The Tihar Festival is one of the biggest festivals in Nepal. Other names of this festival are also Deepawali and Yamapanchak. Here, “Yama” denotes the death-related deity, and “Panchak” denotes five. As a result, five days are dedicated to celebrating the holiday while honoring various animals such as crows, dogs, cows, and oxen. Generally, Tihar falls in the month of Ashad or Kartik (October or November).
Initiation of Tihar celebration
There are numerous tales that explain why and how people first began to observe the Tihar festival. There is a popular folk tale related to how the Tihar celebration started with the Yama, the God of Death, and his sister the Yamuna. Yama was always busy with his universal duty of being the God of Death, so long periods of time were spent with Yamuna and Yama apart. Crows being the messenger of the Yama, Yamuna used to talk with crows to know the whereabouts of her brother. She used to await her brother’s news, and finally, after a long period of time, she eventually got to meet her brother. According to legend, on the way of meeting her brother, she met with a crow, a dog, a cow, and finally her brother Yama. When she met her brother, she was overjoyed and in the meantime, worshiped her brother with seven colored- Tika (Saptarangi Tika) and flowers on his forehead after meeting him. She also worshipped Yama with mustard oil, flowers, and dubo and urged him not to leave until the oil, flowers, and dubo had dried and prayed for her brother’s prosperity. In a similar manner, Nepalese sisters worship brothers to ensure their longevity and financial prosperity, using Makhamali flowers, mustard oil, common walnuts, etc.
Five Days of Tihar
The Festival of Lights is another name for the Tihar celebration. The five days that makeup Tihar each have special meaning. However, often, due to the lunar calendar’s anomalies, 2 days merge into one. Consecutively, Nepalese celebrate two festivities on same day.
The first day, Kaag Tihar, is a day to honor the crow since it represents God Yama’s messenger of death. Yama is said to be record keeper of all the births and deaths of earthly creatures, including humans. Information related to deaths is thought to be brought and taken by crows. The Crow had been chosen by Yamaraj to be his messenger because he could deliver a brief message from the sky. But at the Crow Festival, all of these unfavorable notions are forgotten and the crow is worshipped.
The second day is Kukur Tihar, which honors dogs for their devotion to humans. Nepalese honor dogs on this day for their devotion to people. On the day of the dog festival, people put Tika and calendula garlands on dogs and feed them tasty food. Newars (Kathmandu’s local population) celebrate the dog (Kukur) Tihar as Khicha Puja where Kicha means “dog” in the Newari language. Nepal Police also participate in similar ceremonies since dogs play an important role in investigations and provide protection for our community. Since this celebration demonstrates the closeness and respect between dogs and people, Nepal’s dog festival is well known across the world, especially in western culture.
Dog and Hinduism faith
Dogs have been a part of Hinduism since at least 400 BC. Numerous Hindu mythical tales include descriptions of dogs, who are praised for their devotion as well as their honesty, and commitment. Hindu deities such as Yama are often shown with a faithful dog at their side. Dogs are Yama’s messenger and protector, according to the Hindu sacred text Rigveda. Samara, the mother of dogs, helped Lord Indra, the heavenly king, get back the stolen livestock. In Hinduism, dogs are said to guard the entrances to the afterlife. On the second day of Tihar, Nepalese worship the divine dogs and celebrate the relationship between humans and dogs, especially the Hindu deity Yama’s relationship with his dog.
Gai Tihar / Lakshmi Puja
The third day is Gai Tihar and Laxmi Puja where Nepalese worship cows for their contribution to mankind. According to Hinduism, the cow is a sacred animal. Also, it is the national animal of Nepal. Cows are beneficial to people in many ways because they facilitate daily living. Cow’s milk, ghee, and other products all have great advantages. By decorating them with Tika, calendula garlands, and offerings of their preferred grass and delicacies, people worship cows.
Additionally, on this day, people clean their homes and environs. Marigold flowers are used to decorate entrances to welcome the goddess Laxmi. It is believed that on this day, the goddess Laxmi visits the homes that are clean and decorated. On the evening of the third day, Laxmi, the goddess of riches, is also worshipped by burning candles and oil lamps (Diyo) throughout the home, and prayers are conducted to bestow wealth and prosperity. There is a saying that the lights show the path of goddess Laxmi to the homes, and the houses that are not lit properly will not have visitation from the goddess as she will be unable to detect the path due to darkness.
The females from the area go from home to house during the night to play Bhailo (a cultural program during the Tihar Festival). In exchange, the home’s owner gives money and treats. The girls then divide the cash and things they had acquired from other individuals among themselves after virtually ending the night. Bhailo portrays Tihar and is one of the major highlights of each Tihar.
Goru Puja, Gobardan Puja and Mha Puja
The fourth day is Goru Tihar and Mha Puja. On the fourth day of Tihar, three distinct pujas are observed- Goru Puja, Mha Puja and Goverdhan Puja. The Newar community observes Mha Puja, also known as the festival of self-worship. Goru (ox) Tihar, is mostly worshipped by people around Nepal. Those who observe it believe that OX falls under the Vayu Purana category, which is a Tihar deity and is the son of Lord Shiva. To mark the occasion, family members worship the ox and believe that doing so, it will bring prosperity to their house Govardhan Puja, involves creating goverdan mountains out of cow dung and worshipping it with tika, garlands, incense sticks and tasty delicacies. This celebration is connected to the time when Lord Krishna uplifted Goverdhan Hill to protect Vrindhavan village from pouring rain. Every year, Goverdhan Puja is celebrated on the fourth day of Tihar to commemorate the notion that God always look after us and take care in every hardships.
