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Nepal is a landlocked nation tucked away in the Himalayas that is renowned for its rich cultural legacy in addition to its breathtaking scenery and varied topography. The nation is proud of the rich tapestry of customs, holidays, and beliefs that represent the people’s ingrained spirituality and moral principles. Dashain and Tihar are two of the most well-known and extensively observed of these festivals, providing an insight into Nepal’s vivid and colourful way of life. While Tihar, also known as the festival of lights, is a multi-day celebration honouring numerous animals and symbols of Hindu mythology, Dashain, also known as Vijaya Dashami, is a Hindu holiday that celebrates the victory of good over evil. We shall examine the meaning, customs, and festivities in this essay.
Nepal is a country with a wide variety of customs, landscapes, and cultures, located in the foothills of the Himalayas. The Tihar festival is one of its numerous cultural events, and it is very special. Tihar, a multi-day Hindu festival that is also known as Deepawali or Yamapanchak, is enthusiastically observed by Nepalese people. The celebration is well-known for its vivid light displays, respect for animals, and profoundly spiritual meaning. We shall examine Tihar’s rich cultural tapestry in this essay, including its historical and cultural background, importance, customs, and other features that contribute to its allure and status as a vital component of Nepal’s cultural legacy.
Dashain: The Festival of Victory
Dashain, which is also known as Dasain or Vijaya Dashami, is a prominent Hindu holiday that is extensively observed in Nepal. All around the nation, people of all ages and backgrounds celebrate it with tremendous fervour and excitement. Dashain is a 15-day celebration that usually takes place in the Ashwin (September–October) month, with the final five days being the most significant. The celebration honours the triumph of good over evil, represented by the demon Mahishasura vanquished by the goddess Durga.
Significance of Dashain
Dashain holds a special place in the hearts of Nepalese people for several reasons. The festival not only carries deep religious significance but also plays a vital role in fostering family bonds and social harmony. Here are some key aspects that make Dashain a prominent festival in Nepal:
Dashain is primarily a Hindu festival, and its religious significance lies in the worship of the goddess Durga, who is regarded as the epitome of strength and power. Durga is believed to have defeated the demon Mahishasura, and her victory symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. The festival is dedicated to her and her various manifestations.
Dashain brings people from diverse backgrounds together in celebration. Regardless of caste, creed, or ethnicity, Nepalese people come together to worship the same deities and participate in the same rituals, fostering a sense of cultural unity.
Dashain is a time for family reunions, as people from different parts of Nepal and even abroad return to their ancestral homes to celebrate with their loved ones. This strengthens family bonds and provides an opportunity for members to catch up with each other.
The festival is not only a religious celebration but also a time for forgiveness and reconciliation. Families and communities use Dashain as an occasion to resolve disputes and strengthen social harmony, emphasizing the importance of peace and unity.
Traditions and Celebrations of Dashain
The 15-day long Dashain festival is marked by a series of rituals, ceremonies, and celebrations. While the entire period is significant, the last five days are the most important. Here are the key traditions and celebrations associated with Dashain:
The festival begins with Ghatasthapana, the installation of a sacred vessel called “Kalash” filled with holy water and barley seeds. This vessel is placed in a special room known as the “Dashain Ghar” and symbolizes the goddess Durga. The room is cleaned and decorated with mandalas made of rice and colorful powders, and the Kalash is placed in the center.
On the seventh day of Dashain, known as Fulpati, a ceremonial offering of flowers, leaves, and sugar cane stalks is brought to the Dashain Ghar. The Fulpati is received by the head of the family or a designated person, and it marks the beginning of the public celebration of Dashain.
The eighth day, known as Maha Asthami, is dedicated to the goddess Durga. Animal sacrifices, typically of goats, ducks, and buffaloes, are performed in temples. The sacrificed animals are considered an offering to the goddess, and their meat is later consumed as “Prasad” (blessed food). People also worship weapons, such as swords and firearms, on this day, seeking protection from evil forces.
The ninth day, Maha Nawami, is a day of great religious importance. It is believed that the goddess Durga defeated Mahishasura on this day. People visit temples, offer prayers, and perform various rituals, including receiving “tika” (a mixture of yogurt, rice, and vermillion) and “jamara” (barley grass blessed by the goddess) from the elders. Elders give tika and jamara to the younger members of the family as a blessing for their well-being and prosperity.
The tenth day of Dashain, known as Vijaya Dashami, is the most important day of the festival. It commemorates the victory of good over evil. On this day, people receive tika and jamara from their elders, along with blessings. The tika symbolizes protection from evil, and the jamara represents good fortune. Families exchange gifts, and it is customary to visit the homes of relatives and friends to receive blessings and well-wishes. The festival culminates in a grand feast, and people dress in their finest clothes for the occasion.
Tika and Jamara
The tika and jamara received from elders during Dashain are considered a source of strength and protection. It is believed that these blessings ensure good health, long life, and prosperity. Families often have a ritual order for receiving tika, with the eldest members going first, and the younger ones receiving it from the elders.
Another popular tradition during Dashain is kite flying. People of all ages engage in friendly kite battles in the sky, trying to cut the strings of each other’s kites. The clear blue skies of Dashain are filled with colorful kites, adding to the festive atmosphere.
While the practice of animal sacrifice is a controversial aspect of Dashain, it remains an integral part of the festival. Devotees offer animals to the goddess Durga as a symbol of their devotion and gratitude. However, in recent years, there has been a growing debate about animal welfare and the need for more humane practices.
Dashain is also a time for cultural performances, with traditional dances and music being a significant part of the celebrations. Various communities organize cultural programs, including dramas, folk dances, and music performances, showcasing Nepal’s rich cultural diversity.
Tihar: The Festival of Lights in Nepal
Tihar, also known as Deepawali or Yamapanchak, is another major festival in Nepal that follows Dashain. It is a five-day Hindu festival celebrated with great enthusiasm and involves the worship of various animals, birds, and symbols of Hindu mythology. Tihar typically falls in the month of Kartik (October-November), following Dashain, and each day of the festival is dedicated to a specific form of worship.
Nepal, nestled in the heart of the Himalayas, is a land of diverse cultures, landscapes, and traditions. Among its many cultural celebrations, the festival of Tihar holds a special place. Tihar, also known as Deepawali or Yamapanchak, is a vibrant and multi-day Hindu festival celebrated by Nepalese people with great enthusiasm. The festival is known for its colorful displays of lights, reverence for animals, and deep-rooted spiritual significance. In this essay, we will delve into the rich tapestry of Tihar, exploring its historical and cultural context, significance, rituals, and the various aspects that make it a captivating and integral part of Nepal’s cultural heritage.
Historical and Cultural Context
Tihar’s origins are deeply intertwined with Hindu mythology and are based on the stories of gods, goddesses, and the cultural practices of ancient Nepal. While the precise historical roots of Tihar are challenging to trace, its significance and cultural prominence are unquestionable.
Tihar is primarily a Hindu festival, and it coincides with the auspicious festival of Deepawali celebrated in India. The name “Tihar” is derived from the Newar language, which is commonly spoken in the Kathmandu Valley and other parts of Nepal. In other parts of the country, it may be known as “Deepawali” or “Yamapanchak,” reflecting the diversity of names and traditions associated with the festival.
The five days of Tihar are marked by the worship of various animals, birds, and symbols from Hindu mythology. Each day has its unique rituals and significance. The festival is celebrated with fervor not only by the Hindu population but also by Buddhists and other communities in Nepal. It is a time of unity, as people from various backgrounds come together to celebrate this festival of lights.
Significance of Tihar
Tihar is a festival of profound spiritual and cultural importance in Nepal. It encompasses a multitude of beliefs and practices, each contributing to its overall significance:
Celebration of Light
Tihar is often referred to as the festival of lights. The lighting of oil lamps, candles, and colorful electric lights adorns homes, streets, and temples, creating a breathtaking spectacle. The festival symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness, signifying the victory of good over evil.
Reverence for animals
A unique aspect of Tihar is the worship of animals. The festival includes days dedicated to honoring crows, dogs, cows, oxen, and, on the final day, brothers. These animals hold special significance in Hinduism, and the worship of animals during Tihar showcases the interconnectedness of all living beings.
