Nepal is full of rich cultural history that manifests into celebrations that we cherish with family and friends. One of the largest festivals celebrated in Nepal is Tihar (also known as Deepawali, or the festival of lights). The five-day Hindu celebration in November is held to give thanks to the contributions of the gods, people and animals; it’s slotted time for us to be reminded of the community that adds richness in our lives. During Tihar, the towns are illuminated with lit diyas and homes are decorated with patterns of colored rice and flower petals as a sacred welcoming – this makes it one of the most beautiful times for travelers to visit and join in the celebrations with us.
The festival is said to have originated from the famous story of Yama, the god of death, and his sister Yamuna. Each day of Tihar represents an aspect of the story with its own rituals:
The first day of Tihar worships the crows and ravens; dishes of food and sweets are placed on the roof of houses as offerings to the birds. It is believed that ravens and crows symbolize grief as messengers of death. The offerings are given to avert sadness and bring good luck to the family.
Perhaps the most heart-warming day of Tihar is one that honors the sacred relationship between humans and their canine companions. Dogs are offered garlands of marigolds, fed delicious food and given tika as a sign of respect.
Dogs play a special role in Hindu mythology; in Mahabharata, one of the major Sanskrit epics, Lord Shiva manifests as Bhairava – a form of a dog used as vahana or vehicle. To add to the canine’s significance, they also appear as the guards of Yama that watch over the gates of Naraka.
From the third day onwards, Tihar is celebrated with light and fireworks in conjunction with traditional songs and dance performed by children and teens as they give blessings of prosperity.
In Hinduism, cows are symbols of health and prosperity and on the morning of day three, Gai Tihar honors the cows with prayers and flower garlands. In the evening, the goddess of wealth Laxmi is thanked for the fortune she’s bestowed on families by the lighting of diyas, music and dance.
The fourth day arrives and brings with it the beginning of the new Nepal Sambat calendar with different types of worship depending on cultural background. The most common puja (or worship) is to give homage the oxen by feeding them a various array of foods.
The final day is all about sibling appreciation. Sisters provide their brothers with tika to bless longevity in life and give thanks for the companionship they provide; siblings exchange gifts, sweets and spend time together with family. Most that celebrate Tihar agree that the fifth day is considered the most important as its purpose is to strengthen the relationship between brothers and sisters.
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