What makes the Tihar Festival in Nepal Special?
Tihar festival, also known as Deepawali, swanti or Yamapanchak, is a five-day festival of lights that celebrates animals, light, people, and kinship. In this festival, people worship the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity, Laxmi. It typically falls in October or November (according to the lunar Bikram Sambat calendar).
In 2023, Tihar starts on November 11th (Kartik 25, 2080 B.S) and ends on November 15th (Kartik 29, 2080 B.S).
Tihar is a widely celebrated Hindu festival in Nepal second only to Nepal's biggest festival - Dashain. Also, it is celebrated in a few states in India, including Hindus in Sikkim and West Bengal.
Why is Tihar called Festival of Lights in Nepal?
Tihar is known as the "Festival of Lights" because of the prominent use of lamps, candles, and decorative lights during the celebration. The lighting of oil lamps, known as "diyo" or "dip," symbolizes the victory of light over darkness and good over evil. Likewise, here are some more reasons why Tihar is called the Festival of Lights.
Symbol of Goodness: In Hindu culture, light is seen as a symbol of goodness and purity, and it is believed to dispel darkness and ignorance. Lighting lamps and candles is a way to symbolically remove darkness from one's life and welcome positive energy, knowledge, and prosperity.
Honor to Goddess Laxmi: During this festival, one of the main days is dedicated to the worship of Goddess Laxmi, the deity of wealth and prosperity. People light lamps and candles to welcome her into their homes, believing that her presence will bring financial and material well-being. It is a way of inviting divine energies into the home.
Decoration: People decorate their homes and public spaces with colorful and creative lighting arrangements, rangoli (colorful patterns on the ground made with colored powders), and decorative oil lamps. These decorations add a festive and joyful ambiance to the celebration, making it visually appealing.
Importance of Tihar in Nepalese Culture
Tihar is one of the most revered festivals in Nepal. It holds a special place in the hearts of the Nepalese people and holds immense importance in Nepalese culture. Its cultural significance can be understood from several perspectives:
Spiritual Significance: The festival involves the worship of various deities, including Goddess Laxmi (the goddess of wealth and prosperity) and the crow, dog, cow, and oxen. These rituals are seen as a way to seek blessings, protection, and well-being from these divine beings.
Familial and Social Bonds: This is a festival that brings families and communities together. The exchange of blessings, gifts, and the tika ceremony on Bhai Tika strengthens the bonds between siblings. It is a time for people to show love and appreciation for their family members and friends.
Cultural Traditions: This festival is rich in cultural traditions, including the creation of colorful rangoli, the decoration of homes, and various cultural performances. These traditions add to the cultural richness and heritage of Nepal, making Tihar a visually and artistically vibrant celebration.
Economic Significance: As the festival is associated with Goddess Laxmi, it is believed that her blessings will bring prosperity and wealth. Therefore, it is customary for people to clean and decorate their homes and offices and perform Laxmi Puja to invite financial success in the coming year.
Tourism and Cultural Exchange: This festival attracts tourists and visitors from around the world who want to experience and understand Nepalese culture and traditions. This helps promote cultural exchange and tourism in Nepal, contributing to the country's economy.
Legend behind Tihar Festival in Nepal
We cannot be sure of the exact reason for celebrating the Tihar festival. Over the years, there are various legends associated with it.
One popular ancient legend recounts that in the past, there was a girl named Yamuna who had a severely sick brother. While she was deeply praying for her brother's recovery, Yama, the lord of death, unexpectedly arrived at their home to claim her brother's soul. However, before Yama could carry out this grim task, Yamuna invited him to join her in the worship ceremony.
Yama was deeply impressed by Yamuna's devotion and offered to grant her a wish. In response, Yamuna asked for a long and healthy life for her brother, thus sparing him from impending death. This heartwarming bond between siblings is commemorated during Tihar, also known as Yamapanchak. "Yama" signifies the God of Death, and "Panchak" refers to the five days of this festival.
Yet another narrative recounts that Yama and Yamuna were siblings. Yama, being the god of death, was always occupied, and Yamuna couldn't meet him. So, she used a crow, a dog, and a cow to convey her desire to meet her brother Yama. Despite these efforts, Yama remained elusive.
On the fifth day, Yamuna personally approached Yama and finally met her brother. She then applied a five-color tika on Yama's forehead. Hence, Tihar has been celebrated ever since to mark this significant event.