Honoring Hindu Deities
Tihar also features the worship of Hindu deities, such as the goddess Laxmi (the goddess of wealth and prosperity) and the cow, considered sacred in Hinduism. These deities are revered for their role in providing sustenance and prosperity to households.
Deepening Family Bonds
Tihar serves as a time for family reunions, similar to Dashain, another major festival in Nepal. Families come together to celebrate, exchange blessings, and strengthen their bonds.
Promoting Social Harmony
Tihar is not just a religious festival; it is also a time for social harmony and community building. It encourages people to resolve disputes, promote forgiveness, and mend relationship.
The Five Days of Tihar
Tihar spans five days, each with its own unique rituals and symbolism. Let’s explore the celebrations and customs associated with each day of the festival:
Kag Tihar ( Day 1): Crow Worship
The first day of Tihar is known as “Kag Tihar,” which is dedicated to the worship of crows. In Hindu mythology, crows are considered messengers and are associated with Yama, the god of death. To honor and invite the crows into their homes, people offer them various food items, such as rice, grains, and sweets. It is believed that the cawing of crows brings both good and bad omens, and by feeding them, people seek to avoid misfortune.
Kukur Tihar (Day 2): Dog Worship
The second day of Tihar is “Kukur Tihar,” dedicated to the worship of dogs. Dogs hold a special place in Hindu mythology and are believed to be messengers of the god of death, Yama. People offer garlands of marigold flowers, tika (a mixture of yogurt, rice, and vermillion), and other treats to dogs, recognizing their loyalty and service as protectors of homes. This day not only celebrates the bond between humans and dogs but also acknowledges the importance of all animals in our lives.
Gai Tihar and Laxmi Puja ( Day 3): Cow Worship and Goddess Laxmi worship
The third day of Tihar is a double celebration. In the morning, “Gai Tihar” is observed, during which cows are adorned with garlands, tika, and various ornaments. Cows are revered as sacred animals in Hinduism and symbolize wealth and abundance. Farmers, in particular, express their gratitude to cows for their role in agriculture and daily life.
In the evening, “Laxmi Puja” is celebrated. Goddess Laxmi, the deity of wealth and prosperity, is worshipped on this day. Homes are cleaned, and colorful rangoli (decorative patterns made with colored powders) are created at the entrance to welcome the goddess. Oil lamps, candles, and electric lights are lit throughout the house to guide Laxmi to bring wealth and fortune. People also conduct special pujas (prayers) and offer fruits, flowers, and sweets to the goddess.
Govardhan Puja (Day 4) And Mha Puja
The fourth day of Tihar is known as “Govardhan Puja.” It commemorates the lifting of the Govardhan Hill by Lord Krishna to protect the people of Vrindavan from the wrath of Lord Indra, the god of rain and thunderstorms. People create small hillocks from cow dung and decorate them with flowers and offerings to symbolize the Govardhan Hill. This day is also known for the preparation and consumption of various delicious food items, including sweets and traditional dishes.
Mha Puja is a significant cultural celebration observed by the Newar community, a prominent indigenous group in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. Mha Puja, which translates to “Self Worship,” is a unique and spiritually enriching ritual that takes place during the festival of Tihar, also known as Deepawali.
During Mha Puja, the Newars perform a series of rituals to honor and worship themselves, reflecting the belief that the self is divine and deserving of reverence. The ceremony typically occurs on the fourth day of Tihar, known as Nepal Sambat, the Newar New Year.
Participants gather in a beautifully decorated and well-lit space, where each person sets up a mandala-like design called a “mandap.” The mandap represents the divine within oneself and is created with rice, grains, and various colorful materials.
A traditional feast follows the rituals, with families and communities coming together to share delicious Newari cuisine. It’s a time for reflection, gratitude, and the strengthening of bonds within the community.
Mha Puja is a reminder of the significance of self-awareness, self-respect, and the celebration of one’s inner divinity. It plays a vital role in preserving Newar culture and heritage while fostering unity among its members. This unique practice underscores the cultural richness and diversity of Nepal and the profound spiritual connection that the Newar community shares with their identity and heritage.
