Tihar festival is a five day long Hindu Festival celebrated in Nepal and the India which comes soon after Dashain festival. It is the festival of lights, as diyas are lit both inside and outside the houses to make it illuminate at night. It is popularly as known as swanti among the Newars and as Depawali among Madhesis.
Tihar is the second biggest Nepalese festival after Dashain. It is considered to be of great importance as it shows contribution to not just the humans and the gods, but also to the animals like crows, cows, and dogs that maintain an intimate relationship with humans. People make patterns on the floor of living rooms or courtyards using materials such as colored rice, dry flour, colored sand or flower petals outside their house, called Rangoli, which is meant to be a sacred welcoming area for the Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism mainly Goddess Laxmi.
Why Tihar Is Celebrated?
There are various mythological stories about the celebration of Tihar. One of the famous mythological stories behind the celebration of tihar is related to Yama the god of death and a girl called Yamuna whose brother was ill prayed for his long and healthy life. When Yama, the God of Death came to take her brother with him, she pleaded for some time to worship her brother. Yama granted this wish to her. Then the girl worshipped her brother with tika and flowers. She puts him five colord tika and she made a circle with mustard oil, Dubo Grass (Cynodon Dactylon) and put Makhmali Mala (Globe Amaranth) and asked Yamaraj not to take her brother’s soul until the oil, Dubo Grass and the flower gets dry. As the mustard oil, dubo grass and the flowers remained fresh till the next year, Yama was very pleased with her and granted her brother for a long life. Thus, this day is called Bhai Tika. Therefore, every sister worships her brother keeping him in the circle of mustard oil, putting of Makhmali Mala (flower) and Dubo grass and pray for their long and healthy life.
When Tihar is Celebrated?
Tihar usually falls either at the end of October or when November (Kartik Nepali month) ends after Dashain. However, the date of observing the festival depends upon the cycle of the moon. Tihar is a five-daylong festival which starts with Kaag Tihar (the worshipping of the crow) in Trayodashi of Kartik Krishna Paksha and ends with Bhai Tika in Dwitiya of Kartik Sukla Paksha.
The five days of Tihar:
In Nepal, Tihar is a five-day festival. Every day includes different rituals and celebrations:
Day 1: Kaag Tihar (Workshipping Crows)
The first day of the festival is called Kaag Tihar,”the message of death”. Crows are worshiped by offering them sweets and dishes, which are placed on the roofs of houses. The cawing of crows is a symbol of sadness and grief in Hinduism, so devotees offer crows food to avert grief and death in their homes.
Day 2: Kukur Tihar (Workshipping Dogs)
The Second day of the festival is called Kukur Tihar (worship of the dogs). The day is a chance to express gratitude towards dogs for safeguarding our homes and lives. Generally, male dogs are worshipped and are put on with a red tika on forehead and flower garland around the neck. The people also treat with delicious food to dogs. Almost every dog of the street is found with a tika and a garland. The dogs are also regarded as “the gatekeeper of the death” and believed that they can predict the dangers in future days. Thus worshipping the dogs in this day helps to prevent the dangers in the year to come. The Nepalese policemen also offer beautiful garlands to the patrol dogs to express their contribution in the national security.
Day 3: Laxmi Puja (Workship of the Cow)
The morning of the third day is called Gai Tihar (worship of the cow). In Hinduism, cows are symbol of prosperity and wealth. In ancient times people benefited a lot from the cow. Its milk, dung, even urine was used for purposes like purification. Thus, on this day people show their gratefulness to the cow by worshipping with sesame oil light, garland of flower and red color (abir) and and feeding them with the best grass, wheat flour, sel roti, rice and dal are feed to cows.
In the afternoon, people clean their houses with the mixture of red mud and cow dung, and some footsteps are marked from the main entrance to the pooja kotha, which are believed to drive Goddess Laxmi inside the house. In the evening, all the houses are made bright with the lighting of oil lamps (Diyo) or candles, or the ‘pala’ (these are being replaced by the electrified lights today) in the doors, main entrance, windows and roof to welcome prosperity and well being.
At night, people’s start playing ‘Deusi’ (which is sung mostly by boys) and ‘Bhailo’ (which is sung mostly by girls) and visiting all the houses in the neighborhood with musical instruments singing and dancing all night long collecting money as a tip from houses and share the bounty amongst themselves.
Deusi is balladic and tells the story of the festival, with one person narrating and the rest as the chorus. In return, the home owners give them money, fruit and selroti (a Nepali roundel made of rice flour and sugar). Nowadays social workers, politician, and young people visit local homes, sing these songs, and collect funds for welfare and social activities.
Coincidentally, Laxmi Puja also marks the birthday of Laxmi Prasad Devkota, who is widely revered and honoured as the greatest poet of Nepali language.
Day 4: Goru Puja, Govardhan Puja and Maha Puja
Oxen are worshipped in much the same way as the cows and dogs. As ox is an imperative helper for the farmer, specially used to plough the field. Gobar (cow dung) is worshipped as a representative of Gobardhan Mountain, that was mentioned in the Mahabharata, a Hindu epic.
In addition, this day is also seen as the beginning of Nepal Sambat or New Year for Newar community. All the Newarians reunite for this festival and perform Maha puja/Ma puja(worship of self) gathering at nights which is believed to purify and empower the soul. The members of the family sit on a row and make a mandap for each of them which are decorated with flowers, sweets, garland, and lights. The female member of the family offers the other members of the family with Sagun which consists of the fried eggs, sweets, lentils and local wine made from rice.
Day 5: Bhai Tika
The fifth day and the final day of Tihar is called Bhai Tika or Kija Puja. It is observed by sisters putting tika on their brothers’ foreheads to secure for them a long and happy life.
The puja follows a traditional ritual in which Brothers sit on the floor while their sisters circle brothers with mustard oil, Dubo Grass (Cynodon Dactylon) and put Makhmali Mala (Globe Amaranth), and put five colord tikas on the brother’s forehead. Next, Sister offers brothers Shaguns of dry fruits and sweets and in return the brothers give their sisters gifts and money. The brothers also put Pancha Rangi Tika to sister and bow her on her feet and assure her to protect her till the end of life. This ritual is practised regardless of whether the brother is older or younger than the sister. Those without a sister or brother join relatives or friends for tika. This festival commemorating the bond of love between brother and a sister, as they strengthen and support each other throughout. This tradition is based on the story of a Hindu goddess who did the same to her brother.
On this day, the Balgopaleshwor Temple at the centre of historic Ranipokhari in Kathmandu is opened for those who do not have any brother or sister offer worship. This is the only day in a year the temple is open to general public.
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