Nepal Culture & Religion

 

Culture is embedded in the high peaks of Nepal, tradition flows with its rivers, art traverses through its valleys and religion lies in the heart of its people. Nepal, in short, is a country where art, culture and religion are a part of life of the inhabitants. People celebrate every moment with aroma, adding novelty to the traditions without affecting their essence.

Art of Nepal

Nepal Art is unique, exotic and enchanting. Nepalese expressions of art, classical and modern style, are embedded in the daily practice of religion. Craftsmanship is most easily found in temples, architecture, shrines, fountains and the designs of religious objects.

Art Galleries And Museums In Nepal
It is this thriving milieu that makes a visit to the art galleries of Kathmandu a pleasurable and rewarding prospect. A list of famous museums and galleries are presented below which should serve as a preliminary guide to the visitors.

Name of Location

  • The Natural History Museum (Kathmandu)
  • The National Library Lalitpur (Patan)
  • Patan Museum Lalitpur (Patan)
  • Nepal Art Council Gallery (Near Tribhuvan International Airport)
  • Major Forms Of Art In Nepal

 

Architecture
The real architecture of Nepal is found in the Nepal Temples, stupas and other religious buildings and monuments. Nepal Temples are usually one of three types; pagodas, shikaras or stupas. Stupas are exclusively a Buddhist temple, but pagodas and shikaras may be Hindu or Buddhist. Buddhist temples are almost always surrounded by a wall with a defined entrance way. A wall of prayer wheels often surrounds the temple. Whether Hindu or Buddhist, these temples are not places of religious gatherings popular within Christianity and Muslim religions but are sites of individual worship.

Pottery
Pottery flourishes in Patan and Thimi, a locality near Bhaktapur. Common forms of pottery are terra cotta oil lamps used to light homes during the festival Dipawali, and flower pots decorated with peacocks and elephants.

Paintings
Thangkas, a more predominant form of painting, are popular among Buddhists in Nepal as well as in Tibet and date back to the late 14th century. These paintings on cotton are rectangular in shape and usually longer than they are wide. They are framed with three stripes of Chinese brocade of blue, yellow and red which represent the rainbow which separates sacred objects from the material world. Older Thangkas consisted of mineral-based colors, while current Thangkas are produced with vegetable-based or chemical colors. Frequent themes of Thangkas include images of Buddhist figures, mandala designs, the wheel of life design, or depiction of scenes or stories.

Bronze figures
Bronze figures, sometimes alloyed with copper, appeared in the valley around 8th century AD. These images usually represented religious deities or legendary figures. The most frequently used production technique is that of cire perdue, a form of wax casting. Images often contain embedded semi-precious stones, usually coral or turquoise, or are gilded with gold.

Galleries and Museums

The Natural History Museum
Located in the western end of Kathmandu and a few minutes walk down from the famous Swayambhunath Stupa, the National museum has a large collection of weapons, art and antiquities of historic and cultural importance. Initially built as a collection house of war trophies and weapons, the museum has an extra-ordinary collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century weapons, firearms locally made and captured from the various wars, leather canons and relics of natural calamities like great earthquake of 1934. In addition, the museum is the unique treasure house of medieval and modern works in wood, metal and bronze, stoneworks and the paintings.

The Natural History Museum
Situated at the southern foothills of Swayambhunath, the museum is a window to the natural history of Nepal. The museum has a sizeable collection of different species of animals, butterflies and plants. The special feature of this museum is a serial display of diverse life from prehistoric shells to the stuffed animals, birds, crocodiles and many other interesting exhibits. It is open on all the weekdays except Saturdays and government holidays.

Patan Museum
Located in the palace complex of Patan Durbar Square, the Patan Museum is a house to some of the unique medieval works in bronze. The earliest specimens date back to 11th century or even earlier Lichhavi period. Most of the exhibits are deities from the Buddhist pantheon like images of Buddhas and Lokeswore. And in the lesser number, there are icons from Hindu pantheon like Vishnu and other deities.

Nepal Art Council Gallery
Situated in Babar Mahal- on the way to Tribhuvan International Airport, the Gallery has an excellent space area for exhibitions. The gallery holds exhibitions of paintings and sculptures. The gallery is noted for the display of works of selected artists of the country and abroad.

Buddhism in Nepal
Buddhism, the fourth largest religion all over the world, has strong roots in Nepal. Buddhism in Nepal dates from the birth of Siddhartha Gautama himself, therefore Buddhist influences are evident on the culture of Nepal. Nepal is the meeting point for Indian and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.