Bhai Tika ( Day 5 ): Brother – sister Bond
The final day of Tihar is “Bhai Tika,” which celebrates the unique bond between brothers and sisters. Sisters perform special rituals to bless their brothers and ensure their prosperity and well-being. Brothers, in turn, offer gifts and monetary tokens of appreciation to their sisters.
The ceremony involves applying tika on the brothers’ foreheads and placing a colorful garland called “makhmali mala” around their necks. Additionally, sisters offer a special feast, including sweets and traditional dishes. The exchange of blessings and gifts reinforces the deep and cherished bond between siblings.
Additional Aspects of Tihar
Apart from the core rituals associated with each day, Tihar includes several other customs and practices:
Rangoli and Decoration
Tihar is a time for colorful decorations. Homes are adorned with rangoli, colorful lights, oil lamps, and candles. The decoration of the entrance, courtyard, and streets with rangoli patterns is a common practice, symbolizing the spirit of the festival.
Tihar, also known as Deepawali, is one of the most widely celebrated and cherished festivals in Nepal. It is a five-day Hindu festival that signifies the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil. During Tihar, intricate and colorful decorations, including Rangoli, play a crucial role in enhancing the festive spirit and adding vibrancy to the celebrations.
Rangoli, a traditional and artistic form of decoration, holds immense significance during Tihar. This intricate art involves creating colorful and symmetrical designs on the ground, typically near the entrance of homes, courtyards, and pathways. Rangoli is a visual expression of the joy and warmth that accompanies Tihar and reflects the cultural richness and creativity of the people of Nepal.
The practice of making Rangoli begins on the first day of Tihar, which is called “Kag Tihar” or the day of crows. People believe that crows are messengers, and they offer food to these birds as a symbol of good fortune. After the crow day, the second day is dedicated to dogs, the third to cows, and the fourth to oxen. The final day, also known as “Bhai Tika,” is when sisters offer Tika and garlands to their brothers to ensure their well-being. Throughout the festival, Rangoli designs are an integral part of these daily rituals.
The art of Rangoli involves the use of various materials, including colored rice, colored sand, flower petals, and even colored powders. These materials are meticulously arranged to create captivating and intricate patterns and motifs. The designs range from simple geometric shapes to highly elaborate, freehand drawings of deities, flowers, animals, and more. The choice of design depends on the skill and creativity of the person creating the Rangoli.
Rangoli patterns are designed to be visually appealing and harmonious, and they often incorporate vibrant colors to symbolize the festive spirit. Common colors used in Rangoli include red, yellow, green, blue, and white. These colors represent various aspects of Hindu culture and mythology. For instance, red symbolizes passion, yellow represents knowledge and learning, green is associated with peace and happiness, blue signifies the divine, and white symbolizes purity and spirituality.
The process of creating Rangoli is a communal and artistic endeavor. Family members, friends, and neighbors often come together to create these beautiful designs. It’s a wonderful way to strengthen social bonds and promote a sense of togetherness within the community. People work together, share ideas, and take pride in their collective efforts, creating an atmosphere of unity and celebration.
Apart from the traditional Rangoli designs, Tihar also witnesses the creation of “Swastika Rangoli,” a symbol associated with auspiciousness and good luck. Swastika Rangoli is often drawn at the entrance of homes to invite prosperity and positivity. This symbol carries immense cultural and spiritual significance and is a common sight during Tihar celebrations.
In addition to Rangoli, various other forms of decoration contribute to the festive ambiance of Tihar. Homes and public spaces are adorned with colorful and creative decor, including oil lamps, flowers, and garlands. Marigold flowers, in particular, are widely used for decoration as they are considered sacred and are believed to bring good luck.
Oil lamps, or “diyo,” are an essential part of Tihar decorations. These small clay lamps are filled with oil and lit during the festival. They not only symbolize the triumph of light over darkness but also add a warm and welcoming glow to the surroundings.
Decorative paper and cloth lanterns, called “akhadis,” are also hung in and around homes during Tihar. These lanterns come in various shapes and sizes, and they create a magical and enchanting atmosphere when lit at night.
The use of colorful and fragrant flower garlands is another common decoration during Tihar. These garlands are offered to deities during prayers and are also used to adorn homes and spaces. The fragrance and vibrant colors of the flowers add to the festive charm of the occasion.
