|A rangoli in the image of Laxmi the goddess of wealth|
Another famous legend is associated with Tihar. A dying king was told by his astrologer that a serpent would come and take his life. To escape this fate the king was advised to sleep with oil lamps lit all around his palace and bed on the day of Laxmi Puja. The goddess of wealth Laxmi would thus defend him from the serpent. Laxmi convinced the serpent not to harm the king when he arrived. The serpent took the king to Yama, the god of death. Yama saw in his ledger that the king’s days on earth were numbered zero. The clever serpent stealthily scrawled a seven before the zero and the king lived for 70 more years. Thenceforth, Tihar or Deepawali is widely celebrated by worshipping Laxmi as well as Yama.
On the third morning of Tihar is Gai Puja, the worship of the cows. Not only did the cow bring Yama the god of death his sister's pleadings for a reunion, but cows symbolize the mother of the universe. I'm sure you've all heard of the 'sacred cows' of Hinduism. Indeed, cows are so sacred in Hinduism they can easily cross into supernatural and spiritual realms.
|Karmic bonus points for walking under a cow on Gai Puja!|
|The perplexingly named shopping mall 'United World Trade Center' in Kathmandu decorated for Tihar in fairy lights.|
On the fourth day of Tihar there different pujas celebrated by different ethnic groups. Among the Newari people Mha Puja (worship of the self) is performed to purify the body. This is also New Year's Day for the Newari which is called Nepal Sambat. (Just to make it more confusing the heavily Tibetan influenced ethnic groups like the Gurung, Sherpa, Tamang, Bhutia, and Yolmo have a different New Year's Day in February.) Other ethnic groups celebrate Goru Puja (celebration of the oxen) or Govardhan Puja (worship of Govardhan mountain). Govardhan Puja is celebrated by making a ceremonial mound of cow dung representing the mountain and worshipping it.
|A ceremonial mound of cow dung decorated for Gorvadhan Puja|
The fifth and last day of Tihar is called Bhai Tika or Kija Puja. Bhai means brother. Brothers are propitiated by their sisters just as the goddess Yamuna propitiated her brother Yama the god of death on this day. Brothers are anointed with auspicious seven color tika on their foreheads, garlanded with long lasting flowers, are fed special dishes, and a puja is performed by the sisters. After this brothers give tikas to their sisters in the same fashion with an exchange of symbolic gifts. In the past gambling games or juwa were part of the Laxmi Puja and Tihar. I'm not sure if it's legal now or not. Dice, card, and cowrie games were often played on the streets during Tihar.
Along with marigolds you'll see garlands made of a green grass called dubo and a purple flower called globe amaranth or makhamali being made everywhere. The purple garlands are only made during Tihar and are essential for Bhai Tika. Sisters placing garlands of makhamali and dubo on the brothers symbolize wishes of long life and prosperity.
Over the years, blaring disco music and firecrackers have become a part of Tihar celebrations. I have no idea what ancient text proscribes this sort of propitiation nor how this came into fashion.
I thought Hindu gods and goddesses were partial to conches, flutes, bells, and drums? Anyway, if you wish to hear some Nepali style Tihar disco music you may do so here. As I am writing this it is the last night of Tihar or Bhai Tika. I am getting blasted on one side by LOUD disco music and ear shattering firecrackers on the other. It's like I'm in a war zone being besieged by the Village People. Our animals have been too terrified to leave the yard for the last five days. Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this broad overview of Tihar or Deepawail. It is definitely a time of joyful celebration that brings together families and honors the bond between brothers and sisters!
(As much as I've been kvetching about all the noise- all the music, screaming, and firecrackers stopped at 11 pm last night. Yay!)