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Unique festivals in Nepal: Holi and Maha Shivaratri

Just before the devastating earthquake in 2015, I traveled through Nepal. I experienced its beauty and uniqueness. Amongst which the Holi-festival and Maha Shivaratri; showing the variety of colours the country has to offer.

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Corno van den Berg

From the Editor in Chief

Nepal was hit hard by devastating earthquakes. I traveled the country just before that, in February and March 2015. I experienced its beauty and uniqueness. Amongst which the Holi-festival and Maha Shivaratri; two cultural festivities closely upon each other, showing the variety of colours the country has to offer. I’m being attacked with paint powder and meet hundreds of colourful Sadhoes.

Nepal’s festivities: Shivaratri and Holi

Colourful, atmospheric and authentic. There are two festivals in Nepal which I can recommend to experience; the Maha Shivaratri and Holi. During the Maha Shivaratri you will join hundreds of Sadhoes, whilst the Holi festival is all about celebrating the start of Spring with lots of water and colour powder.

House beats echo over the famous Durbar Square in Kathmandu. Plastic bags with colour powder fly around, covering every one. A truck tries its way through the mob. A man stands on the roof of the truck, holding a large fire hose and sprays around. The crowd goes crazy and dances to the beats. This is the Holi festival also know as the Festival of Colours. Where everyone celebrates the start of Spring season. But also the victory of good over evil.

Het moment van de 'Happy Holi-aanval'....
The moment of the ‘Happy Holi attack’… Corno van den Berg

I can’t get enough of it. Being part of this festivities is crazy. Youngster dance to the house beats and cover each other with colour powder. They wish every one Happy Holi and roam the streets of Kathmandu. And of course, wishing tourists Happy Holi is more fun. You are easily a target for getting splashed with ice cold water and covered by colour powder. But all in a happy and friendly way. Especially if you really join by getting your own colour powder and become part of the celebrating crowd. Besides being a target for water water and paint, I am very popular for a groups portrait. Especially covered in all the colours of the rainbow.

Besides the people in the street who throw colour powder around, it is common that people throw buckets of ice cold water from their windows. Onto the celebrating crowd. On my way to Durbar Square, I already get splashed big time. Whilst being soaken wet, coloured by red, blue, yellow and green colours, I am joining the celebrating mob. The sun is shining. Tthe temperature is very pleasant. What a great way to enjoy the beginning of Spring.

Happy Holi with the Dutch dj Hardwell.

There you are. Right in the middle of UNESCO heritage. Durbar Square, Kathmandu. Beuatiful temples decorate the scene. And I dance to the beats of our famous Dutch DJ, Hardwell. Happy Holi with my famous Dutch DJ Hardwell; Is there anything more ridiculous? I’ve read that Maha Shivaratri as well as Holi were expressive festivals, but I didn’t expect house beats and a Dutch dj…

Het Holi-festival in Kathmandu.
Youngsters celebrating Holi festival. Corno van den Berg
I also attended the Hindu festival Maha Shivaratri. An extraordinary sighting. Hundred of thousands of Hindus honour their God Shiva. A large group gather in the UNESCO heritage Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu.
The temple lies on the banks of the holy Bagmati river and is also famous for its open air cremations. And an open air cremation during Maha Shivaratri is … During the day mulitple cremations take place while thousands of Hindus stand in line to make an offering in the temple. Bodies are carried to the river by their families. The ceremony starts with the washing of the dead persons feet in the river. After that the body is lifted upon a pile of wood. The family makes their last offering to the desceased; flowers, money and rice is placed next and on top of the body. After that, the woodstack is set on fire and the body burns to ashes. Which slowly falls into the holy river and floats away.
It is a peculiar contrast with all the colourful Sadhoes. Sadhoes dedicate their lives to Shiva and with that they strive to kama (happiness), artha (richness) and dharma (act rightuous). By doing meditation a sadhoe seeks spiritual freedom. Due to their appaerances they can earn some extra money from tourists. Dreadlocks, painted faces and bright orange clothes, a picture perfect. They travel all year, from festival to festival. By foot…

Maha Shivaratri
The timing of this festival depends on the moon. ‘The Night of Shiva’ is celebrated with devotion and religious fervor in honor of Lord Shiva, one of the deities of Hindu Trinity.

Shivaratri falls on the moonless 14th night of the new moon in the Hindu month of Phalgun. This corresponds to the month of February – March in English Calendar.

The Holi festival is usually in March. Occasionally at the end of February. In 2016 it will take place on 23rd March.

Een sadhoe bij het Maha Shivratri-festival in Kathmandu.
A picture perfect sadhoe during Maha Shivaratri. Corno van den Berg

They gather around the temple. They rest and talk with each other. And of course they smoke. A lot. Not cigarettes but marihuana joints. During the festival it is allowed and they are eager to share. I declined, a bit too early for this Dutchmen.

The numerous festivals in Nepal are wonderful to experience. But they also give a good reflection of the real life and culture in Nepal. Raw and touching. If you plan your trip to Nepal, make sure you get to experience one of the many festivals. It is a perfect combination with all the rest Nepal has to offer.

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