Important Days during Tihar Festival in Nepal
Tihar is celebrated over five days, each with its own significance:
Day 1: Kaag Tihar (Crow Tihar/Kwah Puja)
Kaag Tihar marks the beginning of the Tihar festival. In Hindu mythology, crows are regarded as messengers of Yama, the god of death. To appease these messengers and seek protection from death in the coming year, Hindus perform certain rituals and offer grains and seeds to the crows on this first day of Tihar.
Day 2: Kukur Tihar (Dog Tihar/Khicha Puja)
The second day of Tihar is dedicated to dogs, celebrated for their loyalty to their masters. People who own dogs express their gratitude by worshiping them. Those without pet dogs offer their worship to stray dogs. This ritual includes placing a garland around the dog's neck and treating them with special delicacies.
Hindu beliefs also associate dogs with Yama, the god of death, who has two loyal dogs - Shyama and Sharvara—who guard the door of hell. You can trace this reverence for dogs back to ancient Hindu scriptures and stories, including the Mahabharata, where Yudhishthira's loyal dog is a prominent character.
Day 3: Gai Tihar (Cow Tihar) and Lakshmi Puja
The third day of Tihar celebrates the cows as holy animals. Cows are considered the vahana (vehicle) of the goddess Laxmi, who symbolizes wealth and prosperity.
In a society deeply rooted in agriculture cows play an indispensable role, providing life-nourishing milk for humans, manure for crops, and even fire material as dry dung. Even cow urine is revered for its supposed health benefits.
On Gai Tihar, the Hindus adorn cows with garlands and apply tika on their foreheads and bodies. They also offer them delicious delicacies, typically consisting of sel and roti.
This day Laxmi, the goddess of wealth is revered. Homes are thoroughly cleaned, and diyas (clay pot oil lamps) are placed around the premises to invite Laxmi's blessings. In urban areas, decorative electric lights are more common. In the evening, a special Laxmi pooja (worship) is performed to seek wealth and prosperity.
As a delightful tradition, young girls form groups and visit homes in their neighborhood, singing Bhailo songs. In return, traditionally homeowners used to offer small amounts of money and sweets.
However, these days people mostly give out money. Fireworks are also part of the evening celebrations, although recent regulations by the Nepalese government have restricted this practice.
Day 4: Goru (Ox) / Govardhan Puja and Mha Puja
The fourth day of Tihar honors oxen. Traditionally farmers used to employ oxen for manual labor in Nepal's agriculture. More recently, their use has been limited.
In the evening, young men visit neighboring homes, singing Deusi songs. In return, they receive sweets and dakshina (money). Again, in these times, homeowners mostly offer dakshina only.
This day often coincides with the first day of the Nepal Sambat calendar and is celebrated as Mha Puja by ethnic Newars. They believe that Mha Puja purifies the soul.
Additionally, the day is celebrated as Govardhan Puja, where a special pile of dung is worshipped, symbolizing the Govardhan mountain.
According to Hindu mythology, as mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana, cow herders worshiped Indra, the god of rain. However, Lord Krishna advised against praying to any deity other than the Supreme Being. Following Krishna's advice, the cow herders stopped their offerings to Indra, which angered him.
In response, Indra sent heavy rain and storms to the Govardhan Hill area. To protect the villagers from the relentless weather, Lord Krishna lifted Govardhan Hill, providing shelter to the community. This event is commemorated as Govardhan Puja.
Day 5: Bhai Tika (Kija Puja)
Bhai Tika, the final and most significant day of Tihar, is dedicated to the special bond between brothers and sisters. The puja begins with sisters marking a protective boundary using oil-infused dubo (special holy grass), preventing death and evil spirits from crossing.
Sweets and fruits are placed before the brothers, and oil is applied to their hair. A tika, consisting of seven colors, is placed on their foreheads. Sisters adorn their brothers with garlands made of Makhmali flowers and offer sweets and confectioneries.
In contemporary times, special boxes filled with sweets and nuts have become popular, and sisters present these to their brothers. Brothers reciprocate by placing a tika on their sisters' foreheads and offering cash and gifts.
Those without brothers or sisters visit Ranipokhari Temple in Kathmandu to put or receive tika. Hindus believe that no one's forehead should be without a tika on Bhai Tika. This temple is open to the public only on Bhai Tika.
How is Tihar Celebrated in Nepal?
Tihar celebrations are marked with various customs and traditions. The entire festival is a time of joy, togetherness, and reflection. Here are some popular things people do during the this festival.
