Religions of Nepal
Religion is an important aspect of life in Nepal and most individuals identify with a particular religion and strive to live their lives accordingly.
Nepal is formally a Hindu country. However, the religion has become strongly intermingled with Buddhism and as such it is difficult in reality to define Nepal as one or the other.
When asked to identify with a religion, just under 90% of individuals in Nepal classify themselves as Hindu. 5% of Nepalese people classify themselves as part of the Buddhist religion and the remaining 5% is primarily split between the Islamic and Christian religion.
There is great tolerance across religions in Nepal which is in many ways unique to Nepal. Part of the reason stems from the fact that adherents of the Hindu religion often worship at Buddhist temples and vice versa.
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.
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.