Nepal is a country rich in cultural heritage that represents a fusion of Indo-Aryan and Tibeto-Mongolian influences.
With over 125 distinct ethnic groups, dance and music, folklore, arts and architecture, language and literature, festivals, food and drinks, and even greetings represent Nepal’s culture.
The Newars of the Kathmandu Valley have created sculptures, paintings, and architecture that illustrate Nepal’s culture.
Let’s get more in-depth about the Culture in Nepal.
Dance and Music
Dance and music are typical among Nepalese. Legends have it that Nepal’s dances originated in the Himalayas, where Lord Shiva performed the Tandava dance.
Every religion and tribe has its distinctive sound and instrument that they play during their respective religious ceremonies. The songs usually revolve around marriage rites, war stories, everyday village life, and crop harvesting lyrics.
Among so many, the Tharu stick dance and peacock dance are the most famous ones. Other traditional Nepali dances and music present in Nepal are Maruni, Lakhey, and Tamang Selo.
Nepali language literature is dated older than the 17th century, while Newar literature goes almost 500 years back.
Bhanubhakta Acharya (1814-1868) began the modern history of Nepali literature with his well-known and influential works accessible to a large population. One of them was the translation of the ancient Hindu epic “Ramayana.” into Nepali.
By the mid-twentieth century, Western literary traditions influenced Nepali literature. The writers started writing about contemporary social problems. After the country gained democracy in 1951, Nepali literature bloomed and continued to modernize.
In ancient times, both genders wore draped clothes. Women wore saris while men wore dhoti.
After the Kushans arrived from Central Asia in around 48 A.D., sewn garments started becoming popular. Daura Suruwal with Patuka and Khukuri and Gunyon-Cholo became the national costume for men and women, respectively.
In the Himalayas, women wear Chuba with an apron-like cloth in front while men wear high collar shirts with long-sleeved dresses.
Throughout the years, the dressing style of Nepalese has evolved. As a result, they no longer wear these costumes daily but rather on formal occasions.
Nepali cuisine consists of various items that depend on soil types, climate, culture, and ethnicity. All of these cuisines are made by using locally available herbs, spices, vegetables, and fruits.
Nepal’s staple food is dal-bhat (rice and lentil soup), fried leafy greens, vegetable/meat curry, poppadoms, and salad.
In Terai, Chapati, and places of higher altitudes, Dhindo (may) replaces rice. Another Nepali cuisine is a hybrid of its northern and southern neighboring countries. However, it has its unique flavor.
Newari cuisine, Samaya Baji, is a famous cuisine of Nepal that is richer and more diverse. It consists of flattened rice surrounded by a dozen dishes of cereals, meat, vegetable curries, and pickles.
The most famous Newari dishes are Kwanti (sprouted beans), Chhwela (ground beef), Chatamari (rice flour crepe), Bara (fried lentil and egg cake), and Kachila (marinated raw minced meat).
You should try Juju Dhau, a sweet yogurt produced in Bhaktapur. It is pretty popular among tourists and locals alike. Selroti, Kasaar, Fini, and Chaku are other sweet delicacies found in Nepal.
Thakali cuisine is also a well-known food choice that you must try. The dishes blend Tibetan and Indian ingredients.
One of the most famous and people’s favorite dishes is MoMo: Nepali dumplings which are spicier than its northern neighbors. Nepalese also brew local alcohol (Rakshi) from rice, millet, and apples.
Art and Architecture
The Newars of Kathmandu Valley have highly contributed to the cultural heritage of Nepal. The Newar artisans’ works (sculptures, paintings, and architecture) are influenced by religious themes and depict the life of gods, saints, and man’s relationship to society and the universe.
The early Buddhist constructions in Kapilvastu and the constructions done by Ashoka in the Kathmandu valley around 250 B.C. are some of Nepal’s oldest known architectural pieces.
In terms of art, the Tibetan Buddhist painting tradition called the ‘Thangkas’ is highly practiced
The Changu Narayan temple has the most exemplary wooden architecture. The Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur Durbar Squares are also fine examples and pride of Nepal’s architectural beauty.
Nepalese are warm and friendly people, and greetings are expected, especially to the most senior person in a group.
You may be able to communicate in English in places such as Kathmandu and Pokhara due to the high tourist influx. Still, most locals may not be able to comprehend English, which may make communication impossible. It’s true, especially if you visit remote areas where tourists don’t often visit.
We recommend learning a few phrases would work as an advantage to enrich your travel experience.
- Namaste: Na-mas-tay: Hello!
- Dhanyawaad: Dhan-yah-bad: Thankyou!
- Maph Pau: Maff Pah-au: Sorry!
- Didi: Dee-dee: Older sister
- Bahini: Ba-hee-nee: Younger sister
- Dai: Daa-i: Older brother
- Bhai: Vaa-i: Younger brother
Top festivals according to months
Nepal is a country full of festivals. Witnessing one would be an experience of a lifetime as Nepal has a unique set of festivals that is secular and diverse. Here is a list of festivals according to the months so that you can plan your visit accordingly.
- New Year
New Year’s Day is the first day on the Gregorian calendar, celebrated annually on January 1. Nepal’s cities especially commemorate the day with loved ones by going to parties and street festivals.
- Yomari Purnima
Yomari Purnima is a celebration that takes place during the full moon day of December/January.
Yomari Purnima is a Newari festival where Yomari (steamed rice flour dumplings with sweet fillings of chaku and khuwa) is cooked and served. It is also a special day for a family to get together and share their happiness and blessings.
