It is very interesting to see how one festival is celebrated differently in various countries. I have grown up celebrating Diwali, the festival of lights, in India. This year I had a chance to experience Diwali, Tihar as they call it, in Nepal. Both nations share a parallel mythological history, but the festival is observed in a very dissimilar manner.
Tihar, also being a five day festival, is about showing reverence not only to the Gods, but also to humans, animals and in some communities to themselves. One of the Nepalese women I met told me, “Tihar is the festival of siblings in Nepal.” The fifth day of the celebration is Bhai Tika, which is considered to be the most important of all, for the Nepalese. From my observation, Tihar is a festival of worshiping the Gods, animals like crows, dogs and cows for the relation they share with the humans, honouring the siblings and in the Newari community, worshipping the self.
The festival commences with ‘Kaag Tihar’, where people start their day by offering food to the crows. Nepalese believe that the cawing of the crow brings misfortune, so they begin the festival by keeping the crows content. Nepalese, being extremely dog friendly people, acknowledge their loyalty by worshipping them on the second day of Tihar festival. On the day of ‘Kukur Tihar’ you will see dogs running around the streets wearing garlands and a red tika on their foreheads. This day was the most interesting of the five to me. Not only the pets, but every dog on the street seemed happy and satisfied. I was very touched by the fact that the dogs are worshipped not because of any mythological or superstitious reason but because of their faithful attribute. Wish I can go back and introduce this particular custom in India as well.
Similar to kukur, the cows are worshipped on the following day of ‘Gai Tihar’. Cows, as most people know are sacred animals for the Hindus, are also prayed to on daily basis and you can find several idols of cows in Hindu temples as well. This is also the day of ‘Laxmi Puja’, where Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth is worshipped not only in every household but also in work places. Laxmi Puja is a common ritual shared by both countries. On this day, people light candles and diya’s (oil lamps) outside their houses in both these countries. Although most people in India, now light up electric lamps and very just few diya’s by their doorsteps. While in the Kathmandu valley, most people light up their houses with the diya’s, which appears more beautiful and traditional. Many people in Nepal, now also draw beautiful rangoli’s at their entrance, which I have been told has been influenced from the Indian tradition. Something very interesting that I observed on this third night of Tihar festival was girls dressed up in traditional Nepalese attires and singing and dancing on the streets. Later I learnt that this particular ritual is called “Bhailo”.
After Bhailo, the next day I heard several groups of boys going around the streets and singing a Nepalese song with every line ending in ‘Devsiray’. It is very catchy and even though you may not understand the rest of the song, you might end up humming ‘Devsiray’ along with the group. On this day, the people of Newari community also perform ‘Mha: Puja’, where they worship themselves.
The fifth day, which I was told, is the most important of all, is the day of ‘Bhai Tika’. This is the day of the siblings. The brothers are invited to the sister’s house, where the sisters perform a ritual and pray for a happy and long healthy life for their brothers. The sisters commence the puja by drawing a circle around the brothers three times by dripping oil on the floor from a copper jug. The brothers are seated on the floor while the sisters do their puja. Both the siblings put the tika on each other’s forehead. I was fascinated by the way they put the tika. They draw a long yellow line with a stick as a base and put dots of seven colours on the top of the base.
The sisters then put a garland around their brother’s neck and present them with a huge plate of gifts, fruits and some money to gamble with their friends along with some deep fried fish and sweets. In return the brother gives the sister a big envelope filled with lots of money.
While the elders perform this puja very seriously, the younger siblings make it more fun and tease each other. This day is called ‘Bhai Duj’ in india, but it holds a lot more importance in Nepal than in India.
With the end of Bhai Tika, ends the much awaited festival of Tihar.
Celebrating Tihar in Nepal was very special for me, as it is unlike how we celebrate Diwali in India. Tihar has been an exceptionally unique and interesting experience for me. I wouldn’t deny the fact that I missed the bursts and lights of the firecrackers and more importantly spending time with my family and friends, but I cherish this new enlightening experience.
Text & images: Mithila Jariwala