How to Celebrate Tihar in Nepal: a tourist guide
This post is about how to celebrate the Tihar festival in Nepal. One of the reasons I fell in love with Nepal was because there always seemed to be a festival going on. Tihar was one of my favorite times to be in Nepal.
After Dasain, Tihar is the second biggest festival in Nepal that is celebrated in October or November each year. This festival of lights is a joyous and colorful affair. There are many similarities with the Diwali festival in India, but also a lot of differences.
In Nepal, Tihar is a five day festival that also celebrates crows, dogs, cows and ox. Every community in Nepal has its own unique way to celebrate Tihar, but it is all about fostering love, unity, and respect for nature, animals, and family bonds.
Celebrating Tihar in Nepal
Tihar is a great festival to observe for tourists, because there are lots of things going on in Kathmandu and the country. Although Dashain is an even bigger and more important festival, it is also more of a family festival celebrated at home in the rural villages.
Tihar is also known as the Festival of Lights due to the numerous oil lamps or diyas that are lit during the celebration. Streets, houses, temples, and public spaces are adorned with strings of colorful lights and candles, creating a festive atmosphere throughout the country. People believe the lights guide Goddess Laxmi into people’s homes to drive away darkness and evil spirits.
Tihar transforms Kathmandu into a world of glittering color as people light up the diyo candles and make beautiful rangoli patterns of coloured sand powder and flower petals. Flower garlands are used to enhance the decorations, adding a fragrant touch to the surroundings. Every home is decorated to welcome the gods. In the meantime children go from house to house to sing deusi and bhailo songs.
What is the meaning of Tihar in Nepal
Tihar is a festival deeply rooted in Hindu traditions and beliefs. It is celebrated to honor various gods, animals, and elements of nature. During this time, Hindu’s reflect on the importance of family bonds and the significance of animals in people’s lives.
Tihar highlights the significance of animals and their relationship with humans. Dogs, cows, and crows are particularly worshipped during the festival. Dogs are considered to be the guards and protectors, while cows are regarded as sacred animals, representing wealth and fertility.
Tihar’s timing also coincides with the end of the rice harvest in Nepal. Therefore, it also celebrates the agricultural abundance and the crucial role that cows have for the farmers in their fields.
The most important gods that people pray to dring Tihar are the death god Yama and the goddess of wealth Laxmi. Hindus worship the creatures associated with Yama, such as the crow, to protect themselves from death and grief for the coming year. Laxmi, on the other hand, is the goddess of wealth and prosperity.
The Tihar festival in Nepal day by day
Day 1: Kaag Tihar
Kaag means crow and on the first day of Tihar people worship the crow. Hindus believe the crow to be the messenger of the death god Yama. People put offerings of seeds, grains and sweets on their roofs to appease the crows and ravens hoping they will not bring grief or death to their homes in the coming year.
For tourists there is not yet much to see on the first day of Tihar, except that Kathmandu is in a joyous atmosphere. While small homes light up a small oil lamp made from mud and clay, bigger homes and stores decorate their buildings with garlands of led lights. The more the better
The shopping streets around Ason bazaar and Durbar square will be crowded with people buying new clothes, gifts and festival food and sweets for the coming festival days.
Best place to see festivities: Ason bazaar
Day 2: Kukur Tihar
Kukur means dog and on the second day of Tihar people celebrate the special bond between men and dogs. Hindus believe that dogs guard the underworld and that by praying to the dogs during Tihar they will also guard their homes.
All of a sudden, every dog on the street is treated like a king with food, flower garlands and a tika on the forehead.
Best place to see festivities: Tourists will see happy dogs throughout Kathmandu and other cities in Nepal today.
Day 3: Gai Tihar and Laxmi puja
Gai means cow. Cows are holy animals in the Hindu religion. Although cows are always respected in Nepal, they receive a special prayer on the third day of Tihar. Like the dogs on kukur tihar, cows receive a flower garland and tika on the forehead.
Devote Hindus in rural areas will drink a drop of two of the cows urine as well and will place heaps of cow dung in their home.
