Carol O. – Religion in Nepal

Nepal was the only Hindu kingdom in the world until it was secularized in 2006. We know that the country’s proximity to India and China makes it a melting pot of cultures. It is also a melting pot of religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Newars, Muslim, Christianity, and shamanism.

Hinduism doesn’t have a particular founder, but began around 1500 BCE, and places importance on rituals and priests, and especially the universe. Our world is in the center of the cosmos, with humans high on the scale of importance, but below the gods. All creatures go through a cycle of genesis and demise. Creatures can move up the social scale when their souls, considered lost fragments of the universe, combine with the absolute soul. The soul may then be released into the next social scale through reincarnation only if the creature has fulfilled its dharma in its current life. This is the basis of the caste system and is what inspires the lower caste members to dutifully do their job in their current life.

Hindus revere the cow, which is a symbol of motherhood and fertility, so even killing a cow by accident is considered a serious transgression. The ringing of bells in the temples is to bring the worshipper closer to the gods. A tikka (red mark) on someone’s forehead means that someone had communion that day. Temples are usually open to visitors, but shoes must be removed. Goats or chickens are often sacrificed.

Buddhism was founded in 500 BCE as a way of celebrating religion without priests, and is based on the principles of reincarnation, karma, and enlightenment. Souls are also important in Buddhism, but the soul is not eternal like in Hinduism – the soul is formed when a person dies. Tibetan Buddhism is practiced in northern Nepal and the Kathmandu valley, under the Dalai Lama.

When worshipping, Buddhists walk clockwise around the temple, a practice called circumambulation, following the sun’s course. Mantras are written on paper wrapped around prayer wheels that are found in temples. The most popular mantra in Nepal is Om Mani Padme Hum, which means “Oh you jewel in the lotus flower”. Hinduism and Buddhism have overlapped in Nepal, so temples, symbols, and festivals are often shared.

In the Kathmandu valley, there is a religious cult called the Newars who can be either Buddhists or Hindus. They have many gods but also have a living goddess, or Kumari, who represents the blood-thirsty goddess, Durga. The Kumari is chosen as a child from many candidates who go through a ritual of staying alone in a room with severed water buffalo heads. Only those who run from the room are obviously not a reincarnation of Durga. The Kumari lives alone and seldom leave their house. The Royal Kumari lives in Kathmandu at Durbar Square.

There are Muslims in Nepal, descended from those who left India after the 1857 India Mutiny and who live peacefully with the Hindus in Nepal. There are also some Christians and in rural areas, there are shamanistic religions.

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