Tihar – The Festival of Lights
There is something about the celebrations of Tihar in Nepal which make it truly special. Also known as the ‘Festival of Lights’, all houses in the cities and villages are decorated with dozens of lit oil lamps which gives them a glittering appearance at night. The festival is held in honor of the Goddess Laxmi who is the Hindu goddess of wealth and also the wife of the almighty Vishnu.
It is sometimes also called ‘Panchak Yama’ which means ‘the five days of the underworld lord’. The event spans a period of five days during which the story of the festival is retold and worshippers flock to temples to ensure that their method of worship is acceptable to Laxmi who is said to be making a world tour at just that moment.
The story goes that there was once a king who was on his deathbed but he did not want to die. When told by an astrologer that a serpent would come and take his life, he followed his advice and filled his palace with lit oil lamps on Laxmi Puja day to please the goddess Laxmi. Laxmi was pleased and she talked to the serpent that then helped the king to cheat death by another 70 years. Since then Tihar has been a widely celebrated event.
The first day of the festival is Crow’s Day and before anyone eats food, the crows are offered a plate of leaves. Crows are the Hindi messengers of death so there is the utmost respect for these creatures in Nepal. The second day is dogs’ day and people put a red tika on their dog’s forehead and a garland around its neck before worshipping it and giving it a scrumptious meal. They ask the dog to protect the house just as he guards the gates of the underworld.
The third day is the most important day and it is known as Laxmi Puja day. On this day a cow is worshipped in the morning before being given a tika, a garland and some lovely food. After this, the goddess Laxmi is worshipped. Before this houses would have been made clean and oil lamps would have been prepared. Now a small portion of the house is painted red and the lamps are lit. A pathway is made from the just outside the house to the room where the family’s treasure are kept. This money is added to each year and only used in extreme emergencies. After the rituals have been performed, people gamble and girls sing songs from one house to the next, receiving gifts as they go along. On the fourth day each person worships their specific cultural god while on the fifth day girls put tikas on their brothers and pray for their brother’s long life.
The Festival of the Lights is a colorful one that if full of meaning for those who celebrate it and it is often thought of as the most dazzling festival on the Nepal calendar.