dragons watchfully guarding its flame from both sides, hung in many old houses but they are only lighted on festive occasions. As the age- old custom has it, only housewives are supposed to light this lamp and many still have faith in the myth that if this lamp is not lighted after it gets dark, Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, would be displeased.
"Shubham bhavatu kalyanam aarogya dhanasampati mamashatru vinashaya deepajyot namastute" an old prayer recited while lightening the Khadaalu means- You, the great doer of welfare for your devotees, the one who bestows upon us health, happiness, wealth and the destruction of our enemies (darkness and ignorance). Salutation to you, the great divine light.

Janai
Janai, a holy thread, worn around the neck by Brahmins and Chhetris, is worn to denote Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. It is believed that all the three gods reside in the holy thread making it a divine. The Mantra to invoke the desired diety Begins with the word "Aum". It is believed that the one who realizes the significance of this Mantra will easily reach god.

Sagun
According to a very old Nepali tradition, a person planning a journey first consults an astrologer to figure out the right time for the person to begin a journey. Then on the day fixed for the person to leave the person's family organizes a farewell ceremony the main highlight of which is a ritual dish (sagun) which is supposed to bring the person good luck. The ritual dish consists of a boiled egg, a thick round lentil cake, a dried fish, a piece of meat and a piece of ginger. The sagun is usually given, accompanied either by alcohol or yogurt and a vermilion mark on his/her forehead locally called Teeka.

Makara Motif
Makara, meaning crocodile in Sanskrit, is a traditional motif used in decorative art, which is very common in Nepal. This motif can be found used in Nepali temple toranas (tympanums), traditional water and wine jars, spouts, bronze containers, jewelry etc. The makara is shown having watchful eyes, very sharp teeth, flaming lips, two little legs and at times it is shown having a tough scaly body, four legs and a long floriated tail. Makara is more a symbol of a perennial source of life than a mere decorative piece of art. The incessant flow of water from the mouth of makara in spouts reflects the cycle of creation.

Popular legends of Nepal

Why death is not seen
It is believed that death was a visible body. When the time for one to die would come, death would come to the person and the person would accept to go to the Yamaloka (the place for the dead). Death was thus accepted and was celebrated.

Once, while death was going through the list of people who had to die he came across a young blacksmith who was not ready to die. He still had a lot of dreams to fulfill, so, when he saw Death come to him he was polite with death for he wanted Death to leave him alone. Death would not leave him. He then told death that he wanted to show him his work and took him to a multi-chambered iron building, which he had built. He guided death to the innermost chamber and asked Death to relax there. He then locked Death inside the chamber, locking seven doors. The blacksmith told no one his secret. Lord Shiva found out that Death was trapped and entrusted his consort, Parvati, to carry out a plan to release Death. Parvati, disguised as a beautiful woman working in the place where the blacksmith went every evening to drink, went to the world of the mortals. She served the young blacksmith many fine drinks, acting very seductive, and tried to find out his secrets. The intoxicated blacksmith revealed all she wanted to know. Then, Death was released and from then on, death never went to the world of the mortals in its visible form.

The Beautiful Queen who got stuck in mud
There was once a queen, widely known for her pure and enchanting beauty, simplicity, modesty and the fact that she never wore any jewelry. She was a great devotee of the sun god and her favorite morning ritual was worshipping the sun god after washing herself. She had dedicated a sacred pool to the sun god in the middle of which was a beautifully crafted crystal column with the statue of the sun god. There were lotuses all over the pool, she would gently step on to them to get to middle of the pool.

One day, when she was attending a festival she beautiful lady heavily ornamented with gold jewelry. She felt inferior and asked her husband to buy her jewelry. The king was shocked to see that his wife had changed. He tried to convince her that it would be sad to trade her precious simplicity with material luxury, but the queen would not listen. The saintly king had never collected revenue for his own luxury and thus had no money to fulfill her desires. He was forced to ask his subjects to contribute some gold and soon a goldsmith was called.

