happy (Nepali) new year

a sabbatical rest, day 114

Nepal has been celebrating its New Year holiday, and these people know how to party.

It’s Biasakh 10, 2078 if you are interested, 10 days into the New Year, which began April 14. In Nepal, they use the Vikrama Samvat (VS) calendar, created by an Indian emperor named Vikramaditya in 56 BC to celebrate a military victory.

This lunar calendar, with some 32 day months, is about 56 years and 8 months ahead of the solar Gregorian calendar; a new Nepali month begins around the middle of a western month. This calendar is popular in some parts of India, and is the official calendar of Nepal and Bangladesh.

Of course businesses have adapted to Western times and dates, so many calendars are printed with both calendars. Check the link to see what that looks like. Schools and other organizations pick one or use both, but it’s not as confusing as it sounds. Although the British never colonized Nepal, there is a lot of British influence—they just never influenced the calendar. Or the weekend, which is just one day, Saturday.

But back to the party.

Because of the different tribal and caste histories here, each community, and in some cases each neighborhood, or tole, has its own ways of celebrating the new year. Three day festivals are common, but the Newari in Bhaktapur stretch it out for nine days. We saw some activities here in the valley, and read about others, not just here but in other districts. Risking over-simplification, here are some common ways to celebrate.

chariot reunion

One way to celebrate is by pulling or carrying gods and shrines around. They may like different locations in the community, or in some cases they bring multiple shoulder-carried “chariots” together in a public square after roaming around the neighborhood.

The shrines are often protected by colorful umbrellas and accompanied by devotees and bands. At least from what we saw in Asan, the processions were color-coded, so when they come together the crowds and umbrellas swirl around with lots of loud music and dancing. Some drinking too.

Sometimes the chariots are on wheels, and the larger, the better. In Bhaktapur , for Biska Jatra, the two chariots are 35-feet tall. There is a tug-of-war, as parts of the town compete to drag it to their side of town. Even with the Covid-19 restrictions this year, 19 people were injured in this “friendly” competition. This has been going about 400 years, since the Malla kings.

I’m not sure what happens all week, but apparently the chariots move around town all week, and are joined later in the week by a couple of dozen shoulder-carried chariots as well.

poles and toles

Communities also erect huge poles, called linga, at some point, for the purpose of pulling them down on New Year’s Eve. The poles are about 80-feet tall; lots of pulling and carrying involved, and also another tug-of-war. This represents the defeat of some demon in Hindu mythology. We saw them trying (unsuccessfully) to raise a pole in Bhaktapur, and something similar happened near Asan earlier, during a different festival. We saw another one in another part of Bhaktapur, as different neighborhoods celebrate in different ways.

Meanwhile, over in nearby Thimi the celebration involves a volunteer having his tongue pierced with a 10-inch long iron needle after fasting for three days. Then he is paraded around the town. Then they put the needle back in a special case in a special shrine for the next time. (They are looking for a volunteer, since the same guy has been having his tongue pierced for several years. After they put the needle back in the case, there are more chariot reunions. In another part of Thimi, Sindood involves throwing mostly red vermillion powder on each other with an intensity that makes Holi look tame.


All these activities involve street bands, composed mostly of flutes and drums, marching around with the chariots. Or alone. Mostly drums, really. You don’t have to be a great musician to do this, although some bands appear to have practiced a lot. Some of them appeared drunk. It is New Year’s after all.

Did we mention singing and dancing? Also, of course, food. We had a typical New Year’s Day meal for Newari with some Newari friends, but the food traditions here represent many tribal tastes and preparations and are as varied as ways of celebrating. Our meal (pictured) included fried water-buffalo, chicken curry, pickles, dal, several kinds of beans, greens and some seasonal specialty made of sautéed flowers. All spicy. (Thanks, Pancha!)

So happy New Year. Nayaan Barsha ko shubhakaamanaa.

I got a fresh start twice this year, but have no new resolutions. Just an appreciation for new friends and new experiences, none of which require me to pull or carry a chariot.

Or pierce my tongue. I won’t be volunteering for that any time soon.

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