1. Decorating Homes
Tihar begins with cleaning and decorating homes. People clean their houses thoroughly and adorn them with colorful rangoli (mandalas) made of colored rice, sand, or flower petals. This cleaning and decoration are done to invite positive energy into the home and to welcome the gods and goddesses.
2. Lighting Oil Lamps
Lighting oil lamps and candles is a daily ritual during Tihar. Families place these lamps both inside and outside their homes to symbolize the triumph of light over darkness. It is believed that the light from these lamps guides goddess Laxmi to the homes of the devotees.
3. Making Rangoli
Elaborate rangoli designs are created at the entrance of homes and courtyards. These designs are often intricate and artistic, made using a variety of colorful materials like colored powders, rice, flower petals, and even colored sand. The rangoli is a form of decoration and a symbol of good luck.
📖Learn: How to Make Rangoli?
4. Worshipping Animals
Each day of Tihar is dedicated to the worship of a specific animal. For example, on Kukur Tihar, dogs are honored with flower garlands and tika as they are considered loyal and sacred. On Gai Tihar, cows are worshipped for their role in agriculture and daily life.
5. Applying Tika and Garland
Family members receive tika, which is a mixture of yogurt, rice, and vermillion, on their foreheads along with garlands made of marigold and makhamali flowers. This is a form of blessing and a gesture of goodwill from elders to the younger generation.
6. Singing and Dancing
Folk songs and traditional dances play a vital role in Tihar celebrations. Young people, often in groups, go from house to house performing traditional dances and singing Deusi and Bhailo songs. These performances are a form of entertainment and are also a way to collect donations and blessings.
7. Exchanging Gifts
During this festival, people exchange gifts, sweets, and tokens of appreciation with family and friends. This practice strengthens relationships and expresses love and gratitude towards one another.
8. Preparing Special Foods
Special dishes are prepared during Tihar to offer to deities and share with relatives and neighbors. These dishes include sel roti (a traditional Nepali fried bread), yam, and a variety of sweets. They are considered auspicious and are shared as part of the celebrations.
📖Learn: How to make selroti?
Popular Holiday Destinations during Tihar Festival
During Tihar, many people visit different parts of Nepal to witness and participate in the grand celebrations. Cities like Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Pokhara come alive with cultural events, music, and beautifully decorated streets. It's an excellent opportunity to experience the vibrancy of Nepalese culture.
For those looking to immerse themselves in the beauty and culture of Tihar, we recommend the following tourist destinations.
1. Kathmandu Valley
Kathmandu Valley, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a tapestry of history, culture, and spirituality that beckons travelers from around the globe. If you visit Kathmandu during Tihar, your experience will be nothing short of enchanting.
As you visit Kathmandu Valley's World Heritage Sites you'll witness Nepal's vibrant culture and traditions. From a cultural, spiritual, and architectural perspective, we encourage you to visit Swayambhunath, Pashupatinath, Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur Durbar Squares.
In the evening, thousands of lights lit up the valley, and the whole environment lit up, providing spectacular views you cannot find during any other time of the year.
Read the full details here: Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Sites Tour - 5 days
2. Ghorepani and Poon Hill
Tihar falls at a time when the natural beauty of Nepal is at its peak, and there's no better way to experience Tihar than embarking on the Ghorepani and Poon Hill trek.
This trek is a mesmerizing journey through the heart of the Annapurna region, where the lush landscapes and rhododendron forests create a captivating backdrop for your Tihar adventure.
The trek kicks off in the charming city of Pokhara, often referred to as the 'City of Lakes,' and it's here that you'll feel the festive buzz of Tihar permeating the air. The city's streets come alive with dazzling decorations and the sounds of singing and dancing, setting the perfect mood for your trek.
As you venture deeper into the Annapurna Sanctuary, you'll find yourself surrounded by towering peaks, pristine mountain villages, and warm hospitality from the locals.
The unique aspect of trekking during Tihar is the opportunity to witness the festival's significance in the lives of the people along the trail. Homes and teahouses are adorned with marigold flower garlands, oil lamps, and intricate rangoli patterns, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere for trekkers.
One of the highlights of the Ghorepani and Poon Hill trek is the sunrise view from Poon Hill. As the sun shows its face, it paints the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges with hues of gold and pink. It's a moment of sheer magic and spirituality that aligns with the essence of Tihar.
