The five day long Hindu festival of Tihar has started across Nepal, as well as the Indian states of Assam, Sikkim, and Darjeeling. Also called Deepawali and Yamapanchak it is the second most important festival after Dashain. Tihar is generally called the festival of lights as oil or ghee burning lamps made of clay called diyas are lit nightly.
Every day of Tihar has a special religious significance. I'm going to make this a two part post so I can go a little more into detail about each day of the festival. There are many variations in the celebration of Tihar in Nepal so this will be a broad overview. Above you see a rangoli which is a beautiful pattern made using materials such as colored rice, dry flour, colored sand or flower petals. These are made as a sacred welcoming sign to gods and goddesses in living rooms, courtyards, doorways, and gateways of homes. Rangolis are said to be especially appealing to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.
|Yama the god of death|
The mythology of Tihar centers around the God of Death Yama and his sister Yamuna. Yama had avoided his sister Yamuna for a long time. Yamuna wished to meet Yama so she asked various minions to entreat Yama pay her a visit. She sent the crow, the dog, and the cow to plead with Yama. Eventually Yama gave in to the requests of his sister brought to him by the crow, dog, and cow. Upon seeing her brother Yama she became extremely happy and she did every possible thing to make her brother happy for five days. It is said that no one dies during the five days of Tihar if Yama is properly placated.
And so the festival begins with first day being Kaag Tihar or Kaag Puja meaning worship of the crows. Crows and ravens are often regarded as messengers of Yama and their cawing is associated with sadness and grief. Ceremonial foods and puja are offered to crows and ravens on banana leaves or plates made from banana leaves called tapari which are placed on rooftops.
The second day of the festival is called Kukur Tihar or worship of the dogs. Dogs are often depicted as Yama's guards in Hinduism. Dogs are fed ceremonial vegetarian treats, anointed with a tika on their foreheads, and honored with garlands of flowers around their necks.
Our Ms Dawg went to the neighbors' house to be venerated. She ate her treats, got her garland, and left. She didn't stick around for her tika as she's not much for being propitiated. Ms Dawg is a 'no nonsense' kind of gal. I think she prefers the non veg Muslim fare served at our house.
Now supposedly AFTER the third day of the festival which is Gai Tihar (cow worship) and Laxmi Puja (goddess of wealth worship) starts a Nepali tradition called Bhailo. Bhailo and Deusi Re are traditional songs sung by groups of children and teenagers going door to door during Tihar . It is sort of like 'trick or treat' during Halloween. The children and teens sing and may do a little dance then the lady of the house comes out and gives them money and sweets. For whatever reason Bhailo now starts on the second day of the festival, only boys participate, and the only song they sing is Bhailo. The above photo is the first group of Bhailo-ers to come to our house on Kukur Tihar. As you can see the gangsta/rapper thing has caught on here in Nepal with middle class boys throwin' gang signs and wearing trucker style hats. Yes, everywhere you go in the world American culture pervades. Jeans, Marlboros, Coca Cola, Snickers bars, and rap music shall be the American legacy worldwide. Probably heart disease, rotten teeth, emphysema, and diabetes too.
Traditionally Bhailo would be sung by girls and Deusi Re would be sung by boys. Nowadays all you see around here are teen and tween boys who sing/yell one round of Bhailo then shout, "Gimme money!" No one quite knows what the lyrics of Deusi Re mean. Deusi Re seems to have something to do with the legend of King Bali offering his head to Lord Vishnu. The song Bhailo's lyrics state today is no moon day, the house is clean, you have done Lakshmi puja, today is cow pooja day, and so today is BHAILO! (Bhailo sounds like 'buy low' so I always reply with 'sell high!'). The photo above this paragraph is the second set of Bhailo-ers to come to our house about twenty minutes after the first group. Now these boys were nice enough and even said thank you after I gave them some biscuits and a few rupees. I'd be fine if this were the limit to this Bhailo business. After this groups of teen boys came to our gate every fifteen minutes until midnight. Ms Dawg hid in back of the house when she tired of barking. I refuse to go out to the gate with money in my hand after dark. Not to mention the same groups of boys were coming back over and over and over again. So after dark I just lock the gate and said TSAO TO! (Go Away!)
|An 18th century illustration of King Bali ministering to Lord Vishnu's request for three paces of land.|
(Lord Vishnu is in his Vamana avatar as a dwarf Brahmin carrying an umbrella.)