“I haven’t been everywhere……but it’s on my list” – Susan Sontag
Nepal was on my list and I was fortunate to be able to visit the country in October. Known for being home to eight of the world’s tallest Ten mountains, it is so much more than that…..vibrant and colorful markets, villages teetering on precipitous cliffs, magnificent Buddhist Stupas, Sadhus (Hindu holy men), National Parks teeming with wildlife, an engaging cultural environment and frequent festivals.
Roughly 80% of the population are Hindus, 10% are Buddhist with the remaining population spread among eight other religions.
Nepal’s longest and most auspicious Hindu festival is Dashain. It is a celebration of good over evil and celebrated in Bhutan, parts of India and parts of Myanmar as well as Nepal. Celebratory activities include kite flying, card playing, swinging on impossibly tall bamboo swings, gambling and displaying new clothes. The local markets are bustling with sellers and buyers of food needed for the festival.
Lastly and increasingly controversial, the festival includes substantial animal sacrifice.
Driven by the belief that offerings of fresh blood will appease the goddess Durga, scores of animals and birds are ritually slaughtered especially in the eighth and ninth day of the festival. Birds and animals that are traditionally eligible for sacrifice include goats, buffaloes, sheep, chickens, and ducks.
A number of buffalos are sacrificed in the main squares of Kathmandu and other surrounding cities. Subsequently the bodies are burned to purify the body and to rid the carcass of hair so the leather can be used. It’s important to note that the entire body is efficiently used as either food or other useful products (ie leather as an example).
Sugarcane is a very popular celebratory festival plant that families use in their homes.
During the festival Hindu women gather at local worship sites to make offerings to the goddess Durga who fought and won the battle of good over evil.
Buddhism in Nepal started spreading since the reign of Ashoka through Indian and Tibetan missionaries. Buddha was born in Nepal and although it has not been possible to assign with certainty the year in which Prince Siddhartha, the birth name of the Buddha, was born, it is usually placed at around 563 BC. Buddhism is the second-largest religion in Nepal. According to 2001 census, 10.74% of Nepal’s population practiced Buddhism. In Nepal’s hill and mountain regions Hinduism has absorbed Buddhist tenets to such an extent that in many cases they have shared deities as well as temples. For instance, the Muktinath Temple is sacred and a common house of worship for both Hindus and Buddhists. (Wikipedia)
Boudhanath Stupa is the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet. Most likely built in the 14th century, it is the center of Tibetan culture in Kathmandu and rich in Buddhist symbolism.
In Buddhism, symbolic offerings such as these candles lead to the accumulation of merit, which hopefully lead to a better rebirth in the next life and progress towards the relief of suffering.
Lions, or lion-dog-like beasts, are among the oldest and most common temple guardians. Lions have appeared in Buddhist temple art as early as 208 BCE. The stylized lions―called shishi in China and Japan―are thought to have magical powers to repel evil spirits.
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