The Indigenous Nepalese Festival Tihar-Nepal Sambat & Bikram Sambat


From the waning moon in between October-Nov, (Kartik), there start the indigenous Festival Tihar, Nepal Sambat and Newar’s Mahapuja (the day of body worship solemnized). The Brikram Sambat is the oldest era in Nepal.

The Bikram Sambat is the glory of Nepalese nationality, which indicates the sovereign history of Nepal. The Nepal Bikram Sambat and Nepal Sambat are the assets of Nepal. We have glorious history on ‘Himabatkhand’ The Himabatkhand-Nepal covers the land of Brahmaputra in the east, Hindukush in the west, Kailash-Mansarovar (west-south China) in the north and the Ganga-River in the south. In the past, Nepal was bigger than what it is today. This region is the origin of the Vedas, Upanishads, Purans and Nitishastra.

As the region has been irrigated by rivers originating in the Himalaya, several Saints, Sages and renowned Kings. The Bikram Sambat is an original and sign of Nepalese sovereignty where the foreigners could not attack here like India, China and Pakistan.

The Bikram Sambat was started at the beginning of the Licchavi period by the first powerful King Bikramaditya 2,067 years ago. The Nepal Sambat was started on the day of Managua, the day of body worship solemnized by the Newar community, in 936 BS. The Newar community celebrates the Nepal Sambat and Mahapuja simultaneously with great fervor on the same day.

Exactly, Nepal Sambat and Mahapuja have been celebrating in the time of ‘Tihar.’ In this festival we worship Goddess Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth. During the festival all the houses in the city and villages are decorated with lit oil lamps. Thus during the night the entire village or city looks like a sparkling diamond. This festival is celebrated in five days. The first day of Tihar is known as ‘Kag Tihar’, (crow’s day). Crow the messenger of death is honoured on the first day of Tihar. The second day is called ‘Kukur Tihar’, (dogs day). A dog plays many roles in our society. We pray to the dog to guard our house as he guards the gate of the underworld and to divert destruction away from our homes. On this day you can see dogs running around with garlands on their neck.

The third day is the most important day of the festival. It is called ‘Laxmi Puja’, the day when we worship goddess of wealth. On this day, early in the morning the cow is worshipped. Tika is put on her head and a garland around her neck then she feasts with delicious food. A cow also symbolizes wealth and she is the most holy animal for Hindus. The third day is the most important day of the festival. It is called ‘Laxmi Puja’, the day when we worship goddess of wealth. On this day, early in the morning the cow is worshipped.

Tika is put on her head and a garland around her neck then she feasts with delicious food. A cow also symbolizes wealth and she is the most holy animal for Hindus. On this day throughout the evening groups of girls come to houses singing song of praise of the goddess and they are taken as guests and given gifts. This day the entire place is lively through out the night. The fourth day is bit different. Today the things you worship depend on your specific cultural background. Normally most of the people perform ‘Guru Puja’, (ox worshipping). The ox is worshipped with Tika, garland and then a delicious meal is fed to it.- (Avigya Karki-

In the last day, the sister worships their brothers for their prosperous long life worshiping the ‘Yamaraj'(God of death). The main theme behind Bhai Tika (worshiping brothers) is the sisters praying for their brother’s long life from Yama Raj, god of the underworld. Tihar starts from the thirteenth day of the waning moon in October. We also refer to Tihar as ‘Panchak Yama’ which literally means ‘the five days of the underworld lord’. We also worship ‘Yamaraj’ in different forms in these five days. In other words this festival is meant for life and prosperity.

Indigenous eras

The Nepal Sambat is an indigenous era like the Bikram Sambat. The French scholar, Syavan Levy, has written that the people revolted against the Tibetan king who was ruling Nepal between 7th and 9th century AD, and following its liberation, the Nepal Sambat was started between 879 and 889 AD.

