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The 5-days Tihar : Festival of Lights-Yamapanchak or Deepawali or Diwali


Tihar or Yamapanchak or Deepawali or Diwali

Nepal is a culturally and traditionally rich country, a true Hindu kingdom known for its richness in cultures and traditions. Among a number of festivals, Tihar is considered more pious and entertaining. Tihar is the 5-day long festival of Nepal which is the second greatest in rank. Almost every Nepalese despite any caste or creed, there is an eagerness and exclusive enthusiasm for celebrating this festival. Starting from Trayodashi of Krishna paksha of Kartik month of Hindu calendar, Tihar is celebrated till Kartik Shukla Dwitiya for a total of 5 days. Tihar is also called as Yamapanchak or Deepawali. Yamapanchak means Lord Yama (God of Death) and Panchak means five days. While Deepawali or Diwali means the festivals of lights.

How is Tihar celebrated?

During Tihar, the whole nation is indulged in cleanliness, decorations, and celebrations. Nepalese all over the world celebrate in their own suitable ways. From the very first day of Tihar, every family member is busy with cleaning, painting the house, worshipping, praying and lighting up butter lamps (diyo) in every part of the house. "Deusi-Bhailo" is a musical program that is especially played during Tihar only usually at night time. A group of people sing, dance and play musical instruments around the neighborhood for which they will be rewarded with some amount of money or food products like Sel-roti (Rice-bread), fruits and confectioneries.

Interesting stories of Tihar

Tihar is a festival of lights. There are some interesting mythological stories behind the celebration of Tihar. Lord Yama raj (God of Death) has a sister named the Yamuna. They both wanted to see each other but Lord Yama was very busy with his works. He is the one to decide that the soul taken will be sent to heaven or hell depending upon their deeds. So, Yamuna sent Lord Yama messages requesting for meeting her through a crow, a dog and a cow as the messenger. But still, Lord Yama couldn’t make it up. Hence, Yamuna decided to go herself and finally they met on the fifth day which is celebrated as "Bhai Tika". She worshipped her brother then put a tika of five colors and a garland of Amaranth flower (called Makhamali Phool in Nepali). Then she made a circle around her brother dipping a special grass, Cynodon dactylon (called Dubo in Nepali) and then presented his special gifts and blessings. She then announced that no one will die on the day of Bhai Tika after receiving tika from his sister. Since then, the traditions started and are being followed up to date.

Another legendary story is once upon a time there was a girl named the Yamuna. Her brother was very ill for which the Yamuna was praying for his healthy and long life. When Lord Yama came to take his soul, Yamuna was doing a Puja for her brother's recovery. She then requested Lord Yama to be part of the Puja for which he was very pleased and asked her to wish anything she desires. Then the Yamuna wished for the long and healthy life of her brother. From the time being, it is believed that the Yamuna was successful in saving her brother from a deadly illness. Finally, this day becomes a day for the well-wishing of brothers by sisters for the long, healthy and prosperous life of brothers.

The next story is about the Govardhana Puja. When Lord Indra, the God of Rain and King of Gods cursed Gokul village and made them suffered from heavy rainfall and floods, Lord Krishna uplifted a small hill named Govardhana on his little finger providing shelter to the villagers. After that time, Govardhana hill is worshipped as the savior offering food items.

Days of Tihar

Nepalese from different religions and different communities celebrate lots of festivals in different ways maintaining a harmonious environment. During Tihar, the houses are decorated with vibrant colorful lights and flowers with glitz. This makes Tihar special and is an attractive festival. Tihar is popular as a five-day celebration worshipping the messengers and offering food items and goodies. The main five days of Tihar are:

First day – Kaag Tihar (Kaag: Crow, Pooja)

Second day – Kukur Tihar – (Kukur: Dog, Pooja)

Third day – Gai Tihar or Laxmi Pooja – (Gai: Cow, Laxmi: Goddess of Wealth, Pooja)

Fourth day – Goru Tihar, Govardhan Pooja, Mha Pooja, (Aatma pooja) – (Goru: Ox, Pooja)

Fifth day – Bhai Tika, Bhai Dooj – (Bhai: Brother and Sister Pooja)


First Day: Kaag Tihar (The Days of Crows)

Crow or Raven (Kaag in Nepali) is the first messenger sent by the Yamuna to her brother, Lord Yama (God of Death) to meet her. It is also considered as the representative of death. The cawing of crows is supposedly taken as an omen symbolizing sorrow. Hence, people worship crows and leave the food out on the roofs for them. This is done mainly to avert the misery, sadness, and the inevitable death as well as bring good luck to the family.


Second Day: Kukur Tihar (The Days of Dogs)

The second day is dedicated to Dogs (Kukur in Nepali). They are also considered as the messengers of God of Death, Lord Yamaraj, capable of leading the dead souls to heaven. Dogs or canines are also called the "Gatekeeper of Death". On this day, the dogs are worshipped, red tika is put on the forehead, and garlands of marigold flowers are offered with tasty sustenance. Kukur Tihar mainly acknowledges the friendly bonding between humans and dogs as Dogs are believed to be the human's trustworthy friend.

