Celebrating Tihar

Autumn is a season for festivals in Nepal. Two major festivals falls during autumn: Dashain and Tihar.

Tihar, also known as Deepawali, lasts for five days. The five day festivities mark the worship of various Hindu deities and celebration among families, relations and friends. Pujas(worship), lights, colors, flowers, new clothes, feasts and merriment, all these make up the joyous festival of Tihar.

A man doing brisk business at Ason Bazaar selling floral garlands.

Ason Bazaar is one of the oldest bazaar in Kathmandu. People frequent this market for their festival shopping.

New Road in Kathmandu all lighted up

A shop front in Kathmandu, all lit up for Tihar

A beautiful New Year Mandala (made with colored powder) at Thamel Chowk – Sights like this are common during Tihar

Tihar Festivities

Kag Puja: On the first day of Tihar, crows are worshipped .Crows are considered to be messengers of Yama, the god of death. So to keep them away from delivering any distressing messages from the underworld, they are worshipped during Kag Tihar by offering food early in the morning before anyone in the household has eaten.

Kukur Puja: Every dog has its day. We don’t know about dogs in other parts of the world, but dogs in Nepal or Nepali homes sure do have their day! Kukur Puja, which falls on the second day is dedicated to the dogs. Dogs are traditionally the guardian of people’s houses as well as that of Yamaraj’s underworld. On this day they are worshipped and offered food.

Gai puja or Laxmi Puja – On the third day Gai (cow) Puja is observed. In the morning cows are worshipped as the animal is regarded as a representative of Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. It is also the most sacred animal for the Hindus.

Laxmi, the goddess of wealth – She is worshipped in all Hindu homes during Laxmi Puja. It is believed that the goddess likes clean and well lighted spaces. So people give their homes a thorough cleaning and light up their homes in the evening to welcome her. Goddess Lakshmi is thanked on this day and everyone prays for a good year ahead.Young girls and women go from door to door singing Bhailani (special songs). If a Bhailo group visits a house then it is considered auspicious, as these groups are said to bless the house and usher in good fortune. In return, the householders offer them selroti (a doughnut shaped Nepali bread made during Tihar), sweets and money.

Gobardhan Puja: The fourth day is Gobardhan Puja. It is the day Lord Krishna defeated Indra, the god of rain and thunder. As per the story, Krishna saw huge preparations for the annual offering to Lord Indra for rain. He said that all human beings should do their ‘karma’, to the best of their ability and not pray for natural phenomenon. The villagers were convinced by Krishna, and did not proceed with the special puja (prayer). Indra was angered and flooded the village. Krishna, to protect the villagers and their cattle from the rain and flood, lifted a huge heap of cowdung, Govardhan and held it up. Indra finally accepted defeat and recognized Krishna as supreme. On this day, boys and men play Deusi. Like the Bailo group, the Deusi groups visit peoples homes singing anfd dancing, spreading joy and merriment. This day is also special for the Newar community as they celebrate Maha Puja or Worship of Self. This day is also the first day according to Nepal Sambat.

Bhai tika: The fifth and last day of Tihar is Bhai tika, a day where sisters put “Tika” on the forehead of brothers, to ensure long life, and thank them for the protection they give. To begin the ceremony, sister draw mandaps or boundaries at a designated place. The sister then perform Puja of the deities. After this, brother is given a seating on a mat for the tika ceremony. Sisters apply a special ‘Colorful Tika‘ on the forehead of their brother. Following the custom, sister worships for her brothers long life and draws a boundary (mandap) around her brothers with oil using dubo grass. This interesting tradition is symbolic of the belief that no one including Yama can cross this line of protection guarded by a loving sister. Brothers also bless their sisters with a happy life and give them presents (usually money).

A sister applying tika on her brother’s forehead

Colors - Deepawali - Tihar

Colours for the tika

Walnuts - Tihar

Walnuts are said to be head of Yamaraj, the god of death. Sisters break the walnuts prior to applying the Bhai tika on their brother’s forehead, thus warding off death from their brother’s life.

Shagun for brothers – Sisters give their brothers shaguns(dry fruits and sweets) after applying the tika

Makhmali phool ko mala (garlands made of Globe amaranth / Gomphrena globosa flowers): After applying the bhai tika on their brothers, sisters adorn their brothers’ necks with this floral garland. The color of this flower does not fade even when it dries.

A vendor selling sparklers and fire crackers. Children celebrate by bursting crackers

Cowrie shells on sale. It is regarded auspicious to try your hand at gambling on Laxmi puja. People usually play cards and cowrie till the wee hours.

[Photo Credit:  Usha Rai / Amit Lamichane / Explore Himalaya]

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