Tihar (Nepali: तिहार), also known as Deepawali and Yamapanchak or Swanti(Nepal Bhasa: स्वन्ती:), is a five-day-long Hindu festival celebrated in Nepal and in the Indian states of Assam and Sikkim including in Darjeeling district of West Bengal. It is the festival of lights, as diyas are lit inside and outside the houses to make it illuminate at night. It is popularly known as Swanti among the Newars and as Deepawali among Madhesis. Set in the Vikram Samvat calendar, the festival begins with Kaag Tihar in Trayodashi of Kartik Krishna Paksha and ends with Bhai Tika in Dwitiya of Kartik Sukla Paksha every year.
Tihar is the second major festival celebrated in Nepal. 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.
Story behind Tihar
There are various stories about the celebration of Tihar. One of the famous stories behind the celebration of tihar is related to Yama the god of death and his sister Yamuna. Yama had been staying away from his sister for a long time. His sister wanted to meet him so she asked various sources to visit him and ask him to give her a visit. She sent crow, dog, and cow and at the end she went herself to see her brother. She worshipped him with tika and flowers, she put him five colored tika. Yamuna made a circle with mustard oil, Dubo Grass (Cynodon Dactylon) and put Makhmali Mala (Globe Amaranth) and asked Yamaraj not to go till the oil, Dubo Grass and the flower gets dry. Therefore, every sister worships her brother keeping him in the circle of mustard oil, putting mala (garland) of Makhmali flower and Dubo grass.
Day 1: Kaag Tihar/Crow Day, worshiping crows
On the first day of Tihar Festival, people will offer rice to the crows, “the messenger of death”. These crows are busy all year round, and only have this day to rest. It is important to ensure that the crows are happy, otherwise they will inform the bad news, and bad things would happen in the coming year.
Day 2: Kukur Tihar/Dog Day, thanking dogs
The second day of Tihar Festival is called as Kukur Tihar. On this day, Nepalis will honor dogs for they believe that the dog can guarantee the souls of the dead to get to heaven. People usually wear dogs with Tihar Tika and calendula garlands, and then treat them with a fancy dinner. In Nepal, the dog plays an important role as “the gatekeeper of death”, which is said to lead the deceased across the river of death in the underworld. On Kukur Tihar, Nepalese policemen will present beautiful garlands to the patrol dogs and paint their foreheads in red cinnabar to thank for their contributions in social security.
Day 3: Gai Tihar and Laxmi Puja, honoring cow and the goddess of wealth
On the third day of Tihar Festival, Nepalese often worship cows and Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. This day is also the most important holiday in the festival. People would get up early and clean the room thoroughly. Hence, they start to thank cows. After a cozy bath, those cows will wear red Tika and beautiful wreaths, with holy strings from the priest tied to their tails.When the night falls, dazzling candles, oil lamps and bright lights are lit up at the doors, steps, even on the roof. All the Nepalis will make their home as luminous as possible to attract Laximi’s attention. If the day happens to be Saturday, shops and stores won’t follow the traditional practices and keep open to welcome the goddess of wealth. At this moment, Nepalis kids won’t be idle. They come to visit neighbors in small groups and sing Tihar songs like Bhailo and Deusi for blessings. In return, the house owner give them money, fruit and sweets.
Day 4 Goru Puja, Govardhan Puja and Maha Puja, celebrating Newari New Year
Under different cultural background, people will honor different things on the fourth day of Tihar. As ox is an indispensable helper for the farmer, people will perform Goru Puja for ox. Considered as the representative of Govardhan Mountain, cow dung is worshiped in Govardhan Puja. In addition, this day is also seen as the beginning of the new year for Newar community in Kathmandu valley. All the Newarians will reunite for this festival and perform Mha Puja to worship themselves.
On this day, the elder father would draw two geometric figures. One is painted for blessing the whole family and the other is dedicated to the death of Yama and his messenger. Then all the members will have a special family feast and enjoy some lucky food, like boiled eggs, fried fishes, tasty desserts, etc. After the grand banquet, they’ll take turns to worship the death of Yama Panchak and exchange Tihar gifts with each other to pray for good luck in the next year.
Day 5 Bhai Tika, performing Kija Puja
The last day of Tihar is knowned as Bhai Tika. On this day, brothers and sisters will gather together and accept Tihar quotes on their foreheads. After placing the multi-colored Tika and splendid garlands to the brothers, the sisters would offer them some Shaguns (a kind of candy) as Tihar gift. And then the brothers would follow the same ritual to put Tika on their sisters and give them some money in return. This celebration has enhanced the close relationship between brothers and sisters.