When the queen got her new jewelry, she couldn't wait to show it everyone. She attracted everyone`s attention that day and she enjoyed every bit of the attention. She was so excited that it was tough for her to fall asleep.
The next morning, she washed up to go to worship the sun god but when she foot on a lotus it would no longer support her. She fell down and was stuck in the mud of the pool. There was no one around to help her out, so, she had to struggle very hard to free herself. She finally freed herself and rushed to her room just to find out, while glancing in her mirror, that she had turned very ugly. From then on she could neither worship the sun god nor could she beautify herself.

The King who did not fear death
There was once a philosopher king, Yoga Narendra Malla,who believed that he was immortal. So, to convince people about his belief he installed a statue of himself in front of his palace. The statue had a naga forming a canopy over his head and a bird on top of the nagas head, which looked as if it was about to fly. The statue was devoted in prayer to taleju, the goddess of Patan state. Then the king proclaimed that as long as the bird perched on top of the naga, his subjects should know that he was still alive.
One day the king disappeared mysteriously. The staue prayed to taleju and the bird had not flown away. Thus, once a year there is a big festival at which the golden window of his palace is left open in the hope of his return. A dish of meal is also served for him regularly.

The naga who won the heart of garuda
Once, a very distinguished Naga (snake/serpent) wanted to see the great bathing ceremony of the rato machindra, the famous Buddhist rain-god, which was to take place on a full moon night of Chaitra (April). He went disguised as a human, telling his wife not to tell anyone about his whereabouts.

Soon Garuda, a mythical bird and enemy of all naga`s, went to the Nagas` wife asking where her husband was. Upon the insistence of the Garuda she told him where her husband was and that he could be recognized as he would appear to be the tallest man in the crowd watching from the Lagan Stupa as that was the best place from where the ceremony could be viewed. The garuda went to the ceremony and found the Naga. The garuda got hold of him and commanded him to present himself for the Garudas next meal. Thje naga was neither surprised nor frightened at the prospect of being swallowed up by the Garuda, for he knew that there was no escape. Instead, he pleaded the garuda saying that he would readily be the garudas meal if the garuda would allow him to see the ceremony of the rato macchindra, to whom he was deeply devoted. The garuda agreed.

When the festival was over, the naga went home to bid farewell to his wife. He was not angry at his wife, but he explained what had happened and went to the Garudas home on time. The garuda was greatly moved by his truthfulness and loyalty. The Garuda then decided that the Naga should be presented to the rato macchindra. Till this day, the Rato Macchindra wears a necklace called 'Satya Naga'.

The potters choice
There was once a potter, who was a great devotee of the lord Shiva. Once the lord, impressed by the potters` actions granted him a wish. The potter wished that all the pots he made would never break. The lord granted him the wish, smiling mysteriously. The potter tested the promised and he found out that his wish had indeed been fulfilled.

Soon, he was famous far and wide for his unbreakable pots and everyone came to buy them. This went on for a few years but since the pots would never break, people did not want new pots. His business suddenly stopped and his family went hungry. He could not understand how the boon given by Shiva had brought him misery.

One early morning as he was praying to Lord Shiva, with utmost sorrow in his heart. The Lord was moved by the hard times he was going through, thus the lord asked why he was unhappy. The potter, falling at the lords` feet, pleaded the lord to take the boon back and asked for forgiveness. The Lord was pleased and so he took back the boon. From then on, the potter happily made pots that would break and crack and would need to be replaced in due course of time.

When Laxmi changed her mind
Once Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, granted a wish to Vishwakarma, a great architect, for building a beautiful house for her. When Viswakarma told her that he would accept anything she would give, she told him that she would give him gold enough to cover his body and a luxurious life. Then she brought an enormous jar of gold-powder and started to pour it over his body. The jar of gold did not suffice and so she went to get more. This display of magnanimity started to worry Vishnu, the lord of balance and preservation. Vishnu was worried that the boon would make him lazy and forget his talents as an architect. He made a plan and accordingly put fleas and ticks inside the gold dust, which made Vishwakarma to move for relief.

