The Nepali festival Tihar is also known as Dipawali, Bhai Tika, Laxmi Puja or as the festival of lights. It is a five day festival, which comes soon after the Dashain Festival. Tihar is all about:
- worshiping different animals: crow, dog, cow;
- worshiping Hindu Goddess of Fortune or Wealth Laxmi;
- cooking great meals at home;
- brothers and sisters shopping for gifts;
- flying kites;
- decorating homes and streets;
- playing cards with friends;
- resting and relaxing;
- and finally ending the festival with an exchange of a special temporary mark on the forehead (tika).
The last day of the festival is known as Tika day or popularly known as Bhai Tika day (Bhai in Nepali means Brother). Tihar is the festival for brothers and sisters wishing each other a long and happy life. But what if you don’t have a brother or sister? Well, you can choose one from your close friends. Whomever you choose will remain so for life. So choose wisely. Your bond will becoming stronger every year, specially at Tihar. It is the most popular festival in Nepal. So hold on to your topi (hat), loads of excitement and fun are coming at you.
1st day of Tihar: Crows – Early in the morning of the first day of Tihar, families prepare a good meal. Each member of the family takes the first portion of the meal outside on a platter. The crows come down in large numbers and eat the food on offer. Crows (Kag in Nepali) are considered as the messengers of the Lord of Death, Yama. There is a popular Nepali superstition about crows: When the crows caw, sadness is coming. On this day crows are worshiped and are kept happy. Where there are no crows, any other winged bird will do. So Tihar is also about appreciating animals around us.
2nd day of Tihar: Dogs – On this day kukur (dogs) are adorned with flower garland around their necks, red tika on their forehead and are offered great meals. They are the king of the day. On this day, people pray to the kukur to guard their homes. Call someone kukur and he/she will bash you instantly. All dogs, even the stray and the most unsightly ones will be treated like a king for the day. Tihar is also about breaking the boundaries only men created. The Good, the bad and the ugly are all the same to mother nature. In Hinduism it is believed that dogs guard the underworld empire just like they do our everyday homes.
3d day of Tihar: Cows – This day is about worshiping the mother of the universe: cow. According to Hinduism, the human infant is fed breast milk by its human mother for under three years. After weaning, the cow acts as the surrogate mother providing milk for the rest of the human life: through childhood, adult age and old age. Cows are the mothers of the universe, the sacred animal. The cow puja is performed by giving a tika to a cow on her forehead, and a flower garland on the neck, and offering good meals. Those performing Cow puja place her manure in different parts of the home, drink a drop or two of the cow’s urine, as a part of a purification process. Also dip a blade of grass into the urine and lightly sprinkle it on each other’s body to become closer to the mother of the universe: cow.
Evening of the 3d day of Tihar Laxmi Goddess Tihar and Laxmi Puja – One of the most important days of the festival is Laxmi Puja. The Goddess of wealth (Laxmi) is worshiped in every household in Nepal by means of Puja, decoration, candle lights and oil lamps. In this 3rd day of the Tihar Festival, the entire nation becomes an illumination of lights. Pictures and icons of Laxmi Devi (Goddess) are placed and worshiped in a Puja room (or a place in a living room or a dedicated room for worshiping Gods). Puja is performed using flowers, incense, oil lamps, colour-powders bells and money (both notes and coins). Laxmi puja is performed at dusk using red mud. Puja is often done by a female in the family. She uses her hand covered with red mud to make a symbolic foot-print on the floor entering the home and makes a trail leading to the Puja room.
Laxmi puja is not only for households but is equally done by companies. Business-Laxmi-Puja is done exactly the same way as is done in homes. Usually the company’s cashier performs the puja during which time the entire office including office compounds are lit with various lights including electrical, candle lights and oil lamps and usually staff is invited to participate in the puja procession.
The evening of Laxmi Puja Day is made spectacular not only by lights but also by echoes of a special song known as Bhailo or Bhailini that’s played only on this day. A group of girls get together and sing Bhailo door to door, giving blessings to the family in return for money or homemade treats.
4th day of Tihar: Deusi Songs – Male members sing what is called Deusi or Deusuray in Nepali. You can write just about any Deusi song as long as each line ends with the word `Deusi’ or `Deosuray’. A group of males get together, carry whatever musical instruments they have or can play and sing Deusi songs door to door blessing the home and family in return for money and/or refreshments. Teenagers perform various Deusi songs to collect money for their picnic. Some may play to collect money to build a new trail in a far away village in Nepal.
During the Tihar festival the only kind of songs you are most likely to hear from local Radio stations are nothing but Tihar Songs, Bhailo, Deusi and folk songs about sisters or brothers unable to see each other during the festival due to various reasons. A poor sister, now a daughter-in-law may not get even a day’s break to visit her brother on this special day, and she might sing a song to make your tears flow.
4th day of Tihar: Myself – The fourth day of the Tihar is also about worshiping yourself. This puja (worshiping) is known as Mahapuja. This is also the first day of the special annual calendar of an ethnic group known as Newar residing in Nepal. The coming of a new year is also celebrated in Tihar. Also a popular ritual of the day is the Govardhan puja or Guru Tihar (Oxen Worshiping). Oxen are worshiped on this day as they till lands and help grow crops to sustain life.
5th and final day of Tihar: Tika – On the final day also known as Bhai Tika Day sisters give tika (a coloured powder placed on once’s forehead) and mala (a necklace of flowers or also known as flower leis, similar to that’s used elsewhere like in Hawaii) to brothers along with wishes for long life and prosperity.
To sisters, Tihar is also the time to re-call their continued wish for a long and a happy life for their brothers. Brothers sit on the floor while sisters perform their puja. Puja involves following a traditional ritual in which sisters circle brothers three times dripping oil on the floor from a copper pitcher. Afterwards, sisters put oil in brother’s ears and hairs, then give Tika. Also breaking of walnuts by sisters prior to giving Tika to brothers is also a common practice.
Tika starts with placing a banana leave already cut into a line shape placed on brothers forehead held by one of the sisters hand. Then applying tika base (made from rice paste) in the open space. Then a sister dabs seven colours on top of the base using her fingers. Some may give tika with the help of a small stick or a brush without the using banana leaves. After tika, a flower garland is put around brother’s neck. Then brothers give tika to sisters in the same fashion. Sisters also receive flower garlands around their neck.
Brothers give gifts such as clothes or money to sisters while sisters give a special gift known as Sagun (which is made of dried fruits and nuts, and candies), and a fantastic Tihar feast takes place. Those without a sister or brother, join relatives or friends for tika.