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Tihar / तिहार – Festival of Lights (Nepal) – guidebook

Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)

Tihar is one of the most important and the most interesting (from the tourists’ perspective) holidays in Nepal. Celebrations last for five days, starting from the thirteenth day of the decreasing of the month Kau lā (कौला), which in 2011 according to the Gregorian calendar falls on the 24th of October. Sometimes it is also called the Feast of Lights, because all the towns and villages coruscate with the lights from oil lamps. It is also known as Panchak Yama which means “five days of Yama” – the master of the underworld. In spite of what the last name may suggest, it's a very joyous celebration honoring the life and well-being, a holiday dedicated to the goddess Lakshmi, the brotherhood, the dogs, the sacred cows and ravens. In those days the houses are decorated with garlands of flowers, olive lamps, candles and colorful light bulbs, and at night the whole town is beautifully lighted up by millions of little lights.

I read somewhere a legend, according to which a long, long time ago, there was a king to whom an astrologer predicted that the death will soon come for him. But the king did not want to die, so he asked the astrologer if there is any way to move this unpleasant moment in time. The astrologer told him to sleep surrounded by the light of oil lamps, which are set around the bed, and to honor the goddess Lakshmi; he also had to decorated his whole palace, especially the windows and doors. At the end, the snake brought the king in front of the Yama, and he opened his book, in which next to the name of King was written number “0”, which is the number of years of life which remained to him. Then the snake quickly added before the zero number “7” so that the king could live for a next 70 years. In this context, burning oil lamps seems to prolong life, so the Nepalese may light them up in their homes during these days hoping that the snake will also add for them something in the book of Yama.

ATTENTION! Everyone who visited Nepal or is planning to go there soon is kindly invited to contribute to this guide. Any inquires regarding this matter should be referred to the editor's address redakcja@libertas.pl.

Kag Tihar / Kag Puja

The first day of holiday is called Kag Tihar or Kag Puja and it is dedicated to the raven (kag) – the messenger of Death. There is a superstition in Nepal that when a raven caws, the sadness will come, so the croaking is a symbol of something nasty, sorrow and death, so you should take care of a good relationship with these birds and give them honors to avoid sorrow and pain. In the morning the families prepare the meal, but before they will sit at the table, as a form of sacrifice for the ravens, they put, on the plates made of leaves, a part of their own food. When the ravens are not around, other birds are fed this way.

Kukur Tihar / Kukur Puja

Tiharowy pies, Kathmandu (Nepal)

The second day is called Kukur Tihar or Kukur Puja and is dedicated to the dog. Two four-eyes dogs belong to Yama and they guard the door of his kingdom. The dog is also the steed of an awakening Bhajrawa’s fear. This is another powerful animal of which favor it is good to take care. So on that day, dogs are decorated with garlands made of flowers, gifted with the tika sign and fed with delicious food. In return, the Nepalese people ask the dog to guard their house and protect them from destruction as he guarded the gates of the kingdom of god Yama. In Kathmandu there are a lot of dogs running around, but during that day even the ugliest, most haggard and emaciated mutts are treated with respect, they are adorned and well fed.

Lakshmi Puja / Gai Puja

Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Durbar Square, Kathmandu (Nepal)

The third day, called Lakshmi Puja is the most important day of the celebration. In the morning, as the day before the dogs, today the cows are worshiped. Today they are the one who receive tika mark, they are decorated with garlands and well fed. The cows, like the goddess Lakshmi, are associated with the wealth among the Nepalese people, fore and foremost it is an animal sacred to Hindu.

Since the ancient times, a cow giving a milk was very valuable. Hindu apparently created themselves a philosophy to this, noting that the child in the first period of its life drinks mother’s milk, and then for the rest of its life the child drinks only a cow milk. In this way, the cow becomes for us something special, holy, the mother of the universe. It is so sacred that sometimes the dung is placed in different parts of the house, and her urine is used for various religious ceremonies of purification! I didn’t witnessed it, so I don't know how it technically looks the process of collecting cow’s urine or how much you need to drink. It is said that just a few drops are enough...

