Nepal is rich in its culture and traditions. The varieties of festivals and occasions we celebrate carry own significance.
Dashain “The Greatest Festival of Nepalese”
Among them, Dashain being the greatest festival for Nepalese is always celebrated with the zeal and most joyful ways. It is celebrated almost for 15 days in the month of October; 1st, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th days are most important.
The 1st day is welcomed following the rituals of ‘Ghatsthapana’ by worshiping Goddess Durga for 9 consecutive days. The main day is called ‘Dashami’ which is also known as ‘Vijaya Dashami’, the day when Goddess Durga got victory over demons. On this day the seniors put ‘Tika’ and ‘Jamara’ giving blessings to their younger ones. The special money given to the younger ones is received as ‘Dakchhina’. This day is like a family reunion where everyone enjoys with the varieties of food, playing cards, flying kites, etc. Dashain not only reunites the families and friends but it also gives the working people time to relax and have the rejuvenated towards life.
Tihar “The Festival of Lights”
Tihar is the most beautiful and dazzling festival for the Hindus. It is the second greatest festival for Nepalese, after Dashain. It is said to be the festival of the lights. The cities and the surroundings look very clean and wonderful with the smell and presence of the marigold flowers.
The festival usually falls in the month of October or November, celebrated for five days worshiping 4 different animals i.e. Kaag Tihar (Crow Tihar), Kukur Tihar (Dog Tihar), Gai Tihar (Cow Tihar)- the main day to worship the goddess of wealth, Laxmi, Goru Tihar (Ox Tihar) and the 5th day is celebrated as ‘Bhaitika’ which signifies and carries great importance for the love and concern between brothers-sisters. The sisters put the seven colours Tika on the brother’s forehead and pray for their longer life and progress. Tihar always brings the joyous and jolly mood in the families and friends; playing ‘Deusi-bhailo’ and trying the best to welcome the goddess Laxmi, who is believed to bring the happiness and positivity towards the life of the people.
Diwali, one of the great celebrations in the Hindu calendar, is a five-day autumn festival generally known as the festival of lights. Each day has its own focus, and specific observances vary from one denomination of Hinduism to another. Regardless of regional and denominational differences, Diwali is a period of gift-giving, storytelling, and recognition of the relationships humans have with all things.
In Nepal, Diwali is called Tihar. Similar to other Diwali observances, lamps are lit at night during Tihar. The festival of lights celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of knowledge over ignorance, and the dissolution of barriers that separate humans from authentic experience of the world. Nepalese Hinduism is unique in dedicating the second day of Tihar, Kukur Tihar, to the worship of dogs.
Dogs in the Hindu tradition
Dogs are especially important to Nepal’s Hindu practitioners. During day two of Tihar, Kukur Tihar, the role of dogs in human life and throughout history is celebrated. In the Rigveda, one of Hinduism’s most ancient texts, Samara — the mother of dogs — assists Indra, the ruler of heaven, in retrieving stolen cattle. Hindu tradition holds that a dog is the guardian and messenger of Yama, the lord and judge of the dead. A dog is also said to guard the gates of the afterlife.
At the close of the Mahabharata, the king of righteousness, Yudhishthira, refuses to enter heaven without his devoted dog. The dog is revealed to represent the concept of dharma, the path of righteousness. During Tihar, each day is devoted to a honoring a different concept or entity: crows, dogs, cows, oxen, and fraternal relationships, respectively. On the second day, Kukur Tihar, all dogs are recognized, honored, and worshiped.
Diwali for dogs: the garland
What forms does this worship take? During Kukur Tihar, the mythological and real relationships between humans and dogs constitute the day’s major focus. A garland of flowers is draped around the neck of every dog; not only those with homes, but strays as well.
In our dog photos, you’ll notice a wreath of flowers hanging around the neck of each dog. This floral necklace, called a malla, is a mark of respect and dignity. It announces the wearer as important, and symbolizes the prayers that go with the dog.
Diwali for dogs: the tika
On Kukur Tihar, a red mark is applied to the forehead of each dog. In Nepal, this mark is called the tika, a paste made from abir — a red dye powder — along with rice and yogurt. The tika is applied in a single stroke on the forehead upward from the eyes.
Like the malla that garlands the neck, the red tika marks the dog as both a devotee of the righteous path and as an object of devotion. The tika imbues the dog with an air of sacredness and acts as a blessing to those who encounter the dog during Kukur Tihar.
Diwali for dogs: food offerings
Prayers and flowers are certainly nice, but as far as dogs are concerned, their favorite part of Kukur Tihar must be the food. On the first day of Diwali, Kaag Tihar, food is arrayed on the roofs of homes as offerings to crows. On the second day, food offerings are put out for dogs in the home, as well as for strays in the streets.
These food offerings take a variety of forms. Depending on the celebrant, the dog’s treats may include milk, eggs, meat, or high-quality dog food. Some may even offer dogs a bit of sel roti, a deep-fried confection similar to a donut. This is a day when dogs have the best of everything.
How will you celebrate Diwali with your dog?
This is a very general overview of Kukur Tihar. While its origins are traced to Nepalese Hinduism, variants of the day of the dog are celebrated by denominations of Hinduism and Buddhism across the world. Kukur Tihar honors dogs in all of their aspects: as guardians, companions, and friends.
By devoting days during the festival of lights to crows, cows, dogs, oxen, and siblings, adherents acknowledge the deep connections between all living things. In 2014, the ancient partnership between humanity and dogs is celebrated on October 22. We would love to hear from our readers. Do you keep Diwali or Tihar? Share your fondest memories of Kukur Tihar in the comments! How will you honor your dog today?
Learn more about dogs with Dogster: