With Tihar just around the corner, people are getting excited about it and they should be. Tihar after all is one of the most important festivals of Nepal which is celebrated all through the country regardless of caste or community. Also known as the festival of lights, Tihar is among those festivals which are eye candy regardless of where you go as the whole of Nepal will be filled with lights of different colors and assortments. Now along with this, you can also expect to see tons of flowers and decorations on every door and window in each household. But what is Tihar and why is it celebrated?
Tihar, also known as Deepawali is a festival is a collection of 5 important days consisting of Kag Tihar (crow puja), Kukur Tihar (Dog Puja), Gai Tihar/Laxmi Puja (Cow Puja), Goru Puja (oxen Puja) /Govardhan Puja /Mha Puja (Self-worship) for Newari and Bhai-Tika (Brother worship). Each of these can be called a mini-festival of it’s with its own ritual and cultural value. What binds all of them together is that all of these 5 mini-festivals are celebrated more or less through similar means which is worshipping through rangolis and lights along with flowers.
Myths Behind the Origin of Tihar
So as with every Hindu festival, the origin of Tihar is also based on an origin, and as with a lot of festivals, there are two main myths that explain the two most prominent features of Tihar which is the combination of mini-festivals and the lights.
Well, the thing is there is not just one myth behind the origin of the festivals and all of them are centered around the lord of death “Yama” and his sister “Yamuna” (also the name of an Indian river).
We will be covering two of the most popular ones.
The Myth of the Yama
According to this Myth, The Lord of Death Yama separated from his sister for a long time since he became the lord of Death. The reason was kinda obvious as wherever he appeared he would bring death and since the Yamuna was the river of life, he could not bring death to her domain. The Yamuna then asked around a lot of sources on how to meet him without any side effects from his domain of death that he ruled over and whoever could give her advice did give her advice.
In order to prepare to meet her she first sent Crow which was also known as the messenger of death/Yama, then she sent a dog, and then finally she sent a cow to inform him about her visiting him.
Then after a day of delay, she then went to meet him in his death domain. Then after she arrived she worshipped him with our usual red and black tika along with a mala of flowers. After that, she then proceeded to put the tika which consisted of 5 different colors. Before she had made a circle with mustard oil, Dubo Grass and Makhmal Mala and had told him that he could not leave till the oil, grass and the Mala dried out. This is why we do the things that we do during the Bhai-Tika.
The Myth of Brotherly Love
This is a myth that is more closely related to humans rather than the gods and while not the origin of Tihar, this is used to highlight how and why it became an important festival. As the myth mentioned above explains why we celebrate we will not be going too much into detail here.
The story goes that far back in the time while a sister was performing Bhai-Tika on his brother, a Yamdut which is an existence similar to grim reaper who collects souls when it is the time of someone’s death, came to reap the soul of her brother. Both of them were devastated but knowing the outcome she asked the Yamdut to wait till she completed the Bhai-tika and invited him as well so that she could perform the Bhai-tika on him as well. Reluctant at first the Yamdut agreed and so he became so pleased by the way she performed Bhai-Tika that he gave her a wish.
Now, this is where this story splits into two versions. While one version says that she asked for the life of her brother directly another version says that she asked him to delay reaping her brother’s soul and wait till the makhmali Mala dries completely. The thing about Makhmali garland is that it takes a few decades for the mala to dry completely.
This essentially delayed the Yamdut from reaping the soul of her brother for a few decades and by then he would have died of natural aging regardless of him reaping the brother’s soul or not. Seeing this cleverness the Yamdut granted her brother’s life.
5 Days of Tihar
By now we have an idea why Tihar started and why it is so important to Nepali people. It is basically a festival that gives the sister the power to protect her brother from death through unnatural means. We should not forget however the complete Tihar festivals which include kag Tihar, Kukur Tihar, Gai Tihar/Laxmi Puja, Goru Tihar/Govardhan Puja/Mha Puja, and Bhai-Tika. In this part, we will discuss what each day represents.
Day 1- Kag Tihar (Crow Puja)
As we mentioned before, Crow is considered to be the messenger of Yama and death. It is believed that if you worship Crow it brings you good luck and warns you of any unnatural dangers. This is the reason why many Nepali believe that if a swarm of crows lingers on someone’s house without making much noise, it is a sign of someone dying an unnatural death and that they are giving the family a chance to prevent that by worshipping the Lord of Death-Yama. So to ensure that they get the protection and good luck of Lord Yama through his messengers, Crows are worshipped on this day.
Day 2- Kukur Tihar (Dog Puja)
Although cats are a close contender for the title of man’s best friend, they are a bit behind dogs. Well with their social bonding with us which can provide us with warmth and their protective nature this fact cannot be doubted. What is more, is that Dogs are also believed to sense dangers that humans cannot sense and even see death.