On the other hand, Laxmi was tired of filling and pouring the gold dust without succeeding in completing her task. She finally decided that the Vishwakarma was moving because he wanted more and more gold. She, deciding that he was getting greedy, put a curse on him saying that he must work hard even on her ceremonial birthday (laxmi-puja day). At first Vishwakarma was confused, but he wasn't sad for he was relieved of the fleas. Thus, in this way everything went back into order as usual.

Popular Divinities of Nepal

Brahma
Brahma, the self -created god of creation, is said to have created the cosmos. Brahma, in art forms, is depicted as a god having a long beard, radiant skin, wearing white robes, with four arms and at times mounted on a goose.

Legend has it that this event urged him to create a new world for himself. After the world was created he started feeling unbearably lonely, so, he created a female partner for himself with whom he fell in love at the very first sight. The female (also identified as Savitri and Saraswati), who was extremely beautiful, was awfully embarrassed because of Brahma's passionate behavior towards her. She tried to run away from Brahma, but whichever direction she tried to escape from a new head of Brahma would spring up. The female finding no other alternative sprang up toward the sky and another head of Brahma sprung up. Brahma grabbed the helpless female who was his daughter as well as wife. In this way Brahma got his five heads but it is believed that his fifth head was cut off as a punishment for his sinful affair with his wife-daughter.

Indra
Indra, traditionally regarded as the god of heaven, is the most worshipped and most popular Hindu god among the plethora of Hindu gods. The vedas describe him as the valiant fighter who destroys devils and drought and gives people rain and food. This could be the reason for his popularity. The Puranas too speak highly of Indra, often dramatizing his numerous battles against non -Aryans. Indra- Jatra is a very famous festival celebrated in order to honor Indra.

Saraswati
Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and fine arts, is often portrayed having a pure white form seated on a full blown lotus or mounted on a hansa (swan). The hansa is often regarded as our inner-consciousness and is said to be capable of driving away Avidya or ignorance. Among her four arms the two lower arms are shown playing the veena and the upper hands are shown holding a book and a rosary. Manjushree, the Buddhist goddess of knowledge and inner- vision is also worshipped equally as Saraswati is worshipped among the Hindus.

Saraswati puja is a festival celebrated during spring by students. According to an age- old tradition a young child is introduced to the alphabets for the first time on this day.

Kumari (the living goddess)
Kumari, the virgin goddess, represents the state deity of Nepal known as Taleju and is said to be the incarnation of Kanya Kumari. A kumari candidate is selected for a highly honored Hindu temple from a Buddhist family of Shakya clan. Once she is selected, she is highly honored by both Hindus and Buddhists including the king. She is taken out of her temple to participate in several festivals. Once a Kumari attains puberty, she loses this divine status and the selection for another kumari begins and she is made to leave the temple.

The famous Kumari temple is situated right across the historical Gaddi Baithak Hall at Basantapur in Kathmandu. There are different Kumaris in Patan, Bhaktapur, Bungmati, Thimi and other Newar towns.

Hanumana
Hanumana or the monkey god is worshipped as the god of protection. He is said to be full of shakti or strength, thus, his whole body is shown to be red. He symbolizes courage, strength and loyalty. The statues of Hanumana are found in most palaces. The images of the Hanumana always show him with closed eyes. It is said that he never married and does not like seeing females, especially unmarried female. People believe that he can destroy them if he catches sight of them.