The third day of Tihar is one of the most important days of Tihar and also the start of the official Tihar holidays. In the evening is another special prayer to the goddess of wealth Laxmi. People welcome Laxmi in their home by cleaning the house, putting diyo lights and rangoli patterns in front of their house.
Families also set up special displays that feature idols or pictures of Goddess Laxmi, along with various offerings, fruits, sweets, and coins.
Not only households perform laxmi puja, but also companies. Companies often perform large ceremonies including the staff members. Their buildings are decorated with as many electrical lights as possible.
The night of Laxmi puja is also a night when girls go from door to door to sing bhailini songs.
Best place to see festivities: You can see decorations throughout Kathmandu and other cities in Nepal. At Boudhanath are lots of lights and there is a large Rangoli pattern at the entrance to the Boudhanath stupa. If you are trekking through the Annapurnas or the Everest region decorations are more modest in the mountain villages, but definitely listen to the children that go singing from door to door.
Day 4: Govardhan Puja
After all the festivities and rituals on the third day, the fourth day is more quiet again. It is an official holiday that most men spend gambling and playing cards with each other.
Devoted Hindus will also worship the ox and perform a special prayer involving cow dung. Heaps of cow dung are made. They represent the holy Govardhan mountain and are worshiped during this day.
Tonight it is the boys that go from door to door singing Deusi Re Bhailo songs.
Best place to see festivities: most prayers are done at homes today. Everything in Kathmandu will be closed down as men get together to play cards and enjoy their free time. In the evening watch out for groups of boys that go from door to door to sing Deusi songs.
Day 5: Bhai tika
Bhai tika is the day when sisters pray to their brothers and families get together as a result. Sisters visit their brothers to give them flower garlands and a tika. In return brothers give gifts to their sisters. The Tihar tika is a special tika that has seven colors
Best place to see festivities: If you are invited to someone’s home for bhai tika it is the best way to enjoy the last day of Tihar. Otherwise head to Rani Pokhari in Kathmandu. The holy temple in the center of the pond only opens this day for those that do not have sisters. Priests will give tika to these men.
Special Tihar foods in Nepal
Dried fruits and nuts
Sisters buy special gift boxes full of dried fruits and nuts for their brothers on bhai tika. You can buy these gift boxes in the bazaars of Kathmandu in the days leading up to Tihar
These sweet rings of dough are absolutely delicious when fresh from the frying pan. Many families only make sel roti during Tihar. With a bit of luck you might also find it as a street food in Kathmandu during other times, but Tihar is the best time to try them.
Tihar in Nepal practicalities
Where to celebrate Tihar in Nepal
For tourists it is best to witness Tihar in Kathmandu. The city transforms into a city of lights and color with every building being decorated.
When you are trekking in the mountains, the decorations will be more modest. Also Buddhist people in the higher mountain villages do not celebrate Tihar as much as the Hindus in the lower foothills of Nepal.
Yet even in the mountain villages of the Annapurnas and Everest regions there will be a festive atmosphere. Tihar is a bank holiday and many people return from Kathmandu where they work to their families in the mountains.
When to celebrate Tihar in Nepal
Tihar follows the Nepali calendar and starts on the 13th day of the waning moon in the month Kartik. The dates in our calendar therefore change every year, but will be somewhere around the end of October or beginning of November.
This coincides with the best time to visit Nepal in general. The monsoon is just over and the weather is therefore stable and sunny. It is also a great time to go trekking in Nepal. If you plan to visit Nepal during this time try to plan your trek before or after Tihar so you can enjoy some of the festivities in Kathmandu.
Do keep in mind that if you plan your trek after Tihar the offices to arrange your trekking permits in Kathmandu will be closed during the last three days of Tihar as these are official bank holidays.
Throughout my time in Nepal I was often invited by families to join them during Tihar for the bhai tika ceremony where sisters give their blessings to their brothers. This is a great way to get to know more about the Tihar festival and Nepali culture.
People are genuinely happy if you join. During the bhai tika ceremony brothers and sisters also exchange gifts. Brothers give sisters new clothes and sisters give their brothers a packet with fruits and dried fruits. If you are invited it will be appreciated to bring a gift with you. During tihar you can buy special tihar boxes of sweets and dried fruits in the bazaar.
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