This is somewhat true as well as dogs do have a keen sense of smell and hearing which far surpasses humans. On this day we appreciate Dogs for the protection that they have provided us. Dogs all around a community are given lots of food and Tika is put on them along with Mala which is our traditional way of worshipping anyone and wishing them good luck.
Day 3- Gai Tihar (Cow Puja)/Laxmi Puja
In Hindu, culture cows are seen as a mother. This has contributed to the fact that most of us grew up drinking cow’s milk from our childhood and it is a stable diet for us. So just like with dogs, we appreciate them a lot. Add the religious impact and it gives us a lot of reasons to appreciate cows. They are worshipped with sesame oil light, Mala, and abir (a red color which is used to make Tika). They are then fed with Wheat flour, sel roti, and grains as well as pulses.
Furthermore, Cows are also related to the Goddess of Wealth Laxmi and on this day we invite her into our home by cleaning our house first to make a suitable living space for her, and then we draw or paint the designs of small footsteps from the main door to our storeroom to guide her. The small footsteps are considered to be the footsteps of the Goddess. On this day the light show officially starts as lights are lit all over the house to make it beautiful. Along with this the famous tradition of Deusi Bhailo is also held on this day where groups of teens and kids sing around and perform.
Day 4- Goru Tihar/Govardhan Puja/ Mha puja
The main significance of Goru or ox in Nepali culture is that while Cow was considered to be the mother providing love and health, Goru was considered to be the father providing food and fuel. This stands as they were used to plow fields and their dogs were used as anything from fertilizers to fuel for the fire as well as a means to polish floors and paint the wall. So just like cows, the oxen are worshipped in a similar way.
The Mha Puja however is exclusive to Newari people. In this Puja, Newars make a mandap/mandala which is decorated with marigold flowers, sweets, fruits, and FulMala (flower garland). Each member has one Mandap/mandala with two extra for the gods and goddesses. The head female of the house then offers the members with Sagun and they worship the 4 directions as well as the heaven and earth along with themselves through the means of rice, flowers, curd, and tika.
Now it should be noted that every Sagun in the Newari community should have a minimum of boiled eggs and dried and roasted fish. This festival is a means to ask the lords of 4 directions as well as the lord of heaven and hell for protection. Along with this Newars have a belief that inside each of us lives a god so this puja is also a method of asking that god for forgiveness for the times we have mistreated yourself and to ask him/her for strength.
Day 5- Bhai Tika (Worshipping the Brother)
Since we have covered most of this while we were talking about the origin of Tihar and the myths behind it, we will only grace over this here. The main concept of this day, as mentioned before, is to ask for the long life of the brother.
The process is strikingly similar to Mha Puja with the difference being that the one doing the puja is the sister instead of oneself and the addition of Makhmali mala and PanchaTikta (5 colored Tikas). In case one does not have a Brother or a sister, the Rani-Pokhari is opened and all sisters who do not have brothers do Bhai-Tika to the brothers who do not have sisters.
5 Ways to Enjoy Tihar
With all that being said, we come to the conclusion but before we go, we have to tell you how people enjoy Tihar as a few of you might think of Tihar as just a festival with lots of lights and pujas.
1. Family Bonding
This is more of common sense on how people enjoy Tihar. Since it is a national holiday and virtually no one works during this time along with the fact that almost everything that you do in Tihar is it cooking or decorating or Puja requires the effort of every member of the family, this is a good time for family bonding and in this festivals, all of the members need to rely on each other to complete this festival so bonding is bound to happen. For most people, this is a rare chance so people enjoy this a lot.
2. Decorating House
Now we understand that some of you may not be all too fond of family bonding and like to spend time alone. For those who are like this, you can always decorate the house. It is essentially a big project so if you want to avoid much contact you can do this alone as well. It should be considered that although this can be done separately, it is necessarily a family project and if you are artistic in mind you can show off your skills or just enjoy some family time decorating the house.
3. Deusi and Bhailo
If decorating a house is something special for those who prefer to be alone, Deusi and Bhailo is something special for those who like to mingle with groups and enjoy the crowd. You can form your own group and go to these programs to perform or just be a spectator and enjoy the performances in your own locality. Since there will be a lot of groups, there will rarely be a shortage of performances.
Although playing cards are essentially gambling, it does not need to be on in Tihar. On Tihar, playing cards can be a family activity and be played just for the sake of it without making any bets or by making non-monetary bets like punishments or this can even be turned into a game of truth or dare if you are experimental enough where the losers have to do one group dare that the winner decides on or tell one truth each.
If you feel suffocated at home you can also go out and swing on the many swings that are built on the occasion of Dashain and Tihar. It can be a bit hard to find if you are in an urban area but it will exist in multiple corners of your city. Regardless of if you go with family, friends, or even alone, swinging on the bamboo swings is always enjoyable.
If you are someone who is concerned about the environment and are wondering how can you celebrate Tihar in an environment-friendly way which you should be in this day and age, you can follow this up with our “9 Best Tips To Make This Deepawali Pollution Free“.