Dhyani Buddha's
The five Dhyani Buddha's- Vairochana, Akshobhaya, Rathasambhava, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi, represent the five basic elements of which the world is made- Earth, fire, water and ether. These Buddha's, described as the progenitors of the five kulas, or families, termed as Dvesa, Moha, Raga, Chintamani and Samaya, are associated with the fulfillment of desires as well as the attainment of Nirvana. Buddhist philosophy conceives these gods to be the manifestation of Sunya or absolute void. We often find the images of the Dhyani Buddha's in Stupas. Akshobhaya is placed facing the east, Amitabha facing the west, Amoghasiddhi facing south, Ratnasambhava facing north and Vairochana in the center. Except for Vairochana, which is considered to be the preciding deity of a stupa, all the other Dhyani Buddha's are seen in meditation. In most stupas the central Buddha is either hidden or seated next to Akshobhaya.

Though there are only five Dhyani Buddha's, sometimes an additional Dhyani Budda- the Vajrasattva is also included. Vajrasattva is regarded as the priest among the Dhyani Buddha's and is seen holding a Vajra on his right hand and a ghanta(bell) on the left.

Ganesha
Ganesha, the god of good luck, wisdom and success, is a very popular deity worshipped by Both Hindus as well as Buddhist's in Nepal. The figure of Ganesha is childlike and unique as it has an elephant head, a big round belly, an exceptionally short body and four or more hands. His upper right hand holds a hook, representing the right path to follow, and the lower hand is seen holding a noose, representing self- restrain. The rosary on his third lower hand represents concentration, which is very important for the development of spiritual knowledge, and his lower four hands are in a gesture that assures his devotees fearlessness, indicating that he is the protector. A religious text describes the bulky body of Ganesha as the cosmos and his elephant-like shape as the embodiment of cosmic intelligence. A legend has it that he even broke his most valued tusk so that Vyasa, a great Hindu Vedic writer, could write the Mahabharat.

Kumara
The god Kumara, the brother of Ganesha, has six heads representing the six senses ( including the extra sensory perception).Kumara has six different names- Kartiyeka, Gangeya, Skanda, Sarvanabha, Sadahana and Subrrahmanya. Kumara. It is believed that he was born from the eye of lord Shiva. Hence, making him the eternal child of divine wisdom. However, he is also regarded as the god of welfare and divine wisdom. The worshipping of Kumara begins with the cleaning of the house with cow-dung mixed with red clay. Then a figure of a lotus with six petals is drawn with yellow rice powder and vermilion. According to Hindu Pundits, the six Chakras inherent in the human body is the medium through which Kundalini is to transfer its energy into the Samadhi or Yoga. On special festivals young boys are made the kumara and are taken out in procession. The main kumara festival is Kumara sasthi, which falls on May. On this festival cleaning of the neighborhood is an important event besides the processions.

Laxmi
Laxmi is the goddess of wealth and the consort of lord Vishnu. Laxmi is among the most worshipped of all gods and goddesses in Nepal. One of the most important festivals, among the multitude of Nepali festivals, is Laxmi puja. Laxmi puja is significant for those who celebrate it for it gives them a reason to hope for financial progress in the years to come. The celebration is usually done with elaborate preparations. Lights play a huge role during Laxmi puja since it is celebrated at night. Oil fed clay lamps are kept burning throughout the night. Laxmi puja is also known as the festival of lights.

Mahakaala
Mahakaala is one of the highly fascinating Vajrayana Buddhist deities. In art forms the deity is portrayed as dark, dwarfed and big bellied, with a mukuta or headdress with skulls set in and a garland of human heads. He holds a Kurtri (flaying knife) in his right hand and a kapala (a skull cup) on the other. He has three eyes, opened wide giving him a fierce look, and teeth dripping blood. He wears tiger skin as girdle and snakes as various ornaments. Though he looks fierce, he is said to be very kind hearted. According to Sadhanmala, a very old Buddhist text, the number of arms and heads Mahakaala would have depended on the nature of purpose he was called for. He could have one face with two, four or six arms or even eight faces with sixteen arms. It is popularly believed that his fierce look is not to scare every other person but to scare away evil.