Buddhism has significant number of its residents in Nepal. Approximate 26% of the population practises Buddhism, specially Tibetan form of Buddhism. Nepal can be said to be the meeting point of Indian and Tibetan streams of Buddhism. This is not surprising for Nepal is in close proximity to Tibet. Fine Buddhist art has also hugely developed in Nepal. Ethnic groups residing in Central Nepal are mostly the followers of Buddhism. Buddhism in Nepal has also been influenced by Hinduism, another dominant religion in Nepal.

History Of Nepal Buddhism
Siddhartha Gautama, who founded Buddhism, was himself born in an ancient kingdom of Nepal. The country's closeness with India ensured that it became a treasury of Buddhist Sanskrit literature. Emperor Ashoka of India had established a pillar in Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha. Gradually, Buddhism became a dominant religion in sparsely populated northern areas of the country.

Buddhist Pilgrimage Sites In Nepal
Nepal hosts several Buddhist pilgrimage sites which are highly revered by the Buddhists. Ancient stupas of Swayambhunath and Bodhnath are considered most sacred among Nepali pilgrimage sites.

Kapilavastu
Kapilvastu, a historic town, is closely associated with Buddha's life. It is located about 250 km from Kathmandu and 25 km from Lumbini. It was here where Siddhartha Gautama, who later became Lord Buddha, was born in the sixth century B.C. Lord Buddha lived in Kapilvastu to the age of 29. Today the town is visited for religious, cultural and archaeological importance.

Lumbini
Divine feelings like spirituality and holiness occupy one's heart when one is in Lumbini. Included among the world heritage sites, Lumbini has rich natural backdrop and impressive architectural beauty. The city, located in South-Western Terai of Nepal, is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimages.

Svayambhunath
Swayambhunath, located west of Kathmandu is a pilgrimage held in high esteem Swambhunath can be literally translated as 'self-existent Buddha'. The grand stupa tells how Buddhism spread its influence in Nepal. The Stupa tells all about history and origin of Buddhism in Nepal.

Bouddhanath
Tibetan culture can be experienced in Bodhnath Stupa, located in Kathmandu valley. After the 1959 Chinese invasion, thousands of Tibetans arrived in Bouddhanath. Henceforth, the temple developed as one of the most important centers of Tibetan Buddhism. This largest stupa in Nepal was erected sometime in the 14th century after the Mughal invasion.

Branches Of Buddhism
Buddhism in Nepal comprises Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana streams. The Tibetan Mahayana tradition has most of its adherents in northern Nepal, with approximately 3000 monasteries. Newar Vajrayana Buddhism is a popular religious system in the Kathmandu Valley with number of rituals.Some Nepalese have also turned to Theravada practice based on the Pali canon.

Buddhist Practices
Prostrating pilgrims, the spinning of prayer wheels, collective chants and burning lamps are some popular Buddhist practices often seen by tourists. Buddhists believe that if a slip of paper bearing a mantra is kept inside the wheels, the prayers reach gods when the wheel is spun. Several Buddhists are seen performing these practices in Buddhist religious sites all around the country.

Culture of Nepal
The culture of Nepal is a assemblage of music, architecture, religion and literature. This mountain kingdom is multi-ethic and multi-lingual. The land is rich with unique cultural groups like Tharu,Yadav, Ahir, Newars and others.

Nepal Hospitality
Nepalese are among the most hospitable hosts. This is the reason for which tourists from far and wide enjoy coming to Nepal time and again. Local Nepalese are generally rural people who welcome the tourists to their homes for tea, coffee or supper. Nepalese are culturally warm, hospitable and affectionate hosts who place their heart above their head.

Nepal Dress
Daura-Suruwal, typically termed as 'Labeda-Suruwal' is the traditional Nepali dress. The dress has several religious beliefs identifying its designs and has therefore remained the same from the years. The Daura has eight strings that serves to tie itself up around the body. Eight is the lucky number in Nepali mythology.

Also, the Daura has five pleats or Kallis, signifying Pancha Buddha or Pancha Ratna. And the closed neck of the Daura signifies the snake around the Lord Shiva's neck. The Nepali dress for women is a cotton sari (Guniu), that is gaining great popularity in the fashion world.

Rituals
The main rituals followed in Nepal are naming ceremony, rice-feeding ceremony, tonsure ceremony, ceremony of giving Nepali Sari (Guniu), marriage ceremony and funeral rite.The rituals are still prevailing in society and are performed with zeal.. Different ritual experts have different roles in these rituals.