Mha Puja: Worshipping Self
Mha Puja is celebrated by the Newar people in Kathmandu. This is a puja where individuals worship themselves and pray for their health and prosperity. Making offerings to one’s body is referred to as Mha Puja in its literal sense. This celebration shows how we often tend to forget that there is a god within ourselves that needs attention and care. Mha puja depicts how we keep running after taking care of others and indicates that we should worship or take care of ourselves first and then only, we will be able to nurture others.
During Mha puja, people worship their bodies because they need them to survive, and they also pray for long lives so they may function normally in the physical world. Some contend, however, that it is a process of cleansing the body, mind, and soul in order to achieve enlightenment in opposition to ignorance and the horrors of the world. The Buddhist Newars consider the puja an auspicious start to the year since it coincides with the Newari New Year. The Nepal Sambat Calendar, the country’s official lunar calendar, also starts on this day.
Most often performed in the afternoon or evening, Mha puja of Aagandya (the family goddess) and Taleju Bhawani, is performed at three palaces in Khwopa (Bhaktapur), Yen (Kathmandu), and Yala (Patan) to ensure that the top Newar priest has already finished it before the people execute it. Public access is not permitted to the Mha puja performed by the high priests. According to legend, during the reign of the Newar Kings, the Tantric priests, the monarch, and a selected group of high-ranking Newars were all able to converse with the Goddesses and assisted in the Mha Puja ritual. Usually, the dining room floor is where the standard Mha puja is done. The steps may differ from person to person, but the essential components remain the same.
The five most important components of Mha puja are the Mandala, Itaa (hand-woven cotton strands soaked in oil), Sagan, flowers, and sweets. For the Mha Puja, there are essentially eight separate Sagans: Manda or Mandala, Itaa, fruits, Jajanka (holy thread), Mari (sweets), Dhau (yogurt), Tika, and Khen Sagun.
Furthermore, just like girls play Bhailo at night on the evening of Laxmi Puja, boys come together to play Deusi by going door to door in the community on the fourth day. A boy often repeats a tale about the Tihar celebration while being accompanied by a chorus of other individuals. They spend the entire night visiting every home in the neighborhood to collect money, which they either divide among themselves or use for social welfare.
Bhai Tika, the festival’s fifth and final day. This day is the festival’s most anticipated and significant day. The word “bhai” in this context refers to a brother. The sister applies a tika to the brother’s forehead while praying to Yama, the God of Death, for the success, expansion, and longevity of the brother’s health and age. The sister hopes that Yama will also allow the brother to stay by her side, rather than going to join him in the afterlife.
The sister delivers the brothers’ gifts after Tika, which include roti, fruits, candy, etc. In return, the brother applies tikas to the forehead of his sister and gives her the present, which might be goods or a substantial quantity of money.
The last day is celebrated by singing, playing cards, participating in deusi, and lighting up the night sky.
Rani Pokhari Temple and Tihar
Rani Pokhari Temple is the only temple in the country that opens for celebration once a year on Bhai Tika, This celebrations typically take place at Rani Pokhari Temple for those without brothers or sisters. In order to bond as siblings and celebrate this beautiful festival, individuals gather at the temple to seek out their brother or sister and celebrate Bhai Tika by worshipping each other with tika and garlands.
In recent years, the tendency of siblings (of same sex) to put Bhai Tika on each other’s heads has increased. In order to avoid keeping empty foreheads during Bhai Tika and to celebrate sibling bonding, same-sex siblings worship each other.
How is the Tihar Festival observed in Nepal?
During Tihar, there are a few customary celebrations that people engage in. Following is a list of the things Tihar is renowned for.
Lights, lights, and more lights: Tihar is the festival of light. There is nothing such as too many light decorations during Tihar, when every house is decorated with mud lamps, “diyo,” and electric lights.
Flowers and flowers everywhere: Tihar can also be called the festival of flowers. From garlands to decorating windows, doors, and gates of homes, offices, factories, and many more, without flowers, Tihar becomes insignificant.
Programs for Deusi Bhailo: Deusi Bhailo is a cultural entertainment event that is observed by a group of individuals who sing a song, dance, and go door to door to ask for presents and money. Individuals wear cultural attire and perform songs; they receive money and food from their neighbors and bestow blessings upon the givers in return.
People burn firecrackers in their homes to welcome the goddess Laxmi. Though this was not a custom in the past, in recent years, the burning of firecrackers has become a way of Tihar celebration
How did Deusi Bhailyo start?
It is said that the deusi and bhailo traditions originated during the reign of Lord Krishna. The triumph over Lord Indra, the rain deity, is celebrated with the dance known as Deusi Bhailo.
As per folklore, once upon a time, the majority of the populace quit worshiping Indra and accepted whatever Lord Krishna used to speak. As a result of this, Indra became jealous, and enraged and destroyed all of the people’s farms and crops. Indra was challenged by the population after they rose up in revolt, stood tall, and lifted the mountain. People’s cooperation forced Indra to give up. The crowd danced and sang as they celebrated their triumph. Later on, this culture of singing and dancing were named as Deusi and bhailo.
Tihar 2022 Details | Important Dates and Bhai Tika Sait/Sahit
- Saturday, October 22- Yamadeepadan (in the evening), Dhanatrayodashi (Dhanateras)
- Sunday, October 23- Kaag Tihar, Yamapanchak starts, Dhanawantari Jayanti
- Monday, October 24- Kukur Tihar, Narak Chaturdashi, Narak Snan, Lakhsmi Puja (in the evening)
- Tuesday, October 25- Gai Tihar, Solar Eclipse, DarshaShradda
- Wednesday, October 26- Goru Puja, Hali Tihar, Gobarddhan Puja, Bali Puja, Mha Puja, Nepal Sambat 1143 starts
- Thursday, October 27- Bhai Tika (Best Sait/Sahit is at 11:37 am in Nepal.), Kija Puja