The traditions and customs of Nepal are very different from our own and it is difficult for a visitor to be able to completely understand this beautiful culture. While visiting Nepal and the Annapurna circuit, many people make time to enjoy some of the many wonderful festivals which take place throughout the year, and experience the magic and colour as the Nepalese people pay homage to their saints. However it is important to realise these festivals are not just for the benefit of tourists. They are an intrinsic part of the Nepalese way of life and, in fact, as many take place in the monsoon season when there are very few tourists, they are specifically for the people of this beautiful country to enjoy themselves. In various regions around the Annapurna circuit and the rest of Nepal, these Buddhist and Hindu festivals are a true celebration of the local culture.
In the Annapurna circuit region and beyond, in the Nepalese months of Bhadra (August and September), the locals enjoy the wonderful festival of Gai Jatra (the procession of cows). This is a very popular festival and has its roots back in the time when the people of Nepal feared and worshipped the god of death, Yamaraj, and it occurs throughout Nepal. The festival involves a procession through the town, whilst leading a cow (if no cow is available, a young boy dressed as a cow is used as a substitute). Anyone who has lost a relative during the last year must take part in the procession, and it is believed that the cow (a holy symbol in the Hindu religion) will help the soul of their loved one into heaven.
The festival of Gathemangal is another colourful tradition of Nepal and the Annapurna circuit region. According to Nepalese myth, a terrible demon called Ghantakarna terrorised Nepal by stealing away women and children; this festival celebrates the exorcism of Ghantakarna. The demon was said to look truly terrifying with bells in its ears and its body painted in blue, red and black. The legend goes that the farmers were so scared to go outside that their crops suffered and they became very unhappy. Then frogs magically appeared where the demon was staying and began croaking. This croaking made the demon worried, so he tried to chase and capture the frogs, but they were too clever. They made him follow them to the swamp where they jumped into the water and watched as he followed them. Unfortunately for the demon he began to flounder into the mud and sank to his death.
This festival is celebrated in the month of Shrawan and is a re-enactment of the legend. Very much like Guy Fawkes Night in England, children go around the village collecting money to create an effigy of the demon, they then run around throwing paint at it. This is a wonderfully interactive and joyous festival, and around the Annapurna circuit region in the month of Shrawan there is a festive atmosphere throughout the many small local towns which celebrate Gathemengal.
Another festival which takes place around some areas of the Annapurna circuit and throughout Nepal is Teej. This Hindi festival is a ritual for women only, taking place over three days and involving fasting and feasting. All Hindi women and girls who are married (unless deemed physically unfit) must take part in this ceremony. In legend, the goddess Parbati fasted and prayed for Shiva to be her husband. He was so taken with this devotion of a woman for a man, that he sent an emissary to Earth to teach the mortal women to pray and fast for their husbands also. He promised that this would give their marriages longevity and they would prosper. Held in August/September, women will dance, pray, feast and fast over the three day festival and bring offerings of seeds and harvest.
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