Cultural Sites
Astonishing enough, seven out of the ten world heritage sites in Nepal are termed cultural by UNESCO. Thus, the stupas, monasteries, temples and architecture are all representatives of the rich cultural heritage of Nepal. The following are the cultural world heritage sites of Nepal.

  • Kathmandu Durbar Square
  • Patan Durbar Square
  • Bhaktapur Durbar Square
  • Changu Narayan Temple
  • Swayambhunath Stupa
  • Pashupatinath Temple
  • Lumbini
  • Bouddhanath Stupa

Apart from the world heritage sites there are other pilgrimage sites in Nepal that hold great cultural importance. A tour to these places will make you familiar with the rich Nepal culture.

  • Barah Chhetra, Halesi Mahadev, Janakpur, Pathibhara, Tengboche in East Nepal
  • Manakaman, Gorkha, Lumbini, Muktinath, Gosainkunda, Tansen, Kathmandu Valley in Central Nepal
  • Swargadwari, Khaptad Ashram in West Nepal are famous pilgrimage sites in Nepal.

 

Food of Nepal
Nepalese are great foodies and their food varieties are hot, spicy and nutritious. Newari and Thakali cuisines are the original taste of Nepal. Otherwise, Nepalese style of cooking has been influenced by Indian and Tibetan cooking. Dal Bhat tarkari is the staple food of Nepal. Meat curries and monos are the hot favorites among the tourists.

Nepal Food
The food of Nepal is as diverse as the country itself. The Nepalese recipes are quick to cook and good to eat. Nepalese food is famous for its nutrition level and tempting taste. Whilst Nepalese cuisine is somewhat basic, it certainly does not lack in flavor, making extensive use of spices and flavorings such as ginger, garlic, coriander, pepper, cumin, chilies, cilantro, mustard oil, ghee and occasionally yak butter. Come let us savour some of the famous dishes of Nepal.

Eating Habits

Main Meal
In most part of country, especially rice-growing areas, Dal Bhat (pulses and rice) is the staple food of Nepalese that is eaten twice a day.

Snacking
Snacks such as bread, chura (beaten rice), roti (flat bread), curried vegetables, milked tea and other snacks are also generally eaten in between the two big meals.

Famous Nepalese Cuisine

Gundrook- Dheedo
Equally popular among Nepali people and foreign tourists, Gundrook-Dheedo is a sugar-free dish made of wheat, maize and dried green vegetable. The food is high on nutrition level and satisfies the taste buds as well.

Alu Tama
Aloo Tama (Alu Tama) simply means 'Potato Bamboo Shoots'. It is a unique and classic Nepali curry flavor dish. It is unique in the sense that it is unlike any other Indian or South Asian curry since they rarely use bamboo shoots. Similarly, unlike other East Asian cuisine such as Chinese that uses Bamboo shoots but do not use curry spices.

Vegetable Pulao (Fried Nepali Rice)
Vegetable Pulao is one of the popular ways rice is served during the parties and events in the Nepalese household. It has flavor of turmeric and cumin to it. The rice is particularly famous among tourists who prefer eating it with curd and Manchurian.

Masu
Masu is spiced or curried meat (usually chicken, mutton, buffalo or pork) with gravy. Served with rice, it is a main course dish, very popular in Nepal.

Vegetable Thukpa (Egg Noodles)
This is a seasonal dish. Tibetan Vegetable Thukpa is one of the main food. During Tibetan new year celebration 'Losar'the dish is a part of celebration and tradition for the Nepalese.

Chatamari
Regarded as Newari pizza, Chatamari is a flat bread made from rice flour with or without toppings (meat, vegetables, eggs, sugar). It is highly savoured by the tourists who consider it as a good and healthy substitute to pizza.

Drinks

Tongba
A special Limbu culture drink, Tongba is homemade wine. Fermented millet seeds are put in a wooden or plastic mug which is filled with hot water. One sips through a bamboo straw as more hot water is added which makes Tongba go down easily with greater impact and taste. Many consume this drink during winter season, and is also a favorite drink among the tourists.

Rakshi
Rakshi is a millet-based distilled alcoholic drink It is traditionally an important requirement at a lot of religious rituals and social events, perhaps because it is not only an alcoholic drink but also because of its antiseptic qualities. It is a strong drink, and is often brewed at home.
Apart from its traditional food the country offers a wide range of Chinese and Japanese fast foods like momos and macaroni. There are many food outlets in the city which provide the traveler with excellent cooking. The food in Nepal is delicious and is available at a very reasonable price to the tourist so that they could fully enjoy the mouth watering traditional recipes of the region.

