One Can Enjoy the Diversity of Religion and Cultural Through Out Nepal
Though Nepal is a Hindu estate officially, it provides an equal haven for all religion. Here, Hinduism and Buddhism are the two main religions that are mingled into a complex blend that is often impossible to separate. The two have co-existed down the ages and many Hindu temples share the same complex as, Buddhist shrines. Hindu and Buddhist worshippers may regard the same god with different names while performing religious rites.
Nepal has been declared as a secular country by the Parliament on May 18, 2006. Religions like Hindusim, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and Bon are practiced here. Some of the earliest inhabitants like the Kirats practice their own kind of religion based on ancestor worship and the Tharus practice animism. Over the years, Hinduism and Buddhism have been influenced by these practices which have been modified to form a synthesis of newer beliefs.
For centuries the Nepal remained divided into many principalities. Kirats ruled in the east, the Newars in the Kathmandu Valley, while Gurungs and Magars occupied the mid-west. The Kirats ruled from 300 BC and during their reign, emperor Ashoka arrived from India to build a pillar at Lumbini in memory of Lord Buddha. The Kirats were followed by the Lichchhavis whose descendants today are believed to be the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley. During this period, art thrived in Nepal and many of the beautiful woodcarvings and sculptures that are found in the country belong to this era. With the end of the Lichchhavi dynasty, Malla kings came to power in 1200 AD and they also contributed tremendously to Nepal’s art and culture.
However, after almost 600 years of rule, the kings were not united among themselves and during the late 18th century, Prithvi Narayan Shah, King of Gorkha, conquered Kathmandu and united Nepal into one kingdom. Recognizing the threat of the British Raj in India, he dismissed European missionaries from the country and for more than a century, Nepal remained in isolation. During the mid-19th century Jung Bahadur Rana became Nepal’s first prime minister to wield absolute power. He set up an oligarchy and the Shah kings remained figureheads. The Ranas were overthrown in a democracy movement of the early 1950s.
Hinduism is the largest religion in Asia in terms of the number of adherents. It is one of the oldest extant religions, with firm roots extending to before 1000 BCE.
Hinduism has a number of holy books, the most important being the four “Vedas”, or ‘Divine Knowledge’, which are the foundation of Hindu philosophy. The ‘Upanishads’ are contained within the ‘Vedas’ and delve into the metaphysical nature of the universe and soul. The Mahabharat is an epic poem describing in over 220,000 lines the battles between Kauravas ans Pandavas. It contains that the story of Rama, and it is probable that most famous Hindu epic, the Ramayana, was based on this. In one important episode of the Mahabharat, the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna relates his philosophies to Arjuna.
Hinduism postulates that we will all go through a series of rebirths, or reincarnations, that eventually lead to ‘Moksha’, the spiritual salvation that frees one from the cycle of rebirths. With each rebirth one can move closer to, or further from, eventual Moksha; the deciding factor is one’s Karma, which is literally a law of cause and effect. Bad actions during ones life result in bad Karma, which ends in a lower reincarnation. Conversely, if one’s deed and action have been good he will be reincarnated on a higher level and move a step closer to eventual freedom from rebirth.
The Hindu religion has three basic practices. They are ‘Puja’ (worship), the cremation of the dead, and the rules and regulations of the caste system. There are four main castes: the ‘Brahman’ or priest caste, ‘Chhetris’ or soldiers and governors, the ‘Vaisyas’ or tradespeople and farmers, and the ‘Sudras’ or menial workers and crafts people. These basic castes are then sub-divided, although this is not taken to the same extent in Nepal as in India. Beneath all the castes are the Harijans, or untouchables, the lowest, casteless, class for whom all the most menial and degrading tasks are reserved.
Westerners and other non-Hindus are outside the caste system and, being therefore unclean, are not allowed to enter many Hindu temples. Any food that is touched by a westerner, or put on their plate, becomes ‘polluted’ and must be discarded.
Westerners have trouble understanding Hinduism principally because of its vast pantheon of gods. In fact, one can look upon all these different gods simply as pictorial representations of the many attributes of a god. The one omnipresent god usually has three physical representations. Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the preserver and Shiva is the destroyer and reproducer. All three gods are usually shown with four arms, but Brahma has the added advantage of four heads.
Nevertheless, Hinduism has attraction of many westerners, and India’s ‘export gurus’ are numerous. Because proselytizing and conversion are not part of Hindu tradition, Nepali law prohibits these practices, and the country has been spared the outside influence of missionaries and evangelists.
Except Hinduism people in Nepal follow different other religions. The law of the country has given the full right to people to accept or follow any particular religion. No citizen would be treated badly for the reason of religion he/she follow.
Mainly people in Nepal follow Buddhism, Christian, and Islam except Hinduism. Most of the Himalayan people, that include casts like Sherpas, Rais, Limbus, Tamangs, mainly follow Buddhism whereas the people live in hilly regions with casts like Brahmans, Chhetries, and other follow mainly Hinduism. In the same way people of Terai follow the religion that of Hindu and Islam and in some numbers Christian also.
Due to the modernization and other political reasons the capital city Kathmandu is over populated since years. The heterogeneous cultured population can be found in Kathmandu city those follow different religions. So, in Kathmandu Valley one can enjoy the diverse population with diversity in religion and culture living in one place, turning towards modernization with its uniqueness of unity and brotherhood.
Kumari – The living Goddess
From time immemorial the practice of worshipping an ordinary pre-pubescent girl as a source of supreme power has been an integral part of both Hinduism and Buddhism, a tradition which continues even to this day virtually in every household. They call this girl Kumari Keti and worship her on all the religious occasions. The predominance of the Kumari cult is more distinctly evident among the Newar community inside the Kathmandu Valley as she has become an inevitable feature of their worship almost in every Vihar and Bahal and including the nooks and corners of Newari settlements. However, it was the Vajrayana sect of Mahayana Buddhism that was responsible for establishing the tradition of worshipping a girl from the Sakya community as the royal Living Goddess.
The selection of the Living Goddess is a highly elaborate tantric ritual. Upon passing the preliminary test, which is merely concerned with their 32 attributes of perfection, the 4 to 7 year old poor girls from the Sakya community are made to confront a goddess in a darkened room. The sight of the buffalo heads scattered around, the demon-like masked dancers, the terrifying noises they encounter scare some of these innocent babies. The one who emerges victorious from these tests is the only girl who is entitled to sit on the pedestal for worship as the Living Goddess.
The god-house Kumari Ghar beside the Kathmandu Durbar Square is a store-house of magnificent intricate carvings where the Living Goddess performs her daily rituals. During her tenure in the god-house, Guthi Sansthan, the government trust fund bears her entire expenses including that of her caretakers. Under normal circumtances, her days in the god-house come to an end with her first menstruation, but if she turns out to be unlucky, as they say, even a minor scratch on her body that bleeds can made her invalid for worship.
On Indra Jatra, the Living Goddess in all her jewelled splendour travels through the older part of Kathmandu city in a three tiered chariot accompanied by Ganesh and Bhairab each day for three days. It is really a grand gala in which people in their thousands throng in and around the Kathmandu Durbar Square to pay their homage to the Living Goddess. During this festival she also blesses the King in keeping with the tradition in which the first king of the Shah dynasty, who annexed Kathmandu in 1768, received a blessing from the Living Goddess.