Tihar or Deepawali is the festival of lights celebrated widely in Nepal. The five day long festival falls a fortnight after the grand festival of Dashain during Kartik, the seventh month of the Nepalese calendar. A joyous annual festival occurring in late autumn, Tihar brings happiness, prosperity and good wishes into the lives of people. Each day represents reverence to not just humans, but also to the sacred cows, dogs, crows and oxen that are honored in the Hindu culture. Being the festival of lights, butter lamps known as diyos are lit and the entire country illuminates to celebrate with immense joy and ecstasy.
First Day – Kag Tihar
The first day of Tihar is Kag Tihar where the Kag or crow is worshipped. Considered to be the messenger of death, people try to ward off grief and death in their families by offering food to crows.
Second Day – Kukur Tihar
The second day of Tihar is dedicated to the most loyal friend of mankind, Kukur or dog. Dogs are especially important to Nepal’s Hindu practitioners and are regarded as mount of God “Bhairab” as well as “Yama” (God of Death). They are said to guard the gates of afterlife and represent the concept of dharma, the path of righteousness.
On this day, dogs are worshipped as a gratitude for their loyalty and service. A garland of marigold flowers that are in full bloom during this time is draped around their neck and an auspicious red tika applied on the forehead that signifies their devotion and friendliness. They are offered delicious food and the day is marked to treasure the relationship between humans and dogs.
Third Day – Gai Tihar and Laxmi Puja
The third day is one of the major days of Tihar. The morning is Gai Tihar meaning cow worship. In Hinduism, the cow is regarded as Goddess Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. She is considered holy and sacred and in ancient times, cow milk, dung, and even urine were utilized as a source of purifying oneself. The cow is fed plenty of grass and garlanded with the auspicious marigold flower this morning.
In the afternoon, houses and offices are cleaned and floors painted with Red Mud (Rato Mato) and cow dung (gobar). Rangoli, a pattern made of colored rice, colored sand and flower petals, is drawn at the main entryway of the house and traditional butter lamps (Diyo) are lit to welcome the gods and goddesses. Doors and windows are decorated with fresh garlands of sayapatri (marigold) and makhamali (chrysanthemums) flowers. In the evening at a scheduled auspicious time, Goddess Laxmi is worshipped and thanked for the well-being and prosperity of the family. Various sweetmeats are offered to the goddess and relished amongst family and friends. After the prayers, girls and boys go out to the neighborhood houses singing and dancing to the customary songs, Bhailo and Deusi for which they are bestowed with money, fruits and selroti, a Nepalese delicacy made of rice and sugar.
Firecrackers and sparklers light up the sky although the government has imposed a ban to avoid any mishaps and protect the environment.
Fourth Day – Goru Tihar and Mha (aatma or self) Puja
This day different types of prayers or Pujas are held depending on one’s cultural background. People who follow Vaishnavism perform the Gobardhan Puja (honoring Gobardhan Mountain) or Goru Puja (worship of the oxen). The ox helps farmers plough fields and draw the carts in the paddy fields of Nepal, a predominant agricultural country. They are fed and worshipped and Govardhan Puja is performed, where a paste of cow dung is applied outside houses as replicas of the Gobardhan Mountain.
At dusk the Newar community perform Mha Puja also known as self-puja. It is done to purify the body and soul for one’s prosperity and longevity. A Mandala or mandap, sand painting of a sacred diagram signifying good fortune and long life, decorated with marigold flowers, sweets, fruits and a special garland is set for each family member who sit cross-legged behind it. The elder female member then begins applying the tika on their foreheads and performs the rituals handing over shagun, auspicious food consisting of boiled eggs, fruits, sweets, fish, and the traditional rice wine. Later they indulge in a scrumptious feast and revel in the festive ambience.
This day also marks the new year of the Nepal Sambat, the Newari calendar.
Fifth Day: Bhai Tika
The final day of Tihar is dedicated to the siblings, particularly brothers. At an auspicious time scheduled a day earlier by an astrologer, the entire nation’s sisters apply tika of five colors on her brother’s forehead and pray to Yamraj, the god of death, to ensure his long life. She also ties a sacred cotton thread of Tantric value meant to protect them and offers him sweets and fruits. Similarly, the brothers give tika to sisters and offer her gifts and money along with an assurance to protect her forever. Those without sisters receive tika from cousins and relatives. The impact of this day is to strengthen the bond between brothers and sisters.
Tihar is the second biggest festival of Nepal after Dashain. The proximity of the two major festivals gets people in the merry-making mood the entire month beginning from Dashain and lasting until the end of Tihar.