Showing posts with label tihar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tihar. Show all posts

Nov 2, 2016

The Festival of Tihar (Part 2)

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!
Cows are propitiated with lamps of sesame oil, tika placed on their foreheads, a garland of flowers around their neck, and fed special ceremonial sweets. While the festival of Dashain is all about meat dishes, Tihar is about the sweets!

Sel Roti
This is sel roti a traditional Nepali sweet fried pastry made for Tihar. They're kind of like a funnel cake with a batter of spiced rice flour drizzled into hot oil. Sel roti are crispy, chewy and sweet. Other fried sweets like fini (fried layered pastry) sesame seed laddoos, and burfi (fudge), rasgulla (cheese dumplings soaked in sugar syrup), and other treats are specially made also. Usually fancy fruit baskets are brought in from exotic locales like Thailand for celebrating and gift giving too.

Laxmi Puja
The afternoon of the third day of Tihar is spent cleaning and decorating the house for Laxmi Puja. Laxmi is the goddess of wealth and creativity and loves bright lights, brightly colored flowers, and a clean, tidy home. Fruits, flowers and incense are used in the Laxmi Puja performed at dusk. Traditional grinders (silauto and lohoro), nanglo (flat round woven tray made of bamboo), and jhadoo (corn straw broom) are also worshipped during Laxmi Puja in appreciation of their use. Businesses too perform Laxmi Puja and are often decorated with both traditional diyas (oil lamps), flower garlands, and electric lights.

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!)

Oct 31, 2016

The Festival of Tihar (Part 1)

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.) 
Stay tuned for the next installment on the last three days of Tihar!
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