On the Nepali Calendar, Nepal Sambat (“Nepali New Year’s Day”) comes at the beginning of the lunar month called “Navavarsha”
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It generally occurs between April 11th and 15th on the Gregorian Calendar. While Nepal uses a solar calendar with fixed dates for most purposes, it reserves the traditional lunar calendar for religious festivals, birthdays, and “death anniversaries.” Nepali New Year is an official public holiday in Nepal, which is celebrated with parades, feasts, and family reunions. Since Nepali New Year is seen as a deeply religious holiday, various religious rites and a hope for blessings in the year ahead are a big part of the holiday’s meaning.
The Nepali Era, which is based on the use of the Nepali Calendar, began in A.D. 879, and the dates of this era are found on old Nepali coins, stone and copper inscriptions, and official writings.
Due to the deeply ingrained traditions of Nepal’s more than 60 ethnic groups, there are actually nine different New Years’ Days in Nepal. They are all celebrated, but Nepal Sambat is considered the “national New Year,” bringing some semblance of unity in the midst of great linguistic, cultural, and historical diversity.
Many Nepalese go out on picnics in local parks on Nepali New Year or travel around to see different parts of the country. Many families also gather together to eat festive meals and enjoy each other’s company. There is much joy as the whole nations unites to welcome in the new year. Colourful decorations appear on both public and private buildings, and there are streets dances, parades, traditional games and sports activities, youth pageants and contests, and more. Gifts and greeting cards are exchanged by many, and new year’s resolutions are made. Students plan out the year’s studies on this day, and everyone takes time to reflect on what lies behind and what lies ahead.
In Hindu Temples across Nepal, many gather for morning prayer sessions and to worship and offer food offerings to the gods. The faithful then circle the temple counter-clockwise and ring bells as they go.
Activities to enjoy if in Nepal for the Nepali New Year include the following:
- Take to the streets of Kathmandu or other major cities to see the processions. People wear traditional clothing, drums and cultural music plays as they march, and decorative arches and banners are seen over the streets and markets. Also be sure to attend the official New Year’s greeting of the Nepali President or to view it on TV.
- Attend the most famous of all Nepali New Year’s celebrations, the one in Bhaktapur, which is outside Kathmandu but still in the Kathmandu valley. You will see a gigantic chariot bearing the “god Bhairab” being pulled through town by dozens of villagers. They then engage in a festive tug of war, wherein the “east side” and “west side” residents compete. You can also attend similar demonstrations in Timi or Bode. In Timi, you will see a parade of various Hindu gods and participants who cover themselves in red powder they fling into the air. In Bode, the celebrations get somewhat more “intense,” as a single villager takes center stage by ceremonially piercing his tongue with an iron spike.
- Since the Nepali Calendar was designed to make spring the beginning of the year, you can take the opportunity to get outdoors to enjoy the fresh, spring weather. You may wish to get adventurous and hike or bicycle the “Annapurna Circuit,” a trek in the Annapurna Mountains of central Nepal. Or, you may wish to visit beautiful Phewa Lake, where you will see the surrounding mountains reflected on the lake’s surface and where you can visit Taal Barahi Temple on an island in the middle of the lake.
Nepal is a land starkly different from most other nations of the world, and its New Year celebrations are unique in both timing and manner of celebration. Should you visit Nepal in mid-April, be prepared to enjoy some unforgettable events and to take in the beauty of the landscape during a Nepali spring.