Sakela Ubhauli festival of Kirat

Sakela Ubhauli is one of the biggest festival celebrated by Kirat religion in Nepal, another being Sakela Udhauli. Kirat Mundhum, the holy book of Kirat mentions that the year of 365 days is divided into two phases Ubhauli (going up) and Udhauli (going down). People in old days used to move uphill and downhill during these seasons.

Ubhauli is celebrated every year on Baishak Sulka Purnima, on the same day as Buddha Purnima/ Buddha Jayanti on the Nepali month of Baishak (April-May). Traditionally, during the summer, the Kirat people used to move uphill to avoid the heat and malaria. They performed Ubhauli rituals before they moved and during that they worshipped their ancestors and nature for better health and crops.

The Kirats live in the eastern part of Nepal, mainly in the Eastern and Western parts of Arun River. Rai, Limbu, Sunuwar and Yakkha are generally called Kirati. The Kirat believes that the ancestors would get angry if they are not worshipped properly. These rituals, hence, are still practiced in the same way as before, however, the trend of moving uphill and down during the two seasons has stopped.

The major attraction of the festival is the Sakela Ubhauli dance in which a large number of people in traditional attire perform the dance together in a circle. The male leader known as Silimangpa and female leader Silimangma guides the others during the dance. The Silli dance style reflects different aspects of human life and human relation with nature.  This dance starts with the Chula (Chulo) puja, where Chula is considered as the source of food and life.

The main leader Nakchhong sacrifices a hen in the sacred place known as Sakela Than, usually under a sacred tree. After the puja completes, the dance starts when the leader gives signal to begin. They dance together with the beats of the dhol and Jhyamta.

According to the Kirat legends, Paruhang, who lived in heaven, fell in love with a beautiful girl Sumnima of the earth. He made a beautiful comb and presented it to her. They both got married and Sumnima gave birth to four children. However, after the birth of the children, Paruhang left his family in the bank of Dudh Koshi River and did not return for a long time. One day, she found a creeper which tasted full of power and happiness. She used it to make a Buti that had high powers and whenever anybody put it on, s/he used to speak the truth. Paruhang returned back all of a sudden and tried to console her. She did not believe him and ordered him to put on the Buti. She found out that he had been looking at the heaven and earth from the top of Chomolongma (Mt. Everest), meditating and travelling the universe and when he promised never to leave her again, she began to dance with joy.

This dance of Sumnima became the sacred and great Sakela dance and in order to protect this tradition, people still perform this dance during the Ubhauli festival. It is also believed that people also find the true love of their life during this dance.