|| Print ||
|Written by Emily Goodacre|
|Wednesday, 09 December 2009 00:00|
Nepal is a country with literally more gods than people. As such, there are many, many festivals dedicated to their pantheon to partake in should you visit. As a volunteer for several months in that beautiful country, I was able to participate in a few. Below is an outsider's guide to these cultural events.
This event is an annual festival to worship the god Shiva (the destroyer). Because he is the destroyer, the celebration involves big bonfires. In order to get wood for these fires, children block the roads in the morning and won't let people pass without giving them money for wood, sometimes going so far as to tie up passers-by in strings. Being a foreigner, I was considered a perfect target, as "adorable" children clung to me shouting, "OK, give me one hundred dollars please!" No one warned me this holiday involved extortion!
My fellow Canadian volunteers and I went to Pashupatinath temple, where thousands of Hindu pilgrims and hundreds of Sadhus (occasionally naked) had travelled from far and wide to chant, hang out, and smoke copious amounts of ganja. It was amazing to witness, although at one point I was nearly trampled by a bull. Ah, Nepal.
Buddha festFine, fine, truth be told, the festival is technically called Buddha Jayanti or Vesak, but the general air of celebration and excess just brings "Buddha-fest" to mind. Vesak is a celebration of Buddha's birthday. As most Nepalis will be only too eager to tell you, Prince Siddhartha (later known as the Buddha) was born in Nepal, not India, and Buddhism and Hinduism are often practiced in tandem here.
We Canadians were invited by some Nepali friends to observe the celebrations in Patan, a city separated from Kathmandu by a narrow river. Music and chanting were everywhere, and the general feeling was of communal joy. We were nearly the only foreigners to attend, and everyone seemed very excited about our participation.
The public part of this festival involves people crafting and decorating giant Buddha puppets out of bronze and silk, and then wearing them around Durbar (temple) Square. Each neighbourhood crafts one puppet, and then they compete to see whose is best. It was extremely strange and beautiful, as are most things in this lovely country.
Only men are allowed to wear the Buddha puppets in the parade and one of my Canadian companions was invited to try. He made it about 10 feet. Even with men supporting him on either side, the life-sized bronze puppet was too heavy for him to remain upright!
HoliI had been looking forward to Holi (the colour festival) since I first started researching Nepal for my trip. Essentially it involves people dousing each other in coloured water and powder as a form of blessing. What no one told me was that for a whole week leading up to Holi, little boys throw water balloons at girls and women. And sure, it's funny at first. And then you're on your way to your volunteer placement first thing in the morning and a balloon smacks you in the side of the face rather hard. Or one hits you in the boob as you're headed out to dinner. I swear I developed mini‑Gulf War syndrome, scanning the balconies wherever I went and ducking when birds flew overhead!
The festival day itself was the craziest thing I've seen during my time in Nepal, and that's saying something. The buildings in Kathmandu tend to be spaced close together, with multiple balconies and flat terrace roofs, creating the perfect environment for a city-wide water balloon fight. We were in a rooftop water war with five other buildings, and got slammed by people on the street with coloured paste. Later we went to a great outdoor Holi party in town where people sprayed water and colour everywhere while we danced. It was sweet glorious chaos!
This, the longest and most important of Nepali festivals, reminds me of Christmas in North America. And here I was, the foreigner with no family or ties to the local religion, catching only the edges of the holiday, which, like Christmas, is mostly celebrated at home. Here's how September in Nepal reminds me of December in Canada:
It's too bad I could not participate more directly in this festival, although some fellow Westerners who watched the goat sacrifices assured me I was better off for keeping my distance.
My overall impression of Nepal was very influenced by all of these festivals. Nepal is one of the Least Developed Countries, according to the UN, and the average person has a living standard well below what Canadians are used to. But they are an extremely joyous people who know the value of a good party.
When Emily Goodacre's not globe-hopping, she can be found haunting movie houses in Ottawa, buoyed by her twin loves of Schadenfreude and fro-yo. You can reach her via