Landlocked in the south of Asia, lies Nepal, a mighty country located within the Himlayas and bordered by China and India. To the north of Nepal the landscape is compelling, with eight of the ten world’s tallest mountains, including Mount Everest, dominating the skyline. To the south the backdrop changes, from mountains to rich fertile farmland in the region called Terai. This belt of marshy lowlands is the most productive region in Nepal, home to the majority of the country’s agriculture, where crops such as rice, wheat, tobacco and maize are all grown.
Kathmandu is the largest city, and the capital of the country. It sits in the center of Nepal, in a large valley in which a twelfth of the country’s population live. The city is a wondrous maze of sights and sounds, it is fast paced and hugely diverse. The focal point of the city’s culture is Basantapur Durbar square, where three grand royal palaces stand, facing each other, showing off the skills and crafts of centuries of architects and artists. In the east of Kathmandu lays one of the most significant temples of Shiva, the great god in the Hindu religion. Hinduism is practiced by the vast majority of the Nepalese population, and Hindus from all over the world come to pilgrimage at the temple of Shiva.
The month of August is an important time of the year for Hindus, as the 16th marks the birth of Krishna, the eighth incarnation of the god Vishnu. This birthday is celebrated amongst Hindus all over the world, and celebrated in dazzling fashion. To begin with though, they observe Krishna Janmashtami with fasting and prayer. And then the festivities begin with songs, chants and fireworks. During the day, temples all around the cities are decorated and millions take to the streets in a ceremony of energy and colour.
It is a very interesting time to travel to Nepal, the Krishna celebrations are the stoking of the fire that is Nepalese culture. The central parts of Kathmandu are flooded with people from all over the country, singing and joyous in worship. At the Krishna temple, people arrive with flowers, food and gifts, ready to offer them to the idols that stand within. The sound of drums can be heard outside, and there is the smell of a thousand candles as they are lit all over the square.
On this day families will gather, and everybody will bring different foods to the feast following the fast. A table of Nepalese food, ready for the family, is a sight to behold. Heavy with rices, lentils and spices, a variety of dishes reflecting the culture and climate is set down. The most popular dish is the Dal, a soup made of dried beans, and depending on where in Nepal, turmeric, tomatoes and sometimes mango may be added to heighten the flavour. Often accompanying the various dishes will be a huge assortment of extremely spicy chutneys and pickles,these come in a surprising amount of variety throughout the country; said to number in the thousands.
The culture of Nepal manifests itself in the country’s music, dance and art. The dances of the undivided Indian subcontinent are told to have originated in the abode of Lord Shiva, Nepal. Dance in Nepal is then a very ancient stroke of culture embedded deep in the country’s history and religion. Dishka is the dance of celebration, and that of which is found most prominent on the Krishna Janmashtami. It involves complex footwork and arm actions; it is both beautiful and exciting to watch.
Nepal’s religious festival adds to the excitement that brews in the country’s cities, Krishna Janmashtami is the culmination of tradition and culture, bringing together all aspects of this compelling nation.
What other areas of Nepalese culture would you like to learn more about?