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Tihar - The Nepali Festival of Lights

The practice of age-old rituals and customs in Nepal is best reflected during the 'Tihar' festival, which is the most anticipated & popular celebrations of the locals. The Goddess of Wealth and Death along with dog, cows, and crows are worshipped and honoured during this five-day long colourful extravaganza. Also known as "Yampanchak", this festival is comparable to Diwali, the Hindu "festival of lights" with Nepalese homes are decked up with lights of various colours, and traditional clay oil lamps are also lit during the celebration period. 

Tihar Nepal Dates

The timing of the auspicious festival is based around the new moon of the Karthik Month and extends two days prior and after the event. Annually varying, it can be celebrated either in October or November according to the Western Calendar.

Dates: 25th to 29th October 2019.

Where to Celebrate Tihar?

Lit up Kathmandu Valley
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Celebrations of Tihar can be found all across Nepal. You can also find some essence of Tihar in the Indian states of Assam, Sikkim, and Darjeeling. However, if you are interested in experiencing the lesser-known rituals, attend the festivities of smaller villages.

Kathmandu
If you wish to have a completely authentic experience of the complete with worshipping the Gods and goddesses, witnessing the bright lit lights and all the other customs, Kathmandu would be a great choice.

What is the Tihar Festival?

Tihar Festival
Decorated stalls and stores during Tihar
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The Tihar Festival is held to honour and thank the contributions of the Gods, animals and the people and reminds one of the surroundings and all its beings that enrich our lives.

Customs in Tihar
During Tihar, the towns and villages are all illuminated with dazzling lights and diyas while patterns are drawn with flower petals and coloured rice to welcome happiness and the Goddess of wealth.

Why is it The Best Time to Travel to Nepal
With a pleasant surrounding, it makes for a perfect time for travellers who have an interest in knowing more about the religious beliefs of the people of Nepal to join in.

Popular Beliefs
According to popular legend, the festival is believed to have originated from the story of the God of Death, Yama and his sister, Yamuna.

Traditions and Rituals of the Festival

Each day of the festival has a story of its own with different rituals and traditions:

Day 1: Kaag Tihar - Crow Worship

Crow worship
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On the first day of the festival, Hindus feed and worship crows. People offer rice to the crows who are regarded as the messenger of death. The crows are said to be occupied all year round and only have the day of the Tihar Festival to rest.
Beliefs
It is believed that if the crows aren't happy, they will be the bearer of bad news and hence could bring upon misfortune in the forthcoming year.

Day 2: Kukur Tihar - Worship and Gratitude Towards Dogs

Dogs revered during Tihar
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The second day of the festival is the “Day of the Dogs”. On this day, Nepalis honour and thank dogs who are believed to assure safe journey of the departed souls to heaven.
Customs
Hindus honour dogs with calendula garlands and Tika and then feed them a delectable spread of food. Nepalese policemen can be seen applying red tika on patrol dog foreheads and presenting garlands to thank them for their faithful service.
Beliefs
In Nepal, dogs are considered to be the messengers of Yamraj, the god of death. Dogs play the crucial role of being the gatekeepers of death. It is said that the dogs lead the souls of the dead people in the underworld across the river of death. 

Day 3: Laxmi Puja and Gai Tihar - Worshipping Goddess Lakshmi and Cow Worship

Honouring the cow during Tihar
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Customs
On the third day of the festival, you would witness Nepalese worshipping cows, bathings and applying the red Tika on their forehead. The cows are further decorated with beautiful wreaths around their necks, and holy strings tied to their tails by the priest.
Beliefs
Cows are considered sacred and symbolise motherhood and wealth.

Lakshmi Puja
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On this day Goddess Laxmi is also worshipped, and people wake up early to clean their houses thoroughly and prepare for the necessities. As the sun sets, oil lamps, candles, and brightly illuminating lights are lit.

Customs
Nepalese kids make small groups to visit their neighbours and sing traditional Deusi or Bhailo songs to seek the blessings of the elders. In return, homeowners give the children sweets, money and fruits.

Beliefs
People try to make their homes as pleasing as they can to ensure that Goddess Laxmi can find her way to their homes.

Day 4: Goru Puja, Maha Puja, and Govardhan Puja - Elders, Self and Cow Dung Worship

Govardhan rituals during Tihar
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People honour different things on this day of the Tihar Festival depending on their cultural background. A majority of the people can be seen worshipping the Oxen as it is considered as a farmer’s indispensable helper. In addition to all this, the Newari community celebrates the beginning of a New Year on this day and performs the Maha Puja to worship themselves. After the grand feast, the family members take turns to offer prayers to the death of Yama Panchak and then later exchange gifts to hope for good luck in the upcoming year.

Customs
The eldest male member of the family draws two geometric figures where one is painted to seek blessings for the entire family, and the other is dedicated to Yama’s death and his messenger. All the members then enjoy a beautiful spread of delicious food that includes fried fish, boiled eggs, delectable desserts and more. 

Beliefs
Cow dung is revered for the Govardhan Puja as a representative of the Govardhan Mountain.

Tihar Festival
Tihar rituals 
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Day 5: Bhai Tika - Prayer Day for Brothers

Tihar Festival
Tika being applied to one of the brothers
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On the last of the Tihar Festival, siblings gather together, and sisters pray for the long life of their brothers. 
Customs
Colourful tikas are smeared on their brothers’ forehead, and garlands are placed around their necks. Sisters offer fruits, sweets, and gift items to their brothers who in return, give money and gifts. The brothers too follow the same ritual, and the celebration is known to enhance the bond shared by brothers and sisters.
Beliefs
The tradition is based on the tale of a Hindu Goddess who performed the same for her brother. Sisters also worship Yamraj, the God of death on this day to lengthen their brothers’ life span.

Discover Nepal Through Tihar

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People visiting Nepal at the time of the Tihar Festival can also take part in the below-mentioned activities:

1. Pay a visit to the Rani Pokhari Temple

The temple remains closed all year round to the public except on the fifth day of the auspicious festival of Tihar. Situated in downtown Kathmandu, the temple is set amid an artificial pond. The pristine white structure, white-elephant carvings, the single dome and more are indeed a spectacular sight.

2. Take part in Kathmandu’s Grand Tihar Festival
Being in Kathmandu during the Tihar Festival would give you the chance to witness the beauty and true essence of the occasion. The streets are lit with beautiful lights during the night, and there are numerous cultural and religious celebrations to attend. If you have the chance, visit the festivals in smaller villages which are unique and rather impressive.

3. Tour Thamel
Tour Thamel is Kathmandu’s popular tourist neighbourhood known for its narrow streets and pleasing aesthetic. Take a rickshaw or travel on foot to experience the beauty of several quaint little stores. As most tourists would mainly be interested in being a part of the festivities, you would have the chance to explore the market or eat at restaurants that serve traditional Nepalese cuisine.

Tips for the Best Tihar Festival Experience

  • The streets can get a bit crowded especially with locals purchasing new things for their homes and tourists wandering about exploring the local markets
  • Book hotels in advance to ensure rooms during this period of crowded tourism.
  • Be respectful of the Nepalese traditions and customs as it is a very auspicious time of the year.
Tihar Festival
Kathmandu Valley During Tihar
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If you are planning to visit Nepal during October or November, make sure you attend the celebrations of the Tihar Festival. Locals are thrilled and welcome tourists open-heartedly to join in the festivities.

This post was published by Rachana Jain