There are many interpretation of tihar but I take it as our way of thanking all those who helped us through thick and thin
Festivities bring a different understanding as you age. As a child, the most exciting part of tihar was playing deusi and bhailo, as they involved getting money, and of course, bhaitika, for all the sweets and the fun tika part. Apart from that tihar did not hold much significance for a child. With age we understand the festivities a little better. Still later my mind started looking for logic behind each and every activity associated with this festivity.
Tihar is one of our major festivals and is celebrated for five days each year, almost a month after dashain. It is also known as Yamapanchak and yes it is the festival of lights, all lit up to attract Laxmi, the goddess of wealth into your home. Laxmi travels at night, alone on her owl, and an owl can see in the dark. So it makes perfect sense to pray to Laxmi after sun-down. Apart from worshipping the goddess of wealth, tihar is also the time to thank everyone who made a difference in your life during the year including the animals. Tihar as such represents the divine attachment between humans and other animals.
The first day of tihar is Kaagtihar. The cawing of crows and ravens symbolizes sadness and grief. So each year we thank the crow for averting grief and death in our family by offering them sweets and dishes placed on the roofs of houses. The second day is Kukurtihar. We thank dogs for being a good and loyal friend and for protecting our homes throughout the year. We offer them garland, tika and delicious food and acknowledge the cherished relation between humans and dogs. Dogs are considered auspicious as they symbolize Good Luck, Loyalty, Obedience and Prosperity and of course unconditional love. In the modern context dogs bring back our sanity, after a crazy day’s work. They understand you and cheer you up with their unconditional love. They share your sadness and stay by you when you are sick.
Inviting the divine
The morning of third day is Gaitihar. Cow signifies prosperity and wealth. Even now people benefit a lot from the cow. Its milk is considered as good as mother’s milk and its dung and urine are used in organic agriculture. Thus on this day people show their gratefulness to the cow for providing for the family and the children, by garlanding and feeding them good food. Houses are cleaned and the doorways and windows are decorated with garlands made of sayapatri and makhamali flowers in preparation of Laxmi puja.
The evening is marked by worship of Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. We thank her for all the blessings bestowed on the family during the year. It is believed that Laxmi is restless and does not stay in one place, so by lighting Diyo (oil lamps) or candles on doorways and windows, people welcome her into their homes, at the same time also welcome in the family prosperity and well-being for next year. At night children enjoy dancing and visiting houses in the neighborhood with musical instruments, singing and dancing as part of bhailo, collecting money as tip from houses and sharing the bounty among themselves.
The next day is deusi, mostly sung by the boys, as opposed to dhailo that is mostly sung by girls. Bhailo and deusi are balladic and tell the story of the festival, with one person narrating and the rest repeating in chorus. In return the homeowners give them money, fruit and selroti. Nowadays social workers, politicians, and young people visit local homes, sing songs, and collect funds for welfare and social activities.
On the fourth day of Tihar, depending on a person’s cultural background, there are three different pujas. One is Goru Puja (worship of the oxen) as a way of thanking the animal for supporting the family by plowing the field, improving production and also helping move things to and from the market on oxen cart. Those people who follow Vaishnavism perform Govardhan Puja, worshiping Govardhan Mountain, which fulfils all the needs of humanity. The Newar community on this night performs MhaPuja (worship of the self).
Thankful to nature
The fifth and last day of Tihar is called Bhai/Bahini tika. Both brothers and sisters observe it alike by applying tika on each other’s foreheads to ensure long life of each other and thank them for the protection they provide.
Sisters do the preparatory work of making makhamali phul garland. Brothers sit on the floor while their sisters perform their puja. Following the puja sisters apply seven-color tika on the brother’s forehead. Next, brothers also put tikas on their sister’s foreheads, in the same fashion, and gifts are exchanged. This festival strengthens the close relationship between brothers and sisters.
In addition, Newars make colorful Ashta mangala mandalas and recite chants in accordance with Tantric rituals. Along with the seven-colored tika, sisters provide brothers with sweets, Makhamali garland, and a sacred cotton thread of Tantric importance, meant to protect their bodies.
Finally, despite every possible interpretation of tihar, I still like to call it our own way of thanking all those who helped us through thick and thin during hard times, when we depended so much on nature for our well-being. People have gradually forgotten the importance of nature and the festival has only become just another opportunity to have fun. No harm here but we also need to be thankful to everyone for our prosperity.
We also need to teach our children to be thankful to everyone, even the crow, the dog, the cow, the ox, and the mountains and trees that give us conducive environment to live. Children need to know that there is a reason behind all the festivities. So parents teach your children to be thankful on every occasion. Now that is not such a big deal right?
The author is an educationist and author of several children’s books