In Nepal, religion is not just a set of beliefs and accompanying rituals handed down from generation to generation; rather it is a complex intermingling of traditions, festivals, faiths and doctrines that have permeated every strata of Nepalese Society in such a way as to become the very heartbeat of the nation.
Nepal is famous, as the world’s only Hindu Kingdom. However, it is an intricate and beautiful tapestry formed by the interweaving of Hinduism, Buddhism and other beliefs. Religious tolerance and harmony such as is found in Nepal, is perhaps a unique example to the world.
Religions in Nepal are:
4. Islam and Christianity
It seems that the first people to set foot in the ancient Nepal were Aryans. The Aryans’ basic beliefs are recorded in the Vedas, a collection of over one thousand religious hymns that were to form the foundation of the polytheistic religion of Hinduism.
Hinduism has a basic trinity of three gods-Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer. Most Hindus, while revering Brahma, do not usually include his worship in religious ceremonies as his role in the universe is regarded to be essentially completed. Vishnu and Shiva, however, are very important to all the Nepalese Hindus.
Vishnu, whose primary duty is to assure the preservation of the world and all living forms, is believed to have visited the earth ten times as “avatars” or incarnations. He is also believed to have come to the earth as a Varaha, as Prince Rama, as the god Krishna and as Lord Gautam Buddha.
Shiva, the Destroyer, is believed to have three forms-Natraj the god of artistic skill, an anthropomorphic form and the Lingam form, the latter being the most famous Lingam is situated in the north-west of Katmandu. In front of any Shiva temple, one usually sees a statue of Nandi, the divine bull that serves as Shiva’s vehicle. In anthropomorphic form, Shiva is depicted with his consort Parbati and usually holds a trident and a small drum. Another popular form of Shiva is terrifying Bhairav, who himself has a number of different forms.
Two of Vishnu’s other incarnations- Rama and Krishna-are especially important to the Hindus. Rama and Krishna are the heroes of the classic Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharat respectively.
Another widely venerated god is Ganesh, one of the sons of Shiva. Ganesh is revered in Nepal as the god of wisdom and the deity responsible for deciding between success and failure.
In practice, the Nepalese Hindus may choose one particular god as a favorite deity to be worshipped daily, or more likely will give due deference to all the above-mentioned gods and goddesses, along with many other incarnations and deities. Nepal’s many Hindu festivals are dedicated to dozens of different deities and are participated by all Hindus, as well as Buddhists.
Beliefs and practices of Buddhism in Nepal date back to the time of its founder, Prince Siddhartha Gautam who was born in Lumbini in the southern Terai region of the country in about 543 B.C. Up to the age of twenty-nine, the young prince led a very sheltered life in the royal palace of his father, completely unaware of the problems and suffering of everyday life outside of the palace walls.
One day, he convinced his charioteer to take him outside the palace and was shocked at the sight of an old man, a cripple and a corpse. The realization that there was much misery and unhappiness in the world persuaded the prince to abandon his luxurious life in the royal palace in order to search for enlightenment and the real meaning of life.
For many years, Gautam wandered from place to place looking for a solution to the problems he saw all around him. Finally, while meditating under a Pipal tree, he became spiritually enlightened. Henceforth known as Lord Buddha or the ” the enlightened one,” began to preach the “Four Noble Truths” to all who would listen. According to this doctrine, people suffer because of their attachment to things and people; in other words, the root of all the problems is desire. These desires and consequently, all problems and sufferings, can be totally eliminated by following the “eightfold path”-right views, right intent, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort right mindfulness an right meditation.
Buddha journeyed from place to place, teaching and converting hundreds of followers and died at the age of eighty. However, his many disciples continued spreading his teachings. At the same time Buddhism splitted into two main schools of thought: Hinayana and Mahayana. The Followers of Hinayana do not worship idols of Buddha as the enlightened prince taught against idolatory. Very few other Nepalese Buddhists have adopted the Hinayana school of thought, choosing rather to follow Mahayana teachings. One of the central beliefs of Mahayanists is that one can achieve nirvana by following the example of Bodhisattvas, Bodhi meaning enlightenment and Sattva meaning essence.
Both Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal have been strongly influenced by the beliefs and practices of Tantrism. ” Tantra” is a Sanskrit word referring to the basic warp of threads in weaving. Difficult to define due to its varying types and forms, Trantrism is a religion of moral percepts, meditation, yoga, mantras and a philosophy that believes in interwovenness of all things.
Tantrism has greatly influenced Nepalese Buddhism by creating the path of Vajrayana, the Path of the Thunderbolt. The main object used in Vajrayana Buddhist rituals is a small thunderbolt-like sceptre that is said to represent the infinite in three dimensions. A large thunderbolt, or Vajra as it is commonly referred to, can be seen at the entrance of Swayambhu temple at Katmandu on the top of a long flight steps.
There are basically two types of Tantric gods and goddesses: Dharmapalas and Yidams. The former is often depicted with flaming red hair, several arms, legs or heads and three eyes. Yidams are tutelary deities often found depicted in thangkas; like their Dharmapala counterparts, they are ferocious deities with many hands and fiercesome weapons.
Islam and Christianity
In addition to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Trantrism, a very small minority of Nepalese adheres to Islam and Christianity. Muslims and Christians believe and practice in much the same way as their counterparts in the western and other countries.