Music of Nepal
The rhythm, beats, bounce of Nepali traditional folk and classical music is spiritual enough to sooth you and entertaining enough to cheer you. Music is associated with every event in Nepal, then be it birth, marriage, festivals or national events.

Nepal Music
The rhythm, beats, bounce of Nepali traditional folk and classical music is spiritual enough to sooth you and entertaining enough to cheer you. Music is associated with every event in Nepal, then be it birth, marriage, festivals or National events.

Various songs, musical instruments and dances are connected with various religious, social and cultural life of the Nepalese. Music is the heartbeat of Nepal. Music is associated to every event of life, then be it festivals, feasts, marriage, birth ceremonies or funeral processions. The main genres of Nepali music are pop, rock, folk, and classical. There are a number of other genres that are yet to be cataloged.

Fast Facts
Traditional Nepali Music

  • Newari Music
  • Filmi music
  • Khas Music&
  • Gurung Music
  • Kirant Music
  • Tamang Music
  • Magar Music
  • Sherpa Music
  • Maithili Music
  • Bhojpuri Music

Popular Indigenous Nepalese Music
The following music genres have their roots in Nepal and are therefore considered to be indigenous. This includes:-

Newari Music
The Newars are well-known for their Newari music. It mainly consists of percussion instruments, some wind instruments and no string instruments. All the castes have their musical tunes and bands. Music is cherished by people of all walks of life. There are tunes of certain festivals and seasons and even of certain times of day. The God of artists called Nâsadya is found in all the Newar localities. The presence of a Newari musical band in a guthi is considered as a sign of opulence.

Khas Music
Khas music belongs to the Khas society where castes like Damai used to play a number of instruments on occasions such as marriages, birth and other feasts. This tradition is now on decline owing to the growing popularity of television, radio and other means of mass communication. The minstrels used to play instruments like Sarangi but even the Gaine are declining in number.

People of Nepal
The people of Indo-Aryan community are the original inhabitants of Nepal. No wonder their descendents form the majority even now. Other major groups in Nepal are Gurungs and Magars who live mainly in the western region; Rais, Limbus and Sunwars who live in the eastern mid hills; Sherpas, Manangpas and Lopas who live near the mountains of Everest, Annapurna and Mustang respectively.

People of Nepal
Nepal is a melting pot of many races and tribes. With the population of twenty-two million, Nepal is an assortment of races and tribes, living in different regions, following different costumes and speaking different languages. Nepalese live under diverse environmental conditions from the low, nearly sea level plains at the border of India, northward through the middle hills and up to the flanks of the great Himalayan range where there are settlements at altitude of up to 4,800m. Farming practices are therefore equally diverse along with life styles and social customs.

Fast Facts
Original Inhabitants        
- Newaras

Early Settlements           
- Mongoloid groups from Tibet
- Indo-aryan from Northen India

Major Religion  
- Hinduism (90%)
- Buddhism (10%)

Official Language             
- Sanskrit

Native Language            
- Nepali

Major Groups
The early settlement of Nepal was accomplished by large-scale emigrations of Mongoloid groups from Tibet and of Indo-Aryan peoples from northern India. Nepalese of Indo-Aryan ancestry constitutes the great majority of the total population. Tibeto-Nepalese peoples form a significant minority of the country's population. Nepali, a derivative of Sanskrit, is the official language; Newari, a language of the Tibeto-Burman family, and numerous other languages are spoken. About 90% of the population is Hindu, and the remaining Buddhist.

Sherpas
The best known of the high mountain people are the Sherpas who inhabit the central and eastern regions of Nepal. The Sherpas have easy access to Bhot (Tibet) for trade and social intercourse and therefore Tibetan influence on their culture and civilization remains distinct.

Tibetan speaking people
The high Himalayan settlements of Tibetan speaking people are found perched precariously on mountain ledges and slopes. Life here is delicate balance of hard work and social merrymaking, tempered by a culture deeply steeped in ancient religious traditions.

Tibeto-Burman and Indo-Aryan
The midlands are inhabited by various Tibeto-Burman and Indo-Aryan speaking hill and valley people, for example the Brahmins, Chettris, and Newars. While the Brahmins and Chettris are widely distribute through out the country, the Newars are mainly concentrated in the Katmandu Valley and other towns.
The Rais, Limbus, Tamangs, Magars, Sunwars, Jirels, Gurungs, Thakalis, and Chepangs are other Tibeto-Burman speaking Mongoloid people found living in the middle hills. Each have their own distinct social and cultural patterns.

