Christmas comes early in Nepal. The ‘festival of lights’ also known as ‘Tihar’ is quite similar to Christmas, yet different in few aspects. Lights, carols, good food and fun with family are similar aspects. Whereas, different rituals, ceremonies and animal worshipping might be something you’re not familiar with.
Being the second most celebrated festival of Nepal, Tihar stands for a sister’s victory over Yamaraj (Hindu God of the Underworld) in saving her brother’s life. Celebrated for 5 days, this festival is also about worshiping animals such as crow, dog, cow and Goddess Laxmi (Hindu Goddess of Fortune/Wealth).
So, let me guide you through what goes on during 5 hectic, yet pleasant days of this festival.
The Crow Day (1st day):
According to Hindu mythology, crows are the ‘postmen’ of sadness and death. So, to keep these black beauties from executing their evil intentions, they are worshipped and offered delicacies prepared by the family. As long as crows remain happy and well fed this day, sadness and death don’t have any place around the house.
Every Dog has a day (2nd day): As you may have already guessed, yes! This is dog worshipping day. Dogs are adored with flower garland around their necks, red Tika on their forehead and a great meal. Not only the pet dogs but even the stray ones are treated as kings for the day. Way to go, DOGS!
Holy Goddess, the Holy Cow! (3rd day): One of the most significant days among the five, the day when we worship Goddess Laxmi and Cow (regarded sacred in Hindu culture). Cows have been served as Western delicacies for like forever but here, even thinking about it is regarded as a sin.
The Morning of the third day begins by worshipping the animal. Those performing the ceremony, place her manure in different parts of the home, drink a drop or two of the cow’s urine, as a part of the purification process of the soul.
The fun begins in the evening when every house in the country is, literally, blanketed with lights. On this day, I always felt as if I was inside a Christmas tree! It’s time for the ceremony of worshipping the goddess! It is believed that she only enters the house which is well lit and clean. So, houses are cleaned, diyos (traditional lamps made of clay) along with the modern lights are lit welcoming the goddess to the house.
Tihar and Bhailo (Songs/ Carols): The third night is made spectacular not only by lights, but also by echoes of a special song known as Bhailo. It’s performed only on this day in the entire year! A group of girls get together and move from door to door, singing and sharing the blessings with the family. Traditionally, the hosts offer them money and different delicacies as gifts.
Deusi Re! (4th day): This is my favourite day of Tihar. It’s the day when boys sing Deusi (Song/ Carol), along with other Nepali Folk numbers. As a music lover and somewhat of an instrumentalist, I, along with my group of friends practice from weeks to perform on this day. And in return, we are adored with love, money, and homemade delicacies. Trust me when I say this “We earn a lot!” Seriously!
Bhai Tika (Final Day): My sister is such a pain, at all times, but this is the day when things turn great. It’s celebrated with utmost importance and fun. The festivity involves following a traditional ritual in which sisters walk in a circle around the brothers (who’re sitting in meditating position) thrice, dripping oil on the floor from a copper pitcher. Afterwards, sisters put oil in brother’s ears and hair, and then put Tika on their forehead. Also, breaking walnuts by sisters prior to putting Tika, is a common practice.
A thin line is drawn vertically on the forehead; rice flour mixed with water is used for the purpose. On top of this line, seven colours are put in very small proportions, in an order. This is Tika. Another form of Tika is actually a reddish mixture/ paste prepared out of rice, curd and vermillion. It’s applied directly on the forehead.
As the festival comes to an end, fireworks are lit, sparks cover up the skies! The noise is loud, but fear not! You’re not in a war zone, but in some densely populated suburbs of the dazzling Kathmandu city.