Rato Machhendra or Bunga Dyo
The Buddhist rain-god, Bhunga dyo or Rato Machindra is also known as Karunamaya Lokeshwara (The most compassionate god of the universe). Bunga Dyo is worshipped in its male as well as female form like umaneshwara, Laxminarayan, Praynayopaya and so on. There are two temples of Machhendra, one is at Bungmati, which is about 8km away from Kathmandu and one is at Patan.
The festival of Bhunga dyo begins every year on the first day of Baishakh (March-April) and continues for a month or so. Since Nepal is an agricultural country the monsoons are very important for the Nepali's. This festival frees the farmers from worries about not getting ample amount of rain as this festival implies the worship of the rain god. During this festival a chariot carrying the Machindra is pulled and thousands of people participate.

Bheemasena
Bheemasena is one of the heroes of the Mahabharata and the god of trade and commerce. Bheemasena is portrayed in images as a red- faced deity with angry eyes and a thick black moustache. He is often shown lifting a horse in the air and pressing an elephant under his knee with a huge cobra and a lion watching in awe. This fierceness in his images is meant to symbolize his determination to kill Dushshasan, his enemy who had insulted Draupadi by trying to denude her in public.
Bheemasena is worshipped widely by Nepali traders. Several guthi's (a sort of trust) are devoted to the regular service of this deity.
One of the most remarkable statues of Bheemasena can be seen in Patan Bheemasena temple built by Shreenivas Malla in the early 18th century.

Krishna
Krishna is by far the most widely worshipped around the world. The devotees of Lord Krishna take him to be a spiritual guide, a karmayogi, a highly perfected man of good action, a supreme statesman, a protector of the poor, an eternal lover and so on. He is taken to be a versatile divinity. In art forms Krishna is depicted as a divine lover of gopinee girls. Though, his love is different from that of mortals as the single-minded devotion between the gopinee's and the lord is supposed to symbolize the single-minded devotion to god.

It is believed that Krishna could put all his devotees into a trance by playing his magic flute. In art forms he is shown holding a flute in his hand and his leg slightly bent in tribhanga mudra.This gesture represents his involvement in karma-yoga (continual action)which keeps the world in order. So, our saints call him the Karma-yogi, the highly perfected man and the god of action.
The Geeta is a divine gift of Lord Krishna for the people of the world who aspire for illuminating inner vision.

Vishnu In his various forms of incarnation

Vishnu Dharma Purana (an old Hindu text) describes Vishnu as the preserver of the universe and the upholder of Dharma. According to the Geeta, whenever lord Vishnu sees Dharma declining and the weak and innocent suffering He comes down in different forms of incarnation to undo the wrong. The different incarnations of Vishnu could be:

1. Matsya-The Fish : Manu, the and the first founder of human civilization, was saved from a terrifying flood by Vishnu in the form of a Fish. The flood is said to have been caused by Hayagriva, the most cruel sea-monster dwelling deep in the ocean with innumerable fierce marine animals.

2. Kachhap or Kurma- The tortoise : When Vishnu saw the sins of Danavas or devils weighing down the earth he assumed the form of a tortoise and dived deep into the sea to raise the earth on his back and changed the earth to its natural self.

3.Varaha- The Boar : When a demon named Hiranyakashyapa drowned the earth, Vishnu rushed to rescue the earth incarnated as a Boar (Varaha). He plunged into the water and rescued the earth by killing the demon.

4.Narasimha- man-lion : Vishnu, in this incarnation killed Hiranyakashyapa by tearing open his stomach for his attempt to kill his own son- Prahlad, the most sincere devotee of the Lord Vishnu.

5.Vamana- Dwarf Brahman : In this Avatar (incarnation) Vishnu reclaimed the earth from Mahabali, the lord of all the three worlds, by visiting Bali in this avatar and asking him to give the land measured by three steps. As soon as Bali agreed he got back to himself and in three steps covered the universe and won it.

6. Parashurama : The heroic Brahmin with a militant personality Vishnu in this form, with an axe on his right hand and a bow on the next, is said to have annihilated all the 'kshatriyas' (warrior class) in 22 battles.

