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Tihar: The amazing ‘animal Diwali’ of Nepal

By Dhrubaa Ghosh,

Our neighbours at Nepal celebrate Diwali just like us, but with a twist, they include animals in it!

The Nepali festival Tihar is also known as the Day of Dogs. Image: ANI

We just celebrated Diwali, and the festive feeling is still in the air. The small but beautiful country of Nepal also celebrated Diwali. What sets Nepal’s Tihar apart is its unique focus on thanking animals, not just gods, for giving us the bounty we enjoy in everyday life.  

What is Tihar all about? 
Tihar, like Diwali, celebrates the triumph of good over evil and asks for the blessings of Lakshmi while thanking her and other gods. It is always celebrated on the night of the new moon in the 8th month of the Saka or lunar calendar, i.e. in Kartik. This is supposed to be the darkest night of the year. Like Diwali, this is normally in late October or early November. Nepali homes and markets are decorated and lit with diyas. The festival happens for 5 days, with 3 days being national holidays.  

What happens during the 5 days of Tihar? 
Each day of Tihar has its own rituals and traditions. The first three days are meant for worshipping animals and praying to Lord Yama and Goddess Lakshmi. In Nepali culture, showing gratitude to animals and gods is supposed to bring luck to people.  

First day: Kaag Tihar or the worship of crows   
Kaag or crows are believed to be messengers of death. People put sweets and food grains pn the roofs and courtyards for crows to eat, and sometimes offer them food on a banana leaf. Nepalis believe that feeding and thanking the crows may help in avoiding misfortune and protect them from evil.  

Second day: Kukur Tihar or the worship of dogs  
On the second day of Tihar, man’s best friend is thanked, be the pet or stray. Dogs are supposed to be guards of the gates of heaven in Nepal. Dogs are given a treat, garlanded, and if they behave well, a red tika is also put on their heads.  

Third day: Gai Tihar or the worship of cows and Lakshmi   
This is the day of the Lakshmi Puja, when cows are also worshipped. Families hold feasts, offering food to cows, and getting them the best possible grass. This is done in the morning, Lakshmi Puja happens in the evening, with the diyas and rangoli.  

Fourth day: Goru Tihar or the worship of the ox, Mount Govardhan or oneself    
Different sects of Nepal follow different traditions on day 4 of Tihar. Most worship ox since these animals are also important for our livelihood as the other 3. Vaishnavite Nepalis pray to Mount Govardhana, the hill Krishna lifted on one finger, and which protected people huddled below it from rain. The Newar community, some of the oldest races of Nepal, worship their own soul to purify themselves. They hold the Maha Puja where a large feast is prepared and shared by the whole family.  

Fifth day: Bhai Tika or the celebration of brother-sister bonding   
The final day of Tihar is dedicated to the celebration of the bond between brothers and sisters, what we call Bhai Dooj or Bhatri Dwitiya in India. According to mythology, Yamuna sent messages to her brother Yama through a crow, dog, and cow / ox, and when he couldn’t find time to come, she went and blessed him. So the final day ties up the festivities of the previous days together.