On this special day of Dogs, Nepalese policemen and army present their dogs with wreaths of flowers around their neck, worship with tika and butter lamps and thanks for their anonymous contributions for social security. A function is organized to honor them at the Central Police Dog Training School in Kathmandu.


Third-Day: Gai Tihar or Laxmi Pooja (The Day of Goddess of Wealth)

Gai Tihar or Laxmi Pooja is the third day of Tihar or Yamapanchak which is more festive, colorful and brighter than the other days. On this day, Cow is worshipped as a sacred animal. Early morning, the house is cleaned thoroughly with red mud (rato mato) and cow's dung (gobar) and then a bath is given to the cow. Then they are worshipped putting red tika on the forehead and a beautiful garland of marigold flowers around the neck. This is a way of thanking cows for their indirect benefits to humans. They give milk while their urine and dung are used for fertilizers in the field and for purification purposes. If people have the holy thread tied in the wrist on the day of Janai Purnima, they untie it and tie it to the tails of the cows in the belief that the cows facilitate the soul to reach heaven by crossing a river i.e. Baitarni.

Start of the evening, the houses are shining with the lights of a butter lamp, oil lamps, lanterns and bright colorful lights at every corner of the houses, especially doors and windows to invite Goddess Lakshmi for bringing wealth and prosperity to the family. Rangoli is made using different colors in front of the doors in order to please Goddess Lakshmi while entering the house. It is believed that the more the home is luminous, the more is the Goddess Lakshmi attracted. Children wear traditional dresses and go around the house to house singing songs, dancing and playing musical instruments. This is called the Deusi-Bhailo program. People give money or food items like confectioneries, sel roti, etc. or fruits in return of this program as the blessing and offering. This goes on till late at night.


Fourth Day: Goru Tihar or Govardhan Pooja or Mha Pooja (The Day of Ox or Govardhan)

Goru Tihar or Govardhana Pooja or Mha Pooja is the fourth day of Tihar. The specialty of this day is a famous story behind it. Once upon a time, there was a drought in Vrindavan village. So the villagers of Vrindaban worshipped Lord Indra, God of Rain but Lord Krishna persuaded the villagers that the rainfall is because of Govardhan hill, not Lord Indra. This aroused the anger of Lord Indra and he made a huge rainfall, stormy weather, and floods everywhere. Lord Krishna hence uplifted the Govardhan hill to protect and shelter the villagers from the thunderstorm, flood, and rain. Since then the people make a small hillock of gobar (cow's dung) representing the Govardhan hill and worship to pay the tribute.

Another importance of this day is Goru Tihar. It is believed that Goru (Ox) was the messenger of Yamuna to her brother. Also, Goru is the vehicle of Lord Shiva, the Nandi. We worship Ox to pay tribute to help us grow crops by helping to plough the fields.

Last but not least is Mha Pooja. It is the self pooja done by the Newari community, paying respect and love to self. This day is the New Year's day of the Newari community.

In the evening, people can see going around to houses in groups playing Deusi, a musical program. The house owners give some money or food or present in turn of entertaining them with the songs and the blessings for their welfare.


Fifth Day: Bhai Tika or Bhai Dooj (The Day of Brothers and Sisters)

Bhai Tika or Bhai Dooj is the final day of Yamapanchak or Tihar. This day is purely dedicated to the brothers and sisters for celebrating their friendly and affectionate bond. There are several names for this day – Bhai Tika, Bhai Dooj, Bhardutiya, etc. On this day, the sisters worship their brothers, make a circle by lemongrass dip in oil, apply oil to the hair of their siblings, then put tika of seven colors on their brother's forehead, give blessings for long, healthy and prosperous life and put garland of makhamali (Gomphrena globosa) flowers around the neck. They cook delicious delicacies, confectioneries on this day for their brothers. The brothers in return give gifts, presents or money. The brothers promise to protect their sisters for their appreciation, love, and care they received from their sisters.

There is a story in Hindu mythology behind celebrating this festival. Sister Yamuna went to meet her brother Lord Yama. She did the rituals as putting tika and a beautiful garland of Makhamali flowers, served him succulent dishes, sweets, fruits and then worship him and bless him. In return, Lord Yama asked for any wish she had. That moment she asked for any brother not dying on that day as the day was the brother-sister day to maintain the loving bond. Since then, this became a traditional trend in the glory of Sister Yamuna and Brother Lord Yama.

Those who don’t have siblings visit the temple in the Ranipokhari of Kathmandu valley and they put or receive tika. It is believed that no one's forehead should be empty on this day. Ranipokhari is a square-shaped pond in the heart of Kathmandu city. It was built by King Pratap Malla in 1670 A.D in order to console his queen who was in deep shock and grief of their son's death. The temple in the center of Ranipokhari is dedicated to Matrikeshwor Mahadev with other four similar but smaller temples in the four corners of the pond.


Major Attractions of Tihar

  1. Festival of Lights: The whole nation celebrates Tihar with astounding energy of happiness and joy. The houses, shops, temples, monasteries, historical places, monuments, etc. shine in the brightness of the oil or butter lamps, lanterns. Every corner is illuminated during this 5-day