Nepal Religion and Culture

, a place of eternal beauty, is a land of colorful , and people, , and picturesque scenery. It is popularly known as the highest mountain peak of the world, .

Historically, Nepal has been a kingdom centered in the Valley for more than 1,500 years. During most of that period, the Kathmandu Valley has been Nepal’s political, economic, and cultural hub and was once a sanctuary for waves of migrants from north and south of its borders. Nepal is a landlocked country, sandwiched between two Asian giants– on three sides and (Xizang Autonomous Region -) to the north. Roughly rectangular in shape, it is slightly larger than the state of Arkansas.

For a small country, Nepal has great physical diversity, ranging from the lowland Tarai Plain in the south to central lower mountains and hills constituting the Hill Region, to its majestic , which in means ‘the of snow’, forming the Mountain Region in the north. From the lowland Tarai belt, landforms rise in successive hill and , with valleys situated between, ultimately reaching the beyond the Inner . Five climatic zones based on altitude range from subtropical in the south, to cool summers and severe winters in the north.

Nepal’s population is also very diverse. The country is home to more than a dozen ethnic groups, which originate from three major ethnic divisions: Indo-Nepalese, Tibeto-Nepalese, and indigenous Nepalese, composed of , Bhote, , , , Gurung, Tamang, Magar, Thakali, , and other smaller ethnic groups.

Nepali, the native tongue of the Paharis (the indigenous people of the Himalayas) and the national language of Nepal, is spoken by almost 60 percent of the population and is written in Devanagari script. There are more than twelve other languages with numerous dialects, although many are rarely spoken outside ethnic enclaves.

Although the Tarai Region of Nepal is the birthplace of , the , is the official of Nepal. It was around the 12th century when the Nepali rulers’ early patronage of largely gave way to Hinduism, reflecting the increased influence of India. Actually, the religion practiced by the majority of Nepalese is a synthesis of Hinduism and Buddhism (as well as indigenous folk belief in the Hinduism of the Pahari) and the practices have intermingled over .

Kathmandu Cultural Center

Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, is a treasure trove of ancient art and culture. Its auspicious location along trans- trade routes has, for centuries, served as a resting place for traders, travelers, and pilgrims, as the shared site of various Himalayan religions, and as the epicenter of production and influence.

Since the fourth century, the people of the Kathmandu Valley have developed a unique variant of South Asian civilization. A cultural mixing pot, it has bridged cultures and absorbed of its neighbors, yet retained a distinctive character. Kathmandu’s unique placement, both geographically and historically, has put it in the remarkable position of encouraging a tremendous amount of cultural and exchange, thus establishing a living creative tradition that is one of the most important influences in Himalayan art.

One of the results of this extraordinary situation has been skilled artisans of the tradition settling and thriving in the Kathmandu Valley. These days most sold in Tibet are actually painted in Nepal.

Religion in Nepal

Religion occupies an integral position in Nepalese life and society. Although Nepal is officially a state, there is actually a great deal of intermingling of Hindu and beliefs and practices. One of the main reasons that there have been no overt religious conflicts has to do with the sharing of sites: worship at and Buddhists worship at Hindu . Generally, the differences in practice between Hindus and Buddhists have been very subtle. Other religions, including Muslim and , are practiced by a smaller part of the population.

Hinduism is polytheistic. It incorporates many and with different functions and powers; but in the most important and widely held doctrine, and goddesses are considered merely different manifestations or aspects of a single underlying divinity. This single divinity is expressed as a Hindu triad comprising the religion’s three major gods: , , and personifying creation, preservation, and destruction, respectively. Vishnu and Shiva, or some of their numerous (incarnations), are most widely followed.

Buddhism had its origin in the of Siddhartha Gautama. He was born in , in the central Tarai Region of Nepal, about 563 B.C. Born a Hindu and educated in the Hindu tradition, Siddhartha Gautama renounced worldly life at about the age of twenty-nine and spent the next six years in . At the end of this time, he attained and was known after that as the Buddha, or the One. He devoted the rest of his life to preaching his doctrine, that of following the . , prevalent throughout Nepal, is not a religion yet with the different religions practiced.

Newari Influence

The Newars are typical of the synthesis of peoples and cultures in the Kathmandu Valley. Although this fertile valley, which includes the towns of Kathmandu, , Lalitpur, and Kirtipur, is their original home, they can now be found scattered in the main towns throughout Nepal.

An indigenous ethnic group of -Tibetan ancestry, the Newari are responsible for the fascinating of houses, palaces, and works of art, which attract so many visitors to Nepal. Part of the genius of Newar artisans lies in the long-established patronage by the ruling nobility as seen in temples, palaces, , and courtyards. Nepali art and that decorates Kathmandu can be credited to Newari .

As stated in Insight Guides Nepal, “The valley’s tremendous artistic wealth was created by its original inhabitants, the Newars, who drew on the cross-cultural influences brought in by successive waves of traders, pilgrims, religious scholars, and .” Newar life clearly blends and worldly existence, as evidenced in their art.

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About sadiksha

Namaste! I am a Nepali Art Dealer specialized in Mandala and Thangka paintings. I love to write articles about the monastic culture of the Himalayas.

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