Tihar is the second major festival celebrated in Nepal. It is celebrated throughout the country with lights and good food for all. It has many names like Dipawali (Festival of lights) or Panchak Yama (Five day of Lord Yama) and because many animals are worshiped during this festival, it is also known as festival of animals. Newars, an indigenous group of Nepal, call it Swonti.
Tihar is celebrated for five days. Depending on the cultural background, what is done each day and the rituals performed varies slightly from house to house. Because of this, it can also get a bit confusing as to what Tihar is really about. It is most likely about life and death than any other for it seems to celebrate life most lavishly and is mostly related to God of Death- Yama or Yamaraj.
The story goes that Yamaraj, being God of Death, was always busy. His twin sister Yamuna (Yami) did not get a chance to meet him for a long time. So she sent a crow to summon him. He did not come. She sent a dog then a cow but he still did not come. Therefore, she herself went to where lord Yama was and when they finally met, Yamuna performed a ritual by making a circle of oil around Yamaraj, by offering garland of Makhmali (Globe Amaranth) and putting Tika of five different colors in his forehead. Then, she told her brother that he could not leave until both the oil and the garland had dried. This, of course, was not happening anytime soon so they talked and laughed for a long, long time.
There are a few other stories associated with Tihar. They all talk about Yamaraj and escaping death.
Kag Tihar or Kag Puja is the first day of Tihar. Crows (Kag) are worshiped this day. Delicious foods are prepared and a little of each is left on the rooftop as offerings to crows. Crows are believed to be messengers of death. They are made happy this day so that they won’t bring message of sorrow to the family.
Kukur means dog. The second day of Tihar is for dogs who are not only guardians of our house but that of the underworld as well. Both pet and street dogs are given good foods to eat. They are worshiped by putting Tika and a garland. People who own dogs buy them new clothes or new beds as well.
Lakshmi Puja/ Saa Puja
This is the day of Yami’s third summoner- Cow (Saa). It is believed that upon our death, a cow leads us to afterlife. Those who own a cow, worship theirs by offering Tika, garland and tasty foods. In Hinduism, cows are also believed to be a form of Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and fortune, as they are givers of nurturing milk and dung used for various purpose. In the evening, goddess Lakshmi is worshiped. A mandala is made at the gate and a trail of red mud is drawn from it to the prayer room where various offerings are kept. This is to please the goddess so that she showers fortune upon the devotees in the coming year. All around, houses are decorated with numerous lamps or little lights and groups of girls go from house to house, singing a special song called Bhailini or Bhailo. The song wishes for the prosperity of those living in those houses. Girls are given money and sweets by the house owner in return.
Gobardhan Puja and Mha Puja
On the fourth day of Tihar, people worship ox and therefore it is also called Goru Puja. Ox is the vehicle of Yamaraj. Ox is worshiped just like other animals. Followers of Lord Krishna perform Gobardhan Puja. They make a little hillock out of cow dung to represent mount Gobardhan that Krishna lifted to save people from the wrath of God Indra and worship it. Newars, on the other hand, perform Mha Puja (Body Worshiping). The members of the family line up from old to young. They do certain rituals to worship their self and pray for the wellbeing of their body and soul. This day also marks New Year for the Newars according to Nepal Sambat.
This day, groups of boys go around playing Deusi. They sing deusi songs to wish the families and get money and sweets in return.
Bhai Tika is the day for brothers and sisters. Depending on the cultural background, brothers either visit or are visited by their sisters. Sisters put Tika of seven different colors in their brothers’ forehead, to wish them long life. They cook delicious food and pack different spices and sweets to gift their brothers. In return, brothers give some gift or money to their sisters. This is the last day of Tihar. Again, rituals vary slightly. This was the day Yami finally met Yama.
Though Tihar is celebrated for five days, Tihar holiday begins only on the third day. People enjoy by lightning fireworks or playing cards, gambling is allowed during the festival of Dashain and Tihar, and other fun activities.