Deepavali or Diwali is known as Tihar in Nepal, and it ranks second only to Dashain. This festival takes place during the Nepali month of Kartik (October to November on the Solar Calendar) and goes on for five days. The Hindus honor crows, dogs, cows, bulls along with Laxmi - the goddess of luck and wealth. Many candles and lanterns are lit up in honor of Goddess Laxmi; hence Tihar is also known as the festival of lights. The festival of lights usually falls during mid-October to mid-November.
Festival Traditions of Tihar
Tihar Festival is the second most significant Hindu festival in Nepal. It is celebrated for five days and bestowed with traditional cultural characteristics of Nepal. Moreover, each day celebrates a different animal; for example, the first day is the celebration or worship of crows, which are known as the 'harbinger of death.' People offer rice on the ground to feed the crows.
The second day of Tihar honors the dogs which are believed to be 'the guardians of the god of death.' The third day welcomes Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth. The fourth-day honors and thank the cows. The fifth day is an important bonding day between brothers and sisters. The sisters place 'Tika' on their brothers' forehead while praying for their excellent health, prosperity and long life; the brothers return this favor by showering the sisters with gifts.
The first day; Kaag Tihar/Crow Day, worship of crows
Hindus worship the crows 'the messenger of death by offering them rice. This is one day in the year when they get fed and can take a break from scavenging. The people try to ensure that the crows are well fed; otherwise, they believe that the dissatisfied crows will bring bad luck to the coming year.
The second day; Kukur Tihar/Day of the dogs.
Kukur Tihar is celebrated to honor dogs for the Nepalese believe that by doing this the souls of their deceased relatives are guaranteed entrance into heaven. People put 'Tika' on the dog's forehead and floral 9usually Marigold garlands followed by a good meal. The Nepalese Hindus believe that the dog's role is vital as the 'gatekeeper of death' and lead the souls of the deceased onto the other side of the river of death in the afterlife. On the day honoring the dogs, even the armed services such as the Police, Armed Police and Army's dog unit apply Tika and beautiful garlands to the dogs in their unit as a sign of appreciation of their work.
The third day; Gai Tihar or Laxmi puja - the honoring of the cow and the goddess of prosperity.
The Nepalese worship cows and the Goddess of wealth - Laxmi on the third day of Diwali. Most people consider this day to be the most significant day of the festival as everyone likes property. The devotees wake up early to clean each room, nook, and corner thoroughly. They take a bath before applying red Tika on the forehead, floral garland on the neck and tying holy string that is given by a Brahmin priest to the tail of a cow.
Come the evening many candles, oil lamps and these days electric lights are lit up by the doors, staircases, walls and on the roof as well. All Nepalese homes are made as bright as possible with the belief that the lights will grab Laxmi's attention and entice her to visit their house. On Laxmi puja, all businesses remain open to welcome the Goddess of wealth. The children and the youth go around the house to house singing traditional Diwali songs - almost like Caroling, the house owners give them, money, sweets, fruits and rice in return. This is called Deusi Bhailo. Despite being banned in Nepal, kids and adults also light up fireworks during this festival.
The fourth day: Goru Puja or honoring the Ox or bull.
The fourth day is a little bit more diverse on what is honored depending on the people's ethnicity. Ox is considered an indispensable assistant to the farmer; hence the honoring of the Ox (Goru puja). An ox is considered to be the representative of Govardhan Hill https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Govardhan_Hill, and as a tribute to it, cow dung is used during Govardhan puja.
The Newar community considers this day as their New year. All Newars gather for this festival in the Kathmandu Valley and perform Maa puja to honor themselves.
The oldest patriarch of the family paints two geometric figures namely;
i) to bless all members of his family
ii) to celebrate the death of Yama ( the god of death) and his messenger.
All family members get together to celebrate and indulge in delicacies, sweetmeats, drinks, and merrymaking.
The fifth day: Bhai Tika/ siblings day.
The fifth day is the last day of the Deepavali/Diwali/Tihar festival. The siblings gather together on this to celebrate each other. The sisters put multi-colored tika, lovely garland on the brothers followed by special treats known locally as 'Shagun.' The brothers perform the same ritual on the site and shower them with gifts. This celebration strengthens the bond between brothers and sisters.
There are no hard and fast rules of how the ceremonies for this festival although some old traditions are carried out in modern day Nepal. There are some similarities to Christmas and New year like with the rest of the world.
It is a tradition to purchase gold and silver jewelry on the eve of Laxmi puja with the hope of more prosperity for the coming year. Once the festival of lights begins, all rooms of every house are cleaned thoroughly and painted to welcome the visiting gods and goddesses. The people get dressed in their new clothes hoping prosperity will stay with them for the rest of the year if not the remainder of their lives. The business communities replace old account books start with new books for better business. Every household and shops are lit up in bright lights; some even light up fireworks for entertainment.
Tihar is also time for family and friends to get together to rejoice, exchange gifts while indulging in food and drinks.
Tihar is one of the eleven festivals that take place during the autumn months of October to the middle of November. It follows the biggest Hindu festival of Dashain. If you happen to be in a major city like Kathmandu or Pokhara; you can witness the whole city lit up luminously like an ocean of lights.