Nepali - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Nepal is a Hindu kingdom in which the king is considered an incarnation of the god Vishnu. Although the majority of the country is Hindu, a number of groups of sizable populations are Buddhist. There are a few groups of Muslims in the country and an even smaller number of converts to Christianity. Except for perhaps Christians, almost all groups participate in indigenous and syncretic shamanic, oracular, or pre-Buddhist Bon beliefs and practices that recognize the effects of local gods, godlings, spirits, and places of power. Generally, Hinduism in Nepal is based on the Dharmashastras, Puranas, and various developments in Vaishnavism and Shaivism that have largely originated in India. Buddhism in Nepal blends Mahayana, or the Great Vehicle, with Vajrayana, the Diamond Way. Whether Tibetans or Newars, Buddhists believe in the five Dhayani Buddhas, and along with Hindus they believe in the principles of dharma and karma. Hindus in Nepal worship the major gods of Hinduism, such as forms of Vishnu, Shiva, Durga, and Saraswati. In the Kathmandu Valley Hindus along with the Buddhists also worship powerful local goddesses and gods known as Ajima, Vajrayogini, Bhatbatini, and others who can be very powerful, protective, and punitive. There are also a number of local cults of particular deities throughout the country, such as the Masta cult in western Nepal. People believe that dangerous ghosts and demons, such as the bhut, pret, and masan, haunt crossroads and rivers and wherever they are made offerings of appeasement. Also, some people believe that snakes and frogs have supernatural powers.

Religious Practitioners. Brahman priests and the Vajracharya Buddhist priests of the Newar are caste-specific roles that may be achieved only by caste members following initiations. These religious specialists perform important rites of passage and domestic rituals and provide important teachings and information on many subjects. Most shamans enter their role as practitioners through the onset of a sickness or possession, which serves as a calling. However, in some groups religious specialists, such as the khepre and pajyu among the Gurung, can achieve their roles only if they are members of one of the ranked divisions of their society.

Ceremonies. Most of the major festivals and celebrations of Hinduism and Buddhism, such as Durga Puja (Dasain), Holi for Krishna, Shiva Ratri, and Buddha Jayanti are elaborately observed in Nepal. They take various forms in local Ethnic communities, which also hold numerous other calendrical and deity festivals throughout the year. The blending of Buddhist and Hindu belief and practice, which is so common in Nepal, may be seen in the worship of certain deities and in large local festivals, such as the Machindranath Jatra in Patan in the Kathmandu Valley. These celebrations and ceremonies serve as rituals of renewal, reenactments of historical events, and the marking of powerful beliefs, practices, and relationships. The spectacular Mani Rimdu ceremony performed every year by the Sherpa in Khumbu has multiple meanings for the participants. Rites of passage, so crucial to the reproduction of social identities throughout Nepal, may be found in every community and entail activities such as those mentioned for child rearing, illness, marriage, and death.

Medicine. People in Nepal often attribute a number of causes to illnesses. Most groups believe that humoral imbalance leads to physiological disturbances. They also believe that astrological disjunctions and the attack of ghosts and certain deities may also cause maladies. Witchcraft is also feared as a dangerous source of illness and death. It is not uncommon for people to seek treatment from many kinds of specialists as well as at an allopathic hospital or physician's clinic.

Death and Afterlife. Most Hindus and Buddhists cremate their dead. For Hindus, this is done ideally by a river so that deceased's souls can have a swift passage to desirable realms in the afterworld. Many groups simultaneously believe in reincarnation and worship their ancestors. Among some of the remote Tibetan-speaking people, corpses are cut up and thrown into a river or left on a hilltop for vultures to eat. Members of the Jogi caste are some of the few people who bury their dead.

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