7. Rama : The highly perfected human-god Vishnu incarnated as Rama, the ideal king and the here of the Ramayana, killed the king of demons- Ravana.

8. Krishna- The most widely worshipped incarnation of vishnu. This incarnation of Vishnu killed the ogress Putna when she tried to kill him by feeding him poisoned milk when he was a child. Later, Krishna subdued the most fatal cobra- Kaliya.

9.Buddha : The supreme teacher Buddha, the enlightened one, was born in Lumbini of Nepal at about 563 B.C. This incarnation of Vishnu was born to guide suffering souls to the right direction. He has taught lessons of humanity, truth and peace.

10.Kalaki or Kali ( The last incarnation ) : The last incarnation of Vishnu has yet not come, but people believe that it will appear at the end of the Kaliyug. It is believed that this incarnation of vishnu will come mounted on a horse, killing all the evil and saving only pious souls.

Popular Holy Sites in Nepal

Nepal has many remarkable religious places, which reflect the long history of Nepali art and architecture. Below, we describe some of the famous religious places of Nepal:

Balmiki Ashram : The Balmiki Ashram is situated in a forest on the banks of the Tribeni river, at the south- western corner of the Chitwan National Park. It was a retreat used by the great Hindu sage, Balmiki. This is where Sita is said to have lived with her two sons, Labha and Kusha, after separating from Rama. Various statues were unearthed in this area during an archeological excavation in the late 60`s. Recently, a Temple of Sita has been built here.

Varahakshetra : Varahakshetra, located at the confluence of the Saptakoshi and Koka rivers, is 20 km away from a town in eastern Nepal- Dharan. Varahakshetra is among the four great Hindu pilgrimages. Here, the Boar- Varaha, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu is said to have is said to have killed the demon- Hiranakshya. Apart form the main shrine dedicated to Varaha, there are many other temples with images of the Varaha in Varahakshetra. Every-year on the first of Magh (November), a religious fare takes place here.

Devghat : Devghat is situated 6 km to the north of Bhaktapur, the gateway to the Chitwan National Park. On the day of the Makar Sankranti festival in January pilgrims come here to take holy dips in the Narayani, formed by the meeting of the Kali gandaki and Trishuli. There is a settlement of a community of elderly, retired people here. Devghat can be reached by taking a daily flight or bus service.

Dhanushadham : Dhanushadham, a historical and religious site, dates back to the time of the great epic- Ramayana. It is located 18 km north-east of Janakpur in the south- central region of Nepal. Dhanushadham was the place where Lord Rama had broke Shiva`s divine bow, a condition for winning the hand of Sita in marriage. According to the epic, one of the three pieces of the bow fell in the present day Dhanushadham.

Muktinath : Muktinath of religious importance to both Hindus and Buddhists. The main shrine of Muktinath is a pagoda-shaped temple dedicated to the Lord Vishnu. In the walls around it are 108 water- spouts. The Jwala Mai temple nearby has a spring and an eternal flame fed by natural gas. Muktinath is set in an altitude of 3,800 m in the north-central part of Nepal. It is a six- hour walk from the Jomsom airport. Helicopters are also available.

Ridi : Ridi is among the most popular religious places in Nepal. Rikeshwor Narayan mandir, situated here, is the local version of the Pashupatinath temple with its auspicious Ghats (cremation grounds). It is situated at the confluence of The Kali Gandaki and the Ridi Khola, linked by a 50 km dirt road to the hill resort town of Tansen.

During the Makar Sankranti festival, hundreds of devotees from different parts of the world throng the Dhanusha temple to worship the fossilized bow fragments and to take ritual dips in the river. Here, there are other temples dedicated to Ram and Ganesh too.

Gosaikund : A lake is believed to have been created by Lord Shiva when he thrust his Trishula (trident) into a mountain to extract water so that he could cool his stinging throat after he had swallowed poison. There is a large rock in the center of the lake, which is said to be the remains of a Shiva shrine. People often claim that they see Shiva lying in the water.Devotees gather here in hordes on the full moon night of August to take holy dips in the lake.

