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Nepali 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.

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.

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:

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.

Historical - The historical festivals are celebrated to keep alive memories of events of importance. Gaijatra, was introduced by Jaya Prakash Malla.

Agricultural - Since Nepal is an agricultural country there are different festivals like Laxmi Puja which mark the different seasons of harvesting, planting etc.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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 (Roti) : 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.

Nepal Information
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>> Nepal Culture
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