Diwali in Nepal - Celebration of the Gods, Mother Nature and Oneself

Diwali in Nepal better known as Tihar is the 2nd most celebrated festival in Nepal after Dashain (Dussehra). In this festival, people not only celebrate the Gods but the animals and birds which share a close relationship with them. It is known by different names at different places but the soul of the festival remains the same.

When is Diwali in Nepal Celebrated?

In Nepal, Diwali is celebrated on the night of the New moon in the month of Kartik according to the Hindu calendar. The entire festival stretches from two days prior to Tihar till two days post-Tihar, making it a five-day grand celebration. The whole country observes a long week holiday during this festival. As per the English calendar, Tihar is observed in the month of late October to starting of the November month.

This year in 2019, Diwali in Nepal will be celebrated on 27th October.

How is Diwali in Nepal Celebrated?

Diwali in Nepal, also called ‘Deepawali’ is more commonly known as ‘Tihar’ among the locals. There are various other names like ‘Yamapanchak’ or ‘Swanti’. ‘Yamapanchak’ translates to the five days of Lord Yama, the God of Death. During this period, people pray to Lord Yama to appease him so that he may judge their virtues and vices fairly after their demise and leads their souls to heaven.

The Nepalese people not only praise Gods and Deities like Shri Laxmi, Lord Yama, Govardhan Mountain, etc. but also honour and worship animals like crows, dogs, cows and oxen with the belief that it will bring happiness, success and good fortune in their lives. These animals are considered as divine gifts from mother nature by the people, and the relationship that they share with them is considered sacred.

The celebration starts almost a month ago when people start cleaning their homes, discarding all the unwanted and broken things and purchasing new clothes. Every family purchases items like clay lamps, rangoli colours and electric lights to decorate their houses with. Also, a variety of delicious snacks and sweets for the occasion.

Diwali in Nepal is celebrated in the whole of Nepal by the Hindus and Buddhists. However, few of the ceremonies that are of the Hindu mythological origin are omitted by the Buddhist people.

Legends of Tihar - Diwali in Nepal

There are many tales about the origins of Tihar. The most popular of them all is the story of Lord Yama, the God of Death and his sister Yamuna.

Lord Yama, the Hindu god of death, is believed to be the one who judges the souls of people after their death. He is the one who decides whether to send their souls to hell or heaven. Once, he was supposed to meet his sister, Yamuna. But he was unable to as he was busy with his work. On the other hand, Yamuna was eagerly waiting to meet her brother. So she sent messages to him, inviting him to come and meet her. As the legend goes, she sent a crow, a dog and then a cow as the messenger. But even then, Lord Yama did not come to see her. Finally, she had decided to go herself and meet him. This day is observed as the day of Bhai ‘Tika’, the 5th day of Tihar. On this day, it is said that the Yamuna worshipped her brother and blessed him with good fortune. Hence, following the footsteps of Yamuna, the tradition of sisters paying respect to their brothers and praying for their well being was set.

Another story, telling the origins of the Govardhan Puja observed on the 4th Day of Tihar is about Lord Krishna. It is the story of when Gokul village was under the threat of flood and heavy rainfall after being cursed upon by Lord Indra, the God of Rain. To protect the people of his town, Krishna lifted the massive Govardhan Mountain on his tiny little finger and gave shelter to his town’s people and animals. As Govardhan Mountain saved the lives of people of Gokul, they offered a variety of food items to Govardhan Mountain and worshipped him for becoming their saviour.

The Five Day Celebration of Diwali in Nepal

The 5 days of the celebration involves the worshipping of 5 different deities for peace and prosperity. These days are observed as follows -

Day 1: Kag Tihar – Worshipping the Crow

Crows being fed with sweets, Diwali in Nepal

On the first day of Tihar, ‘Kag’ that is a crow, which is considered as the messenger of Yama is worshipped. People offer sweets and other delicacies on the roof tops of their houses or by sprinkling rice grains on the grounds. They feed the crows with the belief that crows will prevent any misfortunes in their family and will protect them from evil.

Day 2: Kukur Tihar – Worshipping the Dog

In Nepal, Dogs are considered as the guardians to the gates of heaven. They are worshipped for their love, protection and their loyalty towards people. People put ‘Tika’ (red/ white color mark) on their forehead, a garland of marigold flowers around their neck and offer them a grand feast for dinner.

Day 3: Gai Tihar – Worshipping the Cow

‘Gai’ or Cow is known as the symbol of prosperity. On the 3rd day of Tihar, Cows are worshipped and praised by putting a ‘tika’ on their forehead and a garland of marigold around their neck. The evening is when Diwali is celebrated. People worship Goddess Laxmi and welcome her by lighting oil lamps and lanterns all around the house. Colourful ‘Rangolis’ (freehand designs) are painted on the floor using sand colours, multi-coloured grains and flowers. People often paint red coloured footsteps on their home entrance. These footsteps represent the coming of Goddess Laxmi, who brings wealth and prosperity. On this occasion, groups of small children and young girls visit every house in their neighbourhood and dance and sing Tihar songs like Bhailo and Deusi and ask for tips like money, fruits or sweets. Younger ones seek blessings from the elders of the family.

Day 4: Goru Tihar – Worshipping the Trio - The Ox, Govardhan Mountain and Oneself

Day 4 observes three different worshippings or ‘Pujas’ throughout the day. Just as the crows, dogs and cows are worshipped, people on the 4th Day worship oxen which have proved to be a farmer’s best friend in this agricultural land of Nepal. Some Hindus worship the Govardhan Mountain by structuring a representative small mountain idol made of cow dung. This symbolizes the victory of Lord Krishna over Lord Indra. Hundreds of food items, known as ‘Annakut’ are offered to this deity. This day is marked as the new year of the Newar community and the beginning of the new ‘Nepal Sambat’ or the Nepali calendar.

In the evening, every home of Newari community performs the ‘Maha Puja’ which is aimed at worshipping self to purify one’s soul. The elder father of the family draws the traditional auspicious geometric designs and performs puja under the ‘Mandap’ decorated with marigold. The females of the house prepare a grand feast, known as ‘Shagun’. People enjoy various delicacies like fried eggs, fish, meat, sweet dishes, pastries and much more.

Day 5: Bhai Tika – Celebrating the Love of Brothers and Sisters in Nepal

Bhai Tika, Diwali in Nepal

For the protection of brothers from all evil and to pray for their long lives, Bhai Tika is celebrated. ‘Bhai’ in Nepal means brother. The sisters recite auspicious ‘mantras’ (chants), put a ‘tika’ (red colour mark) on their brother’s forehead and also exchange gifts with them. This day is celebrated in the glory of ‘Yamuna’, the sister of Lord Yama.

During this entire festival, every member of each household are involved in the preparations. Females and young girls of the house prepare various desserts and snacks and decorate the house with rangoli designs and lamps. The older men close their old accounts and start new ones for the new financial year. Gold or silver jewellery is gifted on the eve of Tihar to the beautiful wives by their husbands. Children take joy in bursting crackers. People wear new clothes, eat sweet delicacies like Rasbari, Anarasa, Gulab jamun and Kalakand and exchange gifts and greet each other with lots of good wishes.

Major Attractions During Celebrations of Diwali in Nepal

Celebrating Tihar in Nepal is not only limited to the religious traditional worships. Nepal has to offer many more joyful experiences that can be enjoyed only in the days of Tihar.

1. Grand Tihar Festival in Kathmandu

Enjoy the illuminating city with the lights of oil lamps and firecrackers in the heart of Nepal. Be it urban photography or embracing the festive mood, Kathmandu will provide everything in its grand Tihar festival. Get the memorable experience of witnessing all the puja or the ceremonial worships of 5 days in this festival. You can also get a hand on firing the crackers or decorating the houses with lamps and rangoli. Try out the authentic Nepali food in Tihar fest at Kathmandu. You can even participate in the dancing and singing ceremony of the Bhailo Tihar songs and receive blessing from elders. The best attraction in this fest is the heart banging parade crowded with beautiful ladies in their traditional Nepalese attire followed by men beating loud the drums and singing Tihar songs. Kids and young people perform many plays depicting the legends of Tihar and other ancient cultural folks. It is a delight to watch this colourful melodious scenario.

2. Rani Pokhari Temple

This temple is open to the public on the day of Bhai Tika, the 5th day of Tihar. In downtown Kathmandu, in the middle of an artificial 400 sq. meter pond lies the temple of one of the incarnations of Lord Shiva known as Matrikeshwar Mahadev. It is a delight to walk across the white bridge that leads to the temple premises. The magnificent view of the white elephant carvings on the side of the temple walls will steal your heart. If you are here then plan well in advance for the 5th day of Tihar and catch the glorious sunrise gliding over this white beauty in the midst of calming waters.

3. Tour Thamel

The crowded and busy shopping streets of Thamel in Kathmandu must be visited during the celebration Diwali in Nepal. Travelling on foot through the bustling market areas of Thamel is a surreal experience. One can find the streets lined with Nepali and Buddhist stores on both sides, famous for selling traditional items. Nepalese artefacts, dresses, idols of Lord Buddha, incense, tea and spices from local farms and much more can be found. During Tihar, it is common to spot the dance and music by bands of young girls and boys celebrating the festival at the peak of their joy and fun. Tour Thamel will prove to be the best tour to buy Nepali souvenirs and enjoying the delicious Nepali thalis with Daal, Bhat and Tarkari. Also, never forget to grab the mouth-watering momos of Nepal.

Nepal is known for her landscapes, and as a sanctum for spiritual discovery. But this country on the foothills of the Himalayas has a lot more to offer than picturesque views and adventurous expeditions. Diwali in Nepal is not just a festival of the gods and mother nature, but also a celebration of the people of Nepal. Planning a trip to Nepal during the festival of Tihar is highly recommended to experience the festival of lights in from a unique perspective.

This post was published by Monali Dholakia