Lowland Terai People
The Dun valleys and the lowland Terai are inhabited by people such as the Brahmins, Rajputs, Tharus, Danwars, Majhis, Darais, Rajbansis, Statars, Dhimals and Dhangars. Though Nepal is a veritable mosaic of dozens of ethnic groups, they are bound together by their loyalty to the institution of monarchy, and by the ideas of peaceful coexistence and religious tolerance to form one unified nation.

Religion of Nepal
Religion in Nepal is not only a system of social coherence based on certain rituals and beliefs, rather it is the binding force that ties the mountain kingdom together. Though Nepal is famous, as the world's only Hindu Kingdom, equal respect is given to other religions as well. Buddhism is the second largest religion followed in Nepal, others being Tantrism, Islam and Christianity.

Religion in Nepal is not only a system of social coherence based on certain rituals and beliefs. It is the binding force that ties this mountain kingdom together. Though Nepal is famous as the world's only Hindu Kingdom, equal respect is given to other religions as well. Buddhism is the second largest religion followed in Nepal, others being Tantrism, Islam and Christianity.

  • Buddhism 7.78%
  • Islam  3.53%
  • Christianity, Tantrism & others 2.17%
  • Pilgrimage Sites
  • East Nepal - Barah Chhetra, Halesi Mahadev, Janakpur, Pathibhara, Tengboche
  • Central Nepal - Manakaman, Gorkha, Lumbini, Muktinath, Gosainkunda, Tansen, Kathmandu Valley
  • West Nepal - Swargadwari, Khaptad Ashram

 

Nepalese Society & Religion
Religion occupies an integral position in Nepalese life and society. In the early 1990s, Nepal was the only constitutionally declared Hindu state in the world. There is, however, a great deal of intermingling of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Many of the people regarded as Hindus in the 1981 census could, with as much justification, be called Buddhists.

The fact that Hindus worshipped at Buddhist temples and Buddhists worshipped at Hindu temples has been one of the principal reasons adherents of the two dominant groups in Nepal have never engaged in any overt religious conflicts. Because of such dual faith practic,es and mutual respect the differences between Hindus and Buddhists have been in general very subtle in nature.

Hinduism In Nepal
Hinduism is the major religion of Nepal. In the 1991 census, approximately 89.5 percent of the Nepalese people identified themselves as Hindus. Buddhists and Muslims comprised 5.3 and 2.7 percent, respectively. The remainder followed other religions, including Christianity.

The national calendar of Nepal, Bikram Sambat (B.S.), is a solar Hindu calendar essentially the same to that widespread in North India as a religious calendar, and is based on Vedic principles of time-keeping. The geographical distribution of religious groups revealed a preponderance of Hindus, accounting for at least 87 percent of the population in every region. Among the Tibeto-Nepalese, those most influenced by Hinduism were the Magar, Sunwar, and Rai peoples.

Buddhism In Nepal
Buddhism in Nepal dates from the birth of Siddhartha Gautama himself. Nepal is the meeting point for Indian and Tibetan Buddhist teachers. The country became a repository of Buddhist Sanskrit literature and famous for its production of fine Buddhist art.

Intermingling Of Hinduism & Buddhism
There has traditionally been a great deal of intermingling of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Many of the people regarded as Hindus in the 1981 census could also in some senses be called Buddhists. Hindus worshipp at Buddhist temples and Buddhists at Hindu temples. The reason for this is that both Hinduism and Buddhism have common roots as religions, and over most of their history, have not been seen as separate communions, but rather rival tendencies within a shared religious tradition.

Buddhist Tourism in Nepal
The Himalayan Kingdom, Nepal is located in South East Asia and is bordered by Tibet in the north and India in the south, east and west. With an area of 147, 181 sq km, Nepal happens to be the 93rd largest country in the world.

A majority of population in Nepal are the followers of Hinduism and only 11% of them adhere to the philosophy of Buddhism. Despite this low percentage, Nepal figures high on the list of Buddhist tourists. The reason for this is that the country is home to Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Gautam Buddha himself. Lumbini is counted amongst the top four holy sites for Buddhists. Apart from this, Buddhist tourists will also find a number of other worthvisiting destinations, temples, monasteries and stupas in the country.

If, as a Buddhist tourist, you have not paid a visit to this country till now, start planning a trip right away for you are missing out something really significant. Relevant information that will help you plan out your trip in a detailed manner is provided in this section. Here, you will find information on specific Buddhist attractions that are worth visiting in Nepal. You will know in detail about the location, history, legend and highlights of each of these attractions. Additional information, like the one on hotels will assist you further in making your trip completely hasslefree.

So, do not delay. Set out on one of the most memorable Buddhist sojourn of your life. The section is here to guide you at every step.