Nepal is a beautiful blend of religions and cultures that have coexisted here for hundreds and thousands of years. According to the country’s 2011 census, more than 80% of the country follow Hinduism, followed by Buddhism, Islam, Kirat, and other religions. Although these religions have their unique identities of their own, they have helped create a serene harmony in Nepal. This is especially obvious in Kathmandu Valley, where people from different cultural and social backgrounds get the opportunity to observe and enjoy other wonderful traditions.
Religions of Nepal
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As the most followed religion in the country, Hinduism has a great influence on the social practices of the country. These influence can be seen through the abundance of temples, religious shrines, and festivities. The most popular Hindu festivals in Nepal – Dashain, Tihar, Chhath, and Mahashivaratri – are all national holidays. Dashain commemorates the majesty of Goddess Durga whereas, Tihar is a 5-day festival which worships the bond between brothers and sisters. As of the Hindu pilgrimage sites, Pashupatinath is a major pilgrimage site for Hindus from all over the world. Another such site is Changunarayan, considered to be the oldest temple in the country. Similarly, Muktinath, Halesi Mahadev, Taleju, and Krishna Temple are some other of the most famous Hindu religious hubs in the country. Clearly, Hinduism has continued to flourish in this country since time immemorial.
Nepal is the birthplace of the founder of Buddhism, Lord Gautam Buddha. The son of a king in Lumbini, he grew up surrounded by material wealth but gave it all up to pursue and find enlightenment. Buddhism has spread throughout Nepal and the rest of Asia and now has become a major world religion. Many ethnic groups that follow Buddhism have helped preserve Buddhist culture through their artwork and rituals.
In Nepal, the UNESCO world heritage sites of Swayambhunath and Boudhanath are some of the holy Buddhist sites located in the Kathmandu Valley. Lumbini is another such UNESCO world heritage site outside Kathmandu. Similarly, Muktinath, Tengboche, Braga, and Pung Gyen monastery are some of the esteemed Buddhist sites outside Kathmandu.
The third most practised religion in Nepal is Islam, with around 4.4% of the total population. Most of them live in Terai, the southern region of Nepal. Ramadan is one of the main parts of Islam, a month of fasting that is observed every year. They break this fast at the end of the month by celebrating Eid al-Fitr, when family and friends get together to eat delicious traditional delicacies. Many invite their non-Muslim neighbours and friends to partake of the food and culture and mosques give food and clothes to the needy. This shows that despite having a smaller population, Muslim people have a positive impact on Nepali society and are an important part of our overall national identity.
Kirat is the fourth most-practised religion in Nepal. It is both an ancient religion followed by Limbu and Rai ethnic communities who are the natives of Nepal. Their ancient religious text is called the Mundhum, which consists of worshipping nature and shamanistic practices. Their year is divided into Ubhauli (summer or upward) and Udhauli (winter or downward) halves and their main festival is Sakela which is celebrated once in each half, first to pray to mother nature for a good harvest and then to give thanks for it. Wearing beautiful traditional attires, people of all ages take part in the Sakela ritual dance after a Kirat priest has conducted the prayers and worship.
Even though Christianity is the most popular religion in the world, it is only the fifth most-followed religion in Nepal. The 2011 census shows that 1.4% of the population or 375,699 people are adherents of the religion in Nepal. Nepal is said to be one of the fastest growing population of Christians in the world. Christmas and English New Year sure are two of the trendiest festivals in Nepal. On the eves of these festivities, major streets of Kathmandu are lined with lights and people go out to celebrate and enjoy the holiday.
Other religions in Nepal consist of Sikhism, Jainism, and Bön religions. And while they are not as common as the other religions, their adherents generally practice openly and without unwanted interference from other communities. Regardless of the festivals, it is a certain hat Nepal offers a harmonious environment for all religions to thrive in Nepal.
Nepal is an example of how being ethnically, religiously, and culturally diverse adds to the colourfulness and beauty of a place. Moreover, such diversity also helps people to be more open and curious – elevating our views, expanding our hearts, and spreading harmony. A number of religions and millions of followers, yet Nepal welcomes everyone with open arms and a bright smile.