Every home looks like a sparkling diamond on Tihar night. The celebrations continue for almost five days beginning from the thirteenth day of the waning moon in the month of October. What makes this festival unique is the worship of animals. Tihar is one of the most important festivals in Nepal, Sikkim and the rest of India. Over last couple of decades Tihar has got international recognition with Indians across the world celebrating this festival of hope and victory of good over evil. Tihar is also known as Bhai Tika, Dipawali, Laxmi Puja and ‘Panchak Yama’ which means ‘the five days of the underworld lord’.
There are many stories associated with this festival of light in different parts of the country. One of them is that once there was a king who was on his deathbed but he did not want to die. He was told by an astrologer that a serpent would come and take his life. The astrologer also said that it could be avoided if the king could please Goddess Laxmi, the wife of the almighty Vishnu. The king lit the whole palace with oil lamps to please the Goddess. Laxmi was pleased and she convinced the serpent who somehow managed to put a seven before zero in the ledger book of dead people of Yamaraj. The king went on to live another 70 years.
Crows, called Kaga in Nepali, are considered to be the messenger of Yama, the Lord of Death and the voice of crows is believed to be the symbol of sorrow. Thus crows are worshipped on the first day to keep sadness at bay. On this occasion delicious dishes are cooked early in the morning and each member of the family puts some food outside in the open before anyone eats food. The crows descend in large numbers to partake the offerings.
The day two is dedicated to worshipping of dogs also called Kukur. Kukur are festooned with flower garland around their necks and red tika is put on their forehead. Dogs are believed to be the guards of the gates of the underworld and hence are requested to protect the house.
The third day includes almost three simultaneous celebrations i.e. govardhan puja (cow worship), Laxmi puja and singing of Bhalini songs.
Cows, the most sacred among all the animals in Hindu belief system, are worshipped on the third day of the Tihar. Cow is considered the mother of universe because of its docile nature and great role it plays in sustainability of human life. Cows are also garlanded and Tika is applied on their forehead. People paint floors at the place of worship with cowdung and put it in different parts of their house. This is considered sacred.
Laxmi Puja also takes place on the third day. The Goddess of wealth Laxmi is worshipped with great zeal and fervor and households are illuminated with lights. The ‘puja’ is usually performed at dusk normally by female folks of the family. They make a symbolic footprint outside the home with red mud and then walk inside the room where the goddess is worshipped. Third day is also accompanied by singing Bhalini songs. These are special songs sung by group of girls.
The religious proceedings of the fourth day are known as Maha Puja. While Men sing Deusi or Deusuray songs, arrival of the New Year is also celebrated in Tihar. Another festival observed is the ritual of Govardhan puja or Goru Tihar (Oxen Worshipping).
Day five is reserved for brothers and sisters. The occasion is called Bhai Tika. Sisters applie red tika on the forehead of brothers. Sisters walk three times around their brothers dropping oil on the floor from a pitcher. Sisters pray for brothers’ long life and prosperity. Brothers offer gifts to them.
The five day celebrations end with Tihar feast for friends and family members.