A historian, Prof. Bengal, has written about the rule of King Raghav Dev of the Lichhavis and the start of the Nepal Sambat in 880 AD. Historian Balchandra Sharma agrees with this point in his book Nepalko Aitihasik Ruprekha. According to another scholar of history, Dhanabajra Bajracharya, King Raghav Dev started this Sambat in honour of Pashupatinath.

There is, however, another story as to how the Nepal Sambat was established. It is said that one Sankhadhar Sakhwa started it after having converted sand into gold. The Newars have been trying to conserve Nepalese nationality, including both the Hindu and Buddhist religions, cultures and traditions for centuries. But this story about sand converting into gold is a little hard to believe.

There are evidences to prove that Sankhadhar Sakhwa did not start the Nepal Sambat.

Historian Dhundi Raj Bandari wrote in Nepalko Aitihasik Biwechana about the handwritten Bishnu Dharma, which mentions King Raghav Dev propagating it in Nepal Sambat 167.

Italian scholar Laciano Patrek had published the Gopal Vansavali which honours King Raghav Dev with the title Pasupati Bhattarak Sambatsar – 63. Historian Baikuntha Prasad Lakaul had written in Nepali Samacharpatra on Kartik 30, 2058, some nine years ago, that no other document is as authentic as the Gopal Vansavali. Historian Krishna Bahadur Udaya wrote in the Gorkhapatra on November 13, 2007 that there is no proof that the rich Sankhadhar lived in Kathmandu.

Now the government has declared the Nepal Sambat as a national Sambat. Is this practical?

The Nepal Sambat was established in Nepal, and during the Malla Period, it was prevalent in Tibet, Bengal and several neighbouring countries. It was also in use during Prithavi Narayan Shah and the Rana period. But due to inconvenience faced during changes in the tithi (date), Chandra Shumsher started to write the date according to the present Bikram Sambat. The Bikram Sambat had 365 days with tithi in a year in contrast to 354 days in the Nepal Sambat.

Similarly, the Shakya Sambat was started by King Kaniska in 78 AD, and it was gradually lost during the Moghul and British rule in India. But Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru restarted it in 1957. But as it had only 354 days in a year, it was not practical and the Gregorian calendar was reused.

After the mid-term elections in 2000, through an ad-hoc decision of the Council of Ministers chaired by Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Sankhadhar Sakhwa was declared a national hero (Bibhuti). The decision seems to have been made in haste.

According to legend, on hearing from an astrologer, King Ananda Malla of Bhaktapur (there is no record of King Ananda Malla having ruled at that time) had asked to bring sand from the Vishnumati River. But Sankhadhar Sakhwa asked the person carrying the sand to deposit it at his place and had him carry some other sand to the king. Historian and former minister, late Bhuvan Lal Pradhan, had supported the story regarding the conversion of sand into gold, but after a debate arose, he later wrote that gold particles had been found in the river. So there is no strong argument about Sankhadhar.

Historians Dhanbajra Bajracharya, Shankarman Rajbansi, Baikuntha Prasad Lakaul and Krishna Bahadur Udaya – all Newars – have proved that the Nepal Sambat was started by King Raghav Dev. Nepal Samacharpatra, in its editorial (nine years ago on 2058-7-30), had written that the legend of sand having converted into gold has not been established.


Some believers in Sankhadhar have written that a stone statue with a sankha (conch) in the hand in the south gate of Pashupatinath is that of Sankhadhar Sakhwa. But this is not true. This is the statue of King Bhagirath, a devotee of Bhagitathi Ganga. Such statues are found in front of the 108 Shiva temples across the Bagmati River at Pashupatinath, in front of Ganga Mata, at Sundhara, Dharahara and at Patan Sundhara. We can see such statues standing in front of the Swarna Buddha Mandir in Patan also.

History always follows real events, evidences, writings, chronology; heresy must also be trustworthy. So let us not make assumptions contrary to historical facts only to gain political or individual mileage. The Nepal Sambat is historical. Welcome New Year 1131, Nepal Sambat.