- Maghe Sankranti
The Maghe Sankranti is a Nepali festival celebrated on the first day of the Hindu lunar calendar. The festival depicts the beginning of the spring season.
Nepalese celebrate the Maghe Sankranti festival by eating sweet potato, sesame seed candy, chaku, yam, and ghee.
- Sonam Lhosar
Lhosar translates to “New Year” or “the beginning of a new era.” It is the New Year of the Tamang tribe. The people of the tribe go to monasteries, worship, and gather at Tudikhel, Kathmandu.
Experience the traditional Tamang dress, music, and dance.
- Maha Shivaratri
Mahashivaratri is a Hindu festival that is celebrated every year in honor of Lord Shiva.
It is an important day for Shiva devotees. It is celebrated all over Nepal. Pilgrims flood temples like Pashupatinath, Doleshwor Mahadev, and Gokarna Mahadev.
The evening aarti and hymns are a wonderful experience.
Devotees believe that worshipping Lord Shiva on this auspicious day fulfills one’s desires and confers blessings.
- Holi (Fagu Purnima)
Holi, the festival of color, is a Hindu festival celebrated in the spring. It’s one of the most popular festivals in Nepal, involving throwing color powders at people.
- Bisket Jatra
Nepalese new year, Bisket Jatra is celebrated in Bhaktapur. It is an annual event that includes a huge chariot carrying the image of the god Bhairab pulled by a large number of devotees to Khalna Tole (a place in Kathmandu)
- Buddha Jayanti
Buddha Jayanti is a major Buddhist festival in Nepal and other parts of the world. The festival celebrates Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death.
- Rato Machhendranath
The god Rato Machhendranath (Avalokiteshvara in Vajrayana Buddhism) is the longest chariot festival in Nepal. Devotees perform bhajan (religious song), dance, and pray.
It starts at the beginning of the monsoon so that the rain and grand celebration take place together.
- National Dhan Diwas
Dhan Diwas is a day to celebrate the harvest. It is also an excellent time to thank the gods for providing us with food and nourishment.
The day is celebrated by cooking traditional dishes and distributing food to the poor and needy. People eat curd and beaten rice as a part of the tradition.
- Janai Purnima
Janai Purnima is a Hindu festival that consists of Hindu men renewing their Janais and worshipping Lord Shiva.
Janai is the sacred thread that men (Bahun and Chettris) wear on the upper part of the body. It holds a high religious and cultural importance.
Families get together and eat Kwanti and lentils.
- Gai Jatra (Kathmandu)
Gai Jatra is celebrated to commemorate the death of loved ones. The festival is celebrated with dancing, singing, and people dressed in costumes as cows parade on the streets. It is an incredible sight to see.
Women in Nepal celebrate the Teej festival. Teej celebrates and honors the love of Goddess Parvati and her husband, Lord Shiva. It is the festival where married women worship the Goddess for the longevity of their husbands.
The festival has lots of women dancing in red saris and eating darr.
Fulpati is a festival celebrated to increase the family’s wealth, fertility, and prosperity for its recipients. Families worship Goddess Durga.
On this occasion, the Nepalese army parades in Tudikhel, Kathmandu, attended by the country’s president, prime minister, and other representatives.
Dashain is the biggest Hindu festival in Nepal in which people worship Goddess Durga, honor their ancestors, and fast. The main rituals include putting on a red tika, giving monetary gifts, and feasting.
The festival includes animal sacrifices later cooked for the meal. In addition, children and adults play on swings, known as “ping” in the local dialect.
The government gives a week-long holiday to all the workers, and most people go to their hometowns, leaving Kathmandu empty.
Deepawali is the most important festival for Hindus. It celebrates the victory of light over darkness. People decorate their houses with diyas (small oil lamps) and colorful electric lights on this day.
Nepal looks mesmerizing during this time. They worship Goddess Laxmi (the god of wealth) and Lord Ganesh (her son, who symbolizes wealth) for prosperity.
People play ‘deusi-bhailo,’ sing and dance, around the neighborhood.
- Mani Rimdu
Mani Rimdu is a Buddhist festival celebrated mainly by the people in the Himalayan region of Nepal. It is a 19-day festival that commemorates the founding of Buddhism by Guru Rinpoche.
The monks and the Sherpas visit the monasteries and enjoy the plays, masked dances, hymns, and feast.
Christmas is celebrated all over the world on December 25. The festival celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. In Nepal, it is celebrated by Christians and other communities too. People visit the church and greet each other.
- Pokhara Street Festival
Pokhara Street Festival is the largest annual festival in Nepal, held at Lakeside’s main road, Pokhara. The festival starts on December 28 and ends on January 1.
It is a fun event enjoyed by tourists and locals where they are entertained by concerts, food, parade, games, and more.
Things you should do and avoid to retract Nepalese culture
- Always greet the eldest or the most senior person first with a Namaste. It would be best to press the palms together in front of the chest and slightly bow.
- Nepalese society is both accepting and conservative at the same time. Shaking hands with women and men may seem ordinary, but don’t forget that not everyone is comfortable touching the opposite gender.
Do not proceed for a hug or a kiss unless you know the person very well.
It is best to address individuals using honorifics like dai (elder male), didi (elderly female), bhai (younger male), bahini (younger female), even when there is no actual blood relation.
So these are the cultures followed in Nepal, and it’s a must to experience them first-hand.