Read the full details here: Ghorepani Poon Hill Trek - 5 days
3. Annapurna Base Camp
As Tihar, casts its radiant glow over Nepal, it transforms the entire nation into a tapestry of cultural splendor. You can join the Annapurna Base Camp trek during Tihar to view the celebrations.
Your adventure begins in the picturesque city of Pokhara. During Tihar, Pokhara dons a festive garb, with its streets adorned in colorful decorations and resonating with the melodious and auspicious sounds of Tihar.
As you tread deeper into the Annapurna sanctuary, the beauty of this trek unfolds. Towering peaks, lush rhododendron forests, and charming mountain villages pave your way.
Yet, what truly sets this journey apart is the opportunity to witness the deep-rooted significance of Tihar for the people along the trail. Tea houses and homes are adorned with marigold flower garlands, oil lamps, and rangoli patterns, creating a warm and inviting ambiance for trekkers.
The adventure peaks at the Annapurna Base Camp as the awe-inspiring grandeur of the Annapurna Massif welcomes you. This is a great time to relish the flavors of traditional Nepali cuisine, spiced with the warmth of Tihar celebrations.
Local dishes like sel and roti take on a special meaning during this time, offering a delectable insight into Nepali culture. Engaging with locals, joining their celebrations, and receiving tika – the traditional blessing – allows you to become an integral part of Tihar's heartfelt festivities.
Read the full details here: Annapurna Base Camp Trek - 11 days
4. Everest Base Camp
Trekking to Everest Base Camp during the Tihar festival is a unique and culturally enriching experience. The festive atmosphere during Tihar, with streets and homes adorned with oil lamps, rangoli, and marigold garlands, creates a vibrant ambiance.
You'll have the opportunity to witness and partake in the local Tihar traditions, which include honoring animals and performing rituals. The local cuisine takes on a special significance during the festival, and you can savor traditional Nepali dishes and sweets along the trek.
Cultural performances, such as traditional dances and music, may be organized by local communities, allowing you to immerse yourself in Nepali culture. While enjoying the stunning Himalayan landscapes and breathtaking views, you'll also become a part of this cultural celebration.
Read the full details here: Everest Base Camp Trek - 14 days
Travel with DWT during Tihar Festival
Tihar in Nepal is a visual festival. The Rangolis, the bright lights, the multi-colored tika, and the animal worship make it unique and delightful. If you want to see the fantastic Nepali terrain at the most opportune time as well as join the Tihar celebration in Nepal, you should consider trekking during the Tihar.
As our commitment to a fine trekking experience, Discovery World Trekking provides its service during this festival season. Hence, you can confidently book your treks with us. Visit our homepage for trek options and other relevant information.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What are the five days of Tihar?
The five days of the Tihar festival in Nepal are:
- Kaag Tihar
- Kukur Tihar
- Gai Tihar and Lakshmi Puja
- Govardhan Puja and Mha Puja
- Bhai Tika
Why is Tihar celebrated?
Tihar is a five-day festival celebrated in Nepal, also known as the Festival of Lights. It is a time for family reunions, gift-giving, and worshiping gods and goddesses. Each day of Tihar has its own significance. People honor the goddess of wealth Laxmi as well as the god of death Yama.
When is Tihar in 2023?
In 2023, Tihar starts on November 11th (Kartik 25, 2080 B.S) and ends on November 15th (Kartik 29, 2080 B.S). Kaag Tihar is on November 11th (Kartik 25, 2080 B.S), Kukur Tihar is in November 12th (Kartik 26, 2080 B.S), Lakshmi puja is on November 13th (Kartik 27, 2080 B.S), Mha puja is on November 11th (Kartik 28, 2080 B.S) and Bhai tika is on November 15th (Kartik 29, 2080 B.S).
Why is Bhai Tihar celebrated?
Bhai Tika is the fifth and final day of Tihar, which is celebrated with much fanfare across Nepal. The day is devoted to the bond between brothers and sisters, similar to the festival of Bhai Dooj celebrated in India. Sisters perform a special puja for their brothers, applying tika, giving them garlands, and preparing a lavish feast. In return, brothers present gifts to their sisters and offer their blessings
Why is Kukur Tihar celebrated?
Kukur Tihar is dedicated to the worship of dogs. The festival celebrates the bond between dogs and humans and is a way to recognize, honor, and worship the relationship between them. During the festival, dogs are worshipped, bathed, and decorated with tike made with rice and yoghurt. Flower garlands are draped around their necks, and they are offered food.