Nepal: Religion and Culture

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Hinduism is followed by an overwhelming majority of people in Nepal. Lord Shiva is regarded as the guardian deity of the country. The famous Pashupatinath temple, which is said to be the largest Shiva temple in the world, also falls in Nepal, where Hindus from all over the world come for pilgrimage. Lumbini, which lies near the Indian border, is a Buddhist pilgrimage site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the Kapilavastu district. Lumbini is the Birth place of Siddhartha Gautama, a Kshatriya caste prince of the Sakya clan, who, as the Gautam Buddha, gave birth to the Buddhist tradition. The holy site of Lumbini is bordered by a large monastic zone, in which only monasteries can be built. In Nepal all three main branches of Buddhism exist and the Newar people have their own branch of the faith. Buddhism is the dominant religion of the thinly populated northern areas, which are inhabited by Tibetan-related peoples, such as the Sherpa.

In many Buddhist texts, the Buddha who was born a Hindu is also said to be a descendant of Vedic Sage Angirasa. Due to the cultural and historical intermingling of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, differences between Hindus and Buddhists have been minimal in Nepal. Moreover, traditionally Buddhism and Hinduism were never two distinct religions in the western sense of the world. In Nepal, the faiths share common temples and worship common deities. Among other natives of Nepal, those more influenced by Hinduism were the Magar, Sunwar, Limbu and Rai and the Gurkhas. Hindu influence is less prominent among the Gurung, Bhutia, and Thakali groups who employ Buddhist monks for their religious ceremonies. Most of the festivals in Nepal are Hindu. The Machendrajatra festival, dedicated to Hindu Shaiva Siddha, is celebrated by many Buddhists in Nepal as a main festival. As it is believed that Ne Muni established Nepal, some important priests in Nepal are called “Tirthaguru Nemuni”. Islam is a minority religion in Nepal, with 4.2 % of the population being Muslim. However, a more recent estimate indicates that Muslims constitute approximately 5-10 % of the population.

The Nepali food specially consists of Dal-bhat-tarkari which is a typical Nepalese meal. Dal is a spicy lentil soup, served over bhat (boiled rice), and served with tarkari (curried vegetables) together with achar (pickles) or chutni (spicy condiment made from fresh ingredients). The Newar community, however, has its own unique cuisine. It consists of non-vegetarian as well as vegetarian items served with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. The cuisine served on festivals is generally the best.

The Newari music orchestra consist mainly of percussion instruments, flutes and other such instruments, are also used. There are certain musical instruments such as Dhimay and Bhusya which are played as instrumental only and not accompanied with songs. In the hills, people use saarangi (a string instrument), madal and flute. They also have many popular folk songs known as lok geet and lok dohari.

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