Ask any Nepali what their favorite festival is, and chances are that most of them will say, Tihar. Also known as Deepawali (festival of lights), it’s a really fun festival lasting five days, during whichtime, dogs, crows, cows, Goddess Laxmi (goddess of wealth), oxens, and brothers are worshipped on different days. And, yes, in the order mentioned above.
November 9, the first day of Tihar, is known as Kag (Crow) Tihar. Now, if you are wondering why crows, of all birds, should be so honored, know that they are the messengers of Lord Yamaraj, the god of death. So, people try and ensure that these deadly messengers don’t carry the wrong message to their master, by feeding them delicious tidbits on at least one day of the year. A plate full of such delicacies is kept outside in the courtyard or the terrace of every Hindu household.
November 10 is Kukur (Dog) Tihar. Dogs get their deserved due on this day, and you’ll see all sorts of dogs, even some of the X-breeds on the streets, with a garland of marigold around their necks, and with bright red tikas on their furry heads. They are treated to teeth gnashing, lip smacking morsels especially prepared for them. Most people feed them a couple of boiled eggs along with other delicacies. Now, you might be thinking that it’s a day to show one’s gratitude towards dogs for being such loyal friends, but there’s more to it than that. Dogs are believed to guard the gates to the netherworld, and their master is yes, the lord of death, Yamaraj himself! So, it’s a good idea to ingratiate oneself with animals so well connected with death. Everybody dies. Remember?
November 11 is Gai (Cow) Tihar. The cow, a most sacred animal for Hindus, has always been the national animal of Nepal (a Hindu kingdom for ages), yet, there were some who believed that this would change in the newly promulgated constitution of the now secular Nepal. However, it has retained its honored position as the nation’s national animal, and so you can imagine that Gai Tihar is a very important day. The cow is a fantastic animal, giver of so many provisions, from nourishing milk to holy manure to soul purifying urine.
November 11 is also Laxmi Puja, simply the most important day in the lives of all Hindus, for this is the when you get to invite the goddess of wealth, Laxmi, into your humble, or not-so-humble, abode. This is the day when villages and towns and cities twinkle and sparkle with brightly colored lights, and all houses are decorated with strands of marigold garlands over doorways, windows, etc. In the golden days of simpler times, people illuminated their houses with rows and rows of diyos (small earthen vessels with cotton wicks dipped in oil), and it was a tremendously satisfying sight to behold. Nowadays, most houses are illuminated with twinkling strands of electric lights. Still, that is not to say that diyos are not used, they are, but to a lesser degree. Oil has become pretty expensive, don’t you know?
Anyway, the main thing to know is that all homes undergo a thorough cleaning, new curtains are put up, as are new bedsheets, and so forth, and those who can, have their houses repainted. The purpose of all this hard work is to make sure that Goddess Laxmi finds your home up to her standards to pay a visit. To double make sure, she is worshipped with much pomp and fanfare in the evening, with lots of sweetmeats and cash offerings. A female member of the household dips her hands in red mud and imprints them in front of the main doorway, making a trail leading to the puja room. People are expected to try out their luck on this day, and so there’s a fair bit of gambling in many homes, with card games like flush, paplu, and marriage being the favored card games.
November 12 is Goru (Oxen) Tihar, also known as Govardhan (literally, cowdung wealth) Puja. Cow dung has many significant uses: as manure, fuel, and biogas, and for cleansing the courtyards and other surroundings of houses, and plastering mud walls of village houses, etc.
November 13 is Bhai (Brother) Tika, a day when brothers are invited to their sisters’ homes to be worshipped. The symbolism is clear: brothers are supposed to be their sisters’ protectors, and they are therefore duly appreciated for this on Bhai Tika. This day is the last day of Tihar, so everybody takes it a bit easy. The puja of the brother is a long drawn out affair, with a lot of merrymaking. Lots of foodstuffs are offered to the brother, plenty of fruits and dry fruits, sweetmeats, homemade traditional bread (sel roti) and other sweets, fried fish and meat, yogurt, alcohol, etc. The sister gets cash or other gifts in return.
There are other asides of this fun festival, with song and dance being the highlights. Girls go to homes in their neighborhood in groups, and dance to the singing of songs known as bhailo. Boys, similarly, go around singing songs known as deusi while some of them dance. They receive cash and foodstuff for their efforts. Another highlight is the setting off of firecrackers on Laxmi Puja day; literally, millions of rupees go up in fire, smoke, and thunder on this day! Dancing, singing, gambling, feasting, firecrackers…indeed, there’s a lot of reasons why Tihar is the most popular festival of Nepal.