Gosaikunda is situated at the altitude of 4380m to the north of Kathmandu on the Langtang trekking trail. The holy lake is a two day long trek from Dhunche, which can be reached through an adventurous 118 km mountain road from Kathmandu via Trishuli Bazaar. Small hotels and pilgrim shelters are available here for travelers.

Manakamana : The temple of Manakamana, a very popular pilgrimage in Nepal, is a temple of one of the manifestations of the Hindu goddess Bhagawati.Bhagawati is believed to have the power to fulfill wishes. It lies 125 km to the west of Kathmandu. It is a steep three- hour hike from Abu Khairenion the Kathmandu-Gorkha highway. A cable car also takes travelers to Manakamana.

Simraungadh : The capital of the former kingdom of Tirahut, is the seat of a rich civilization, which peaked between the 11th and 14th centuries. The ancient city suffered terrible devastation in the hands of invaders but its cultural glory remained in the archeological treasures that are found here. There many Hindu temples that draws people to this place in large numbers.
Simraugadh is situated in the Terai plains to the south of Kathmandu. The most convenient access to this place, by air, is from Birgunj (270 km away from Kathmandu). Another route to Simraugadh is a Flight to Simara (15 minutes) and then a drive to Birgunj (25 km) from where it is 45 km to simraugadh.

Art & Craft

Traditional handicraft is entirely based on the mobilization of local resources, skills and labor. Thus, it is one of Nepals most important industries as it has a wide international market. The craftsmen have to be born into a family of the similar kind of craftsmen. The great skills, passed on from generation to generation, allow the craftsmen to produce the finest hand crafted goods. The tools used for making these goods and the designs are often unaltered in spite of the advent of new technologies. The different forms of craftsmanship are deeply rooted in Nepali society and culture. These articles displaying exotic craftsmanship are divided into- the articles of daily use, are produced in bulk and of uniform quality, and the articles of aesthetic value, are most influenced by the Buddhist iconography of the tantric Vajrayana sect.

These crafts are grouped as follows:

A. Metal crafts made of brass, bronze, copper, aluminium and alloys. E.g- Pots, Khukuri (a traditional Nepali knife), plates, cups, etc.
B. Crafts made of wood like teacups, bowls, coffee-tables, etc.
C. Woolen goods like pashmina shawls, jackets, shirts, bags, etc.
D. Cotton handloom products.
E. Products made of bamboo and cane.
F. Products made of Jute, hemp and other fiber.
G. Leather products.

And other miscellaneous products like incense sticks, cotton shoes, etc.

Some very well known handicraft goods

Filigree : filigree or the studding of metals with different stones or glass. This is usually done with silver or brass as a base metal. Today, filigree is not just done in jewelry but also in different other articles like ashtrays, jewelry boxes, etc.

Pottery : Clay pots, flower vases, ashtrays, candle-stands, masks, etc were made for daily use but today they are also noted for export.

Wooden crafts : Carvings done on wood are very famous in Nepal. They are not only well known for the intricacy of the carvings but also for their social and religious importance. These carvings done on windows, doors, pillars, etc give an aura of eternal bliss or Nirvana.

The best places to see these carvings are temples, monasteries, palaces and other old buildings.

Traditional painting : 'Thanka`s' and 'Paubaha`s', the most famous traditional paintings are painted in various sizes, shapes and colours. They are painted on cloth, with paint made from seven parts chalk and three parts glue, and polished with a conch shell. These paintings often depict scenes from the ancient Buddhist tantric culture or the emanations of various Buddha`s.

Metal-craft : Metal-crafts have a very old history in Nepal and thus are very well developed. There are different 5th century coins, 7th to 15th century statues, etc displayed in different museums and temples, which gives testimony to the fact that it has been a part of Nepali way of life for a long time. The different forms of this craft are still produced by age-old methods in different parts of Nepal.

 
 

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