Bodnath, Kathmandu, (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Bodnath, Kathmandu, (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)
Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)

The singing and dancing can be seen all day, but the culmination of the celebration falls in the evening, when the goddess Lakshmi is worshiped, on whose arrival the Nepalese people are preparing during the coming few days, by sweeping the streets, cleaning their homes and decorating them with garlands. In front of the entrances to the houses and shops there are altars, light paths inviting Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, happiness and wisdom, to the houses. The goddess is said to be created from the ocean and carries inside her the whole wealth. Her stallion is the owl, which flies all over the world checking if the lady is duly honored.

Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)
Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)
Bodnath, Kathmandu, (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)

There is a special place prepared in front of the house. If I am correct, it is usually purified by using cow dung mixed with red clay, smearing something similar to a wheel, and sometimes the path leading to the house. In this building there is built the altar, lit on oil lamps or candles, people often heap on beautiful, colorful patterns, using flowers, and incense. We have seen on these minialtars the rice, bananas and other sacrificed food. From there leads a sort of path made of oil lamps to the most important room in the house where they kept the most valuable things (puja room). Apparently in every Nepalese man's home there is a mailbox in which there are stored things from generations and every year they add some money sacrificed to the goddess. Money is never used, except in the case of some sudden and very important needs. I read somewhere that the sacrifice is celebrated in the evening, but we also saw that Lakshmi’s altars were built during the day. Maybe every family has its own traditions and ways of celebrating Tihar and the rituals may vary.

Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)

Sacrifice is celebrated not only at homes but also in companies and stores. Unlike us, Nepalese during the major holidays do not close themselves at homes. Throughout the night the streets are full of life, boys and girls dance and sing tihar songs which dominate as well in the Nepali television during that day. They go from house to house, from store to store and collect money and other gifts in exchange for singing and dancing. Dominated by children, but we may also meet bands consisting of older people playing on anything. Everyone is smiling and the atmosphere is very nice, and it is said that the fun lasts all night. In any case, it still lasted, when we came back to the hotel.

Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)

Nepal Sambat, Lama Chopa, Govardhan Puja i Mha Puja

Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Dziewczyny na ulicznej dyskoteceTihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)

The fourth day is variously celebrated. It is said that the most popular is the celebration Lama Chop‘s ceremony or puja in honor of the ox, and the followers of Lord Krishna celebrate Govardhan pujas. If I understand correctly, they are building mounds of manure (sic!) and decorate and worship them.

According to the Newar’s lunar calendar called Nepal Sambat, which sets the rhythm of the religious life in the country, that day begins with the Nepalese New Year. On the first day of the month Kachha lā (कछला) year 1132 (the 27th of October 2011 according to the Gregorian calendar), Nepalese restored Nepal Sambat as the official calendar of Nepal, but earlier the day was celebrated reverently. The streets are crowded and the platforms, from which blaring loud music, are driving through the city. We accidentally find the street disco. The powerful columns mounted above the street attract from far distance. A girl with a microphone, acting as a DJ, is dancing along with the colorful crowd and encourages others to join in and the tourists play with the Nepalese.

The first day of the new year has a symbolic meaning, in a sense on that day we start everything all over again. Therefore, to ensure oneself the well-being of Newars celebrate Mha puja, a sacrifice for themselves. Mha means the body, but the role of the ritual is not only to cleanse the body but also the mind and speech. The body performs the commands of the mind and speech expresses its condition, that is why to achieve good, happy and harmonious life you must keep these three elements clean. This ritual also helps in understanding and respecting yourself, which is a condition to understand the others and to strengthen your spirit, a guardian angel, who everyone has to protect you from evil and helped throughout the year.

The ritual is celebrated usually in the evening. It starts with choosing the place where the whole family sits down. All sits in a row facing east or west, then they clean the floor in front of themselves with cow dung mixed with red clay. If they do not have a cow dung and clay, holy water can be used to purify the place. On the purified place, every member of the family creates their own mandala, which becomes a sort of gateway to your inside, spiritual sphere.

Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)życie w Kathmandu (Nepal)Durbar Square, Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)

Bhai Tika

Durbar Square, Patan (Nepal)Patan (Nepal)

Bhai tika is the fifth and the final day of Tihar. The name probably comes from the fact that on this day, sisters decorate their brothers’ foreheads (bhai) with a tika sign and hang on their necks necklaces of flowers (malla), thanking for security and wishing them a long life. Brothers in return give to the sisters small amounts of money. The day before Bhai tika the royal astrologer determines the appropriate moment. Traditionally, the ritual is proceeded in such way: brother sits on the floor, and sister goes around him three times, sprinkling the floor with an oil. Then she oils his ears and hair and with a colorful powder she makes a tika sign.

If someone does not have a sister or brother, he or she can “adopt” one. If this happens, these people become very close to each other, almost as if they were actually brother and sister and the bond that remains is for the rest of life, and with each passing year it becomes stronger.

Bhailini – Tihar songs

Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Bodnath, Kathmandu, (Nepal)

One of the Tihar’s characteristics are singing and dancing. Mainly children and young people do it, but we also saw adults playing instruments and dancing. Children go from house to house, from shop to shop, blessing them and wishing success in business to their owners, for which they get money and sweets. In these days special tihar songs are sung (called Bhailini), which we can hear not only in the streets but also on TV. Some sources say that they are sung only on the third day of Tihar, but it seems to me that we heard them later too.

There are two kinds of songs: Deusi – sung mostly by boys and Bhailo – sung mostly by girls. Deusi can be written by anyone, the only condition that has to be fulfill is that, each line must end with the word Deusuray. The boys go from house to house, playing on anything and singing. I do not think they are somehow pushy especially if the owner will suggest them to go away, they will go away.

When we were listening to children singing in front of shops, we could hear them singing “kasiurę!” and our thesis was confirmed, since then in most cases they got money for their singing (it sounds similar to the polish word kasiora which colloquially means money). Orthodox translators will probably argued that children do not sing at all “kasiurę” but “desiure” and the word has a different meaning, but we are not orthodox, indeed, we do not even know Nepali, so clearly we hear that it is about money! For those interested with this subject, I found song’s text sample:

Deusi Re (Deusuray)

Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)

Bhan Bhai Ho Mera Deusuray. (Tell that my brothers, say: Deusuray!) Sormelai Kana Deusuray. (Let’s say it louder and let’s say it together: Deusuray!) Rato Batoo Deusuray. (Red path. Deusuray!) Chiploa Batoo Desuray. (Slippery path. Deusuray!) Laddai Paddai Deusuray. (Slipping, gliding. Deusuray!) Akey Hami Deusuray. (To your home! Deusuray!) Yo Garma Laxmi Deusuray. (In this house Lady Lakshmi. Deusuray!) Sadthai Aun Deusuray. (Always will be. Deusuray!) Hamilai Denus Deusuray. (Give us what you got, money or food. Deusuray!) Bidtha Garnus Deusuray. (Please give and say goodbye, so we can sing for the next house! Deusuray!)


Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)Tihar w Kathmandu (Nepal)

Hario Gobar le lipeko (Jumping through the manure) gareko laxmi puja (worship goddess Lakshmi) hey aunsi Baroque church (on the day of the new moon) tiharo bhailo gai (cow, light and singing) aye hami tesai ayenau (did not come just like that) bali raja le pathayeka (we are sent by the king Bali) aye aunsi baro (on the day of the new moon) tiharo bhailo gai (cow, light and singing)

Tihar through the camera eye

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Witold Wieszczek
Translated by Magdalena Ziemska.
  1. Tihar is the equivalent of the Indian Diwali festival, whose name is an abbreviation of the word "Dipavali" (दीपावली) meaning the row of lights, path of lights.

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