Nepali Culture Castes, Religions, Festivals, Customs

Located between the two larger countries China and India, Nepal is a small landlocked country known to the world as a mountainous country. The mountainous country is not the sole identification of Nepal, it is also known to the world as a multicultural country. Though it is small in size, the country rejoices the diversities garnered in terms of Nepali culture.

Culture itself is a complex phenomenon. It is a range of complex whole that encompasses different customs, practices, discourses, art, law, beliefs, habits etc that governs the way of life of a particular group of people at a particular time. In a society, culture may be universal, material or immaterial. Universal culture, found in all human society includes human behaviour like kinship, marriage, dance, music, rituals, religions and ways of cooking, shelter and clothing. Tangible/ material culture covers physical expressions of culture like technology, art and architecture. Immaterial/ Intangible aspect encompasses principles of social organisation, mythology, philosophy, literature and science.

Nepal Culture and Unity in diversitynepali culture

Nepali culture is enriched with diversities. Though small in its size, the country relishes galore in terms of culture. The country contains varieties in castes and religion and consequently, there has arisen varieties in the rituals, festivals, dance, music and clothing. Tangible and intangible cultural aspects have also been changing and flourishing with the course of time.

Reflection of Nepali Culture

Nepali culture can be reflected in the following facts:

The presence of different castes: Nepal has been called as a homeland to 4 castes, 36 subcastes by King Prithvi Narayan Shah who unified Nepal. Traditionally, Nepalese caste system which consisted of 4 classes i.e. Brahmin, Khsetriya, Vaishya and Sudra was the base for the social stratification. The job they performed was according to their castes. Coming to this modern era, this system for the job according to caste is no longer practised. According to the Census of 2011, 125 castes/ ethnic groups have been reported in Nepal. Most prominent ones are the Chhetris and following them the others are Brahmin, Magar, Tharu, Tamang, Newar, Kami, Musalman, Yadav, Rai and others.  These different ethnic groups have their own attires, traditions, religions, festivals, foods, dance, music and own identification. Nepali is the national language of Nepal. However, these castes also possess their own languages and this makes Nepal a multilingual country.

Religions in Nepal: Nepal is a secular country. There are many religions present in Nepal. However, the most prominent ones are Hindus and Buddhists. The presence of Hinduism and Buddhism dates back to as long as the history of Nepal 11000 years back. The founder of Buddhism, Gautam Buddha is also known as the light of Asia was born in Nepal. Similarly, Shree Pashupatinath which is a holy place for the Hindus all over the world also lies in Nepal. There is a great significance of Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal. The other religions extant in Nepal are Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Shikism and other fringe religions.

Celebrations of festivals: The celebration of the festivals differs according to the religions and ethnicity. Nepal, predominantly being the Hindu and Buddhist nation, most Nepalese festivals are religious ones. Dashain is the most important festival of Nepal. It is mostly the festival of Hindus but as Nepalese people have migrated from one place to another and are blended with the other cultures, people of other religions interested have also been celebrating Dashain. The other important festivals in Nepal are Tihar, Chhath, Holi, Saraswati Puja, Raksha Bandhan, Krishna Janmashtami, Teej, Maghe Sankranti, Buddha Purnima, Maha Shivaratris, Udhauli/ Ubhauli, Lhosar and many others.

Rituals: Main rituals followed in Nepal are naming ceremony (Nwaran), rice feeding ceremony (pasni), Tonsure ceremony (Bratabandha), the ceremony of giving Nepali Sari (Guniu Cholo), marriage ceremony and funeral rites. These rituals are followed in all ethnic groups. However, the way may differ from one caste to another. Arranged marriages are the norms in mainstream culture. In some Mongolian ethnic groups, cross-cousin marriage is approved. It was abundant in the past but is on the decline along with modernization. In the Newar community, there are other rituals like Bel Bibaha and Gufa for the maidens. Previously, marriage between different castes was not approved by the society. However, now love marriages and inter-caste marriages are increasing as well. The funeral also differs with the castes. Some burn the body whereas some bury and the practices vary too.

Customs in Nepal: Diversities in ethnicities has created room for the setting of different customs as well. Nepalese do not eat beef as they consider cow to be a holy animal and worship them. People are liable to punishment by law if they kill cows. Nepal is a patriarchal society but nowadays, women empowerment is on the rise. Gender roles are shifting, especially in the urban areas. Jutho refers to food which has come in contact directly or indirectly with the other individual’s mouth.  It is considered inedible by many people. People may or may not use cutlery for eating purpose. There is conservative thinking, mainly in rural areas about clothing.

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