Lonely Planet Writer

In pictures: the incredible Bala Chaturdashi festival in Nepal honouring lost loved ones

The Bala Chaturdashi festival is held near Kathmandu in Nepal every year. It traditionally occurs in late November or early December, and Hindu pilgrims gather here to perform a ritual in memory of their deceased loved ones.

Nepalese devotees offering 108 butter lamps on the bank of Bagmati river.
Nepalese devotees offering 108 butter lamps on the bank of Bagmati river. Image by Narayan Maharjan/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The ritual begins with an all-night vigil at the shrine near Pashupatinath Temple, where people light candles or lamps dedicated to their loved ones. Devotees take time to reflect on their memories of the deceased, and often chant or dance to honour the Lord Shiva.

The candles are dedicated to pilgrims' deceased loved ones.
The candles are dedicated to pilgrims’ deceased loved ones. Image by Narayan Maharjan/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Once dawn breaks, pilgrims travel to the Bagmati River where they bathe.

Nepalese devotees offering ritual prayer as tighten religious rope seen consists of flower, fruits and holy grains at the Pashupatinath Temple.
Nepalese devotees offering ritual prayer as tighten religious rope seen consists of flower, fruits and holy grains at the Pashupatinath Temple. Image by Narayan Maharjan/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The festival ends by attendees taking a path through the nearby Kailash forest. En route they pass many Hindu shrines and scatter satbij, seven types of grains and seeds mixed together as they go.

Nepalese devotees offering holy grains 'Satbij' mixed of 7 types of grain.
Nepalese devotees offering holy grains ‘Satbij’ mixed of 7 types of grain. Image by Narayan Maharjan/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Devotees believe that these rituals will help departed souls find a better place in the afterlife. It is also undertaken on behalf of restless souls who may not have received the appropriate cremation rituals after their death.

It is believed that dropped seeds in remembrance of beloved ones on the occasion of Bala Chaturdashi rituals, can secure a better place in heaven.
It is believed that dropped seeds in remembrance of beloved ones on the occasion of Bala Chaturdashi rituals, can secure a better place in heaven. Image by Narayan Maharjan/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Kathmandu Post reported that there was a huge increase in crowds this year, with the Pashupati Area Development Trust estimating an increase of 100,000. Govinda Tandon of the Trust said, “fear of an earthquake, coupled with fuel shortage had affected the mobility of people last year. As things returned to normalcy, the numbers of devotees increased this year.”

The number of attendees surged by 100,000 this year.
The number of attendees surged by 100,000 this year.