Tihar Celebration: A Spotlight on its Cultural Significance & Traditions!

November 6, 2023 by No Comments

Tihar also known as Deepawali and Yamapanchak is one of the major festivals of Nepal. Tihar is celebrated for five days, especially with lights, colors, and flowers.

People celebrate the major five-day Hindu festival known as Tihar in Nepal and in some regions of India, including Sikkim, Darjeeling, and Kalimpong. These places are considerable Indian Gorkha communities. People also call this festival the “Festival of Lights”. Likewise, this festival has unique characteristics and traditions that make it unique.

Similar to Diwali, people mark Tihar by lighting traditional oil lamps called diyo in households. However, the five days of festivities surrounding the worship of four animals connected to Yama, the Hindu god of death, are what really make Tihar special. At this festival, there are designated days for honoring each of these creatures. The last day of this festival is set aside for celebrating the bonds between siblings.

Tihar is a sentimental festival that captures the spirit of love and togetherness among families; it’s not just about outward celebrations. It serves as a reminder of the deep cultural values that place an emphasis on unity and connection. This festival takes place in the Nepali month of Kartik, which usually falls in October or November, following Dashain for a few weeks. Dashain mostly revolves around the conflict between good and evil. However, this festival celebrates human relationships and asks Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, for her blessings.

Tihar Celebration: How it All Started?

There are several legends explaining how the Tihar celebration started. According to the story, a girl named Yamuna had an ill brother, and here is the story of one of them. Yamuna invited her brother to become a part of her worship when Yama, the god of death, arrived to take his soul. After being impressed, Yama granted her wish. By requesting a long and healthy life, she prevented her brother from passing away. For this reason, Tihar, also known as Yamapanchak, or the five days associated with Yama, the deity of death, is a celebration of the relationship between brothers and sisters.

Several reasons and stories explain why people celebrate Tihar. In a different tale, Jamuna, the king’s sister, looked after the critically ill Bali Hang. When the god of death, Yamaraj, arrived to claim the monarch, Jamuna made a few demands. She claimed that unless specific events occurred, such as the garland flower withering or the water on her brother drying, Yamaraj was unable to remove her brother. Yamaraj consented, and these incidents never materialized, resulting in the monarch living a long and robust life. For this reason, in Tihar, sisters worship their brothers.

There is another tale in which Yama and Yamuna were related by blood, yet they were unable to cross paths. After using animals to convey her message to Yama, Yamuna finally reached him on the fifth day and left a vibrant mark on his forehead. Hence, this festival is observed for this reason.

How is this Festival Celebrated?

Tihar, also known as the festival of lights. It is a five-day celebration with unique meanings for each day.

On the first day, people celebrate the first day of Tihar, known as Kaag Tihar, by honoring crows as the messengers of the god of death, Yama.

Likewise, the second day of celebration is Kukur Tihar. On this day, people honor dogs for their loyalty to humans.

Similarly, people devote the third day of celebration to Laxmi Puja and Gai Tihar, during which they worship the cow, Nepal’s national animal. Additionally, they honor and worship the Goddess of wealth, Laxmi, on this day.

Furthermore, people dedicate the fourth day is dedicated to Goru Puja and Mha Puja. In particular, the Newar community celebrates Mha Puja, a festival of self-worship.

Lastly, on the fifth day, brothers and sisters exchange presents and money while applying tika on each other’s foreheads.

Day 1: Kaag Tihar:

On the first day of Tihar, Nepalis honor crows, called Kaag. People often connect these birds to a significant message frequently associated with death. People honor these animals by placing offerings of rice and sweets on the roofs of their homes as a sign of respect. This custom highlights the distinctive cultural values and customs that make Tihar a particularly meaningful and spiritually uplifting holiday.

Kaag Tihar
Kaag Tihar

Day 2: Kukur Tihar

The second day of Tihar, also known as Kukur Tihar or Dog Tihar, is a memorable occasion. People honor dogs because of their devotion to humans. To celebrate the event, they wrap marigold flower garlands around the dogs’ necks and place Tika, a colored mark, on their foreheads. They also feed the dogs delicious meals. This event, which honors the relationship between people and dogs, is quite well-known across the globe, particularly in Western societies.

Kukur Tihar
Kukur Tihar

To honor the role that dogs play in investigations and preserving social order, the Nepal Police even participates in such rituals during Tihar.

Day 3: Laxmi Puja and Gai Tihar

On the third day of Tihar, the focus is on honoring cows and paying honor to the goddess Laxmi. To honor the cows, people present them with marigold garlands, a Tika (a distinctive mark), and their favorite grass on this day. In addition, they tidy their houses and adorn their windows and doorways with marigold flowers.

Laxmi Puja
Laxmi Puja

In the evening, people worship Goddess Laxmi, believed to bring prosperity and fortune, by lighting candles and oil lamps throughout their homes. People ask for more money from her and express gratitude for their blessings.

Local females visit every home in the neighborhood at night to perform Bhailo, a traditional performance. The proprietors of the house give them cash and candy in exchange. The girls divide the cash and goods they receive among themselves at the conclusion of the evening.

Day 4: Goru Tihar and Mha Puja

Three separate festivities take place on the fourth day of Tihar. The primary object of worship for people in Nepal is the ox or Goru Tihar. Vaishnavism devotees build Goverdan mountains out of cow dung and worship them during a ritual known as Govardhan Puja.

Mha Puja
Mha Puja

Likewise, the Newar community in Kathmandu celebrates Mha Puja, a festival of self-worship. The Nepal Sambat Calendar, the country’s official lunar calendar, also begins on this day.

Furthermore, boys gather at night to play Deusi, going from house to house in the community same as girls go with Bhailo. All through the night, they perform songs and tell tales about Tihar to raise money.

Day 5: Bhai Tika

The fifth and most significant day of the Tihar festival is Bhai Tika. In Nepali, the word bhai means brother, and on this day, sisters tattoo a Tika, or unique mark, over their brother’s forehead. They offer prayers to the God of Death, Yama, for their brother’s prosperity, well-being, and extended lifespan. Sisters offer their brothers presents after applying the Tika. In exchange, brothers offer gifts to their sisters which could be material or monetary, and mark their sister’s forehead.

Bhai Tika
Bhai Tika

On this day, people sing, play cards, conduct cultural events like Deusi in their neighborhoods, and set off firecrackers to light up the night sky. In appreciation for the Deusi Team’s performance, the home’s owner bestows presents, money, and blessings.

Also read Teej: A Popular Festival of Nepali Women!