In some regions of Nepal, intricate and artistic door and wall paintings are created as a form of decoration. These paintings, known as “Pau:ka,” are made using natural dyes and depict scenes from Hindu mythology and cultural narratives. They are a visual representation of the rich cultural heritage of the region.
Tihar decorations are not limited to private homes. Public spaces, streets, and markets are also adorned with elaborate displays, including arches made of flowers and leaves, banners, and sculptures. This creates a festive atmosphere that extends throughout the community, making Tihar a truly collective celebration.
Deushi and bhailo
Certainly! Deusi and Bhailo are two traditional cultural practices associated with the Tihar festival in Nepal. These are joyful activities that involve singing, dancing, and going door-to-door to celebrate the festival. Let’s explore Deusi and Bhailo in more detail.
What is Deusi?
Deusi is a traditional form of singing and dancing that is an integral part of the Tihar festival celebrations in Nepal. It is performed by groups of young people, typically males, who go from house to house singing songs in praise of deities and wishing prosperity to the households.
When is Deusi performed?
Deusi is primarily performed during the first three days of Tihar, especially on the second day, also known as Kukur Tihar (worship of dogs) and the third day, which is the main day dedicated to the goddess of wealth, Laxmi.
How is Deusi performed?
Groups of young individuals form Deusi groups and move from one house to another. They carry traditional instruments like madals (hand drums) and sing Deusi songs that are often lively and rhythmic. These songs are meant to bring blessings to the households and are usually accompanied by energetic dance performances.
The Significance of Deusi:
Cultural Celebration: : Deusi is a way of celebrating the cultural and religious significance of Tihar. It adds a festive and communal atmosphere to the celebrations.
Community Bonding: Deusi fosters a sense of community and togetherness. It involves the active participation of people in different households, creating a shared experience.
Blessings for Prosperity: The songs sung during Deusi often include blessings for prosperity, good health, and happiness. It is believed that the deities are pleased by these performances, bringing positive energy to the community.
What is Bhailo?
Bhailo is another traditional practice associated with the Tihar festival in Nepal. Similar to Deusi, Bhailo involves groups of people, often females, going door-to-door to sing traditional songs and celebrate the festival. Bhailo is typically performed on the fourth day of Tihar, known as Goru Tihar or Gai Tihar (worship of oxen).
When is Bhailo performed?
Bhailo is mainly performed on the fourth day of Tihar, although it can also be seen on other days. The day is dedicated to showing gratitude to cows and oxen, which have been essential in agricultural practices.
How is Bhailo performed?
Just like Deusi, Bhailo is performed by groups of individuals who move from house to house. They carry traditional instruments like madals and sing lively songs. The songs during Bhailo focus on expressing gratitude to the household for the oxen and cows, wishing prosperity, and seeking blessings for the upcoming year.
The Significance of Bhailo:
Agricultural Reverence: Bhailo is a way of expressing gratitude to oxen, which play a vital role in agricultural activities in Nepal. This practice acknowledges the importance of these animals in farming.
Festive Atmosphere: Bhailo adds to the festive atmosphere of Tihar, making it a lively and joyous occasion. The vibrant performances and traditional songs contribute to the overall celebration.
Community Participation: Similar to Deusi, Bhailo encourages community participation and interaction. It brings people together in a spirit of celebration and mutual respect.
In conclusion, Deusi and Bhailo are lively and cultural expressions of the Tihar festival in Nepal. These traditions bring people together, fostering a sense of community and shared celebration. Through songs, dances, and expressions of gratitude, Deusi and Bhailo contribute to the richness and vibrancy of the Tihar festivities, making them memorable for everyone involved.
In conclusion, Tihar is a festival that brings people together through colorful and creative decorations, with Rangoli being a central component of the festivities. The art of Rangoli is a reflection of the cultural and spiritual depth of the celebration, while the other decorations, such as oil lamps, lanterns, garlands, and paintings, add to the overall beauty and festive atmosphere. These decorations not only symbolize the triumph of light over darkness but also foster a sense of unity, togetherness, and cultural pride within the Nepali community. Tihar is not only a time to honor and celebrate the deities but also an occasion to showcase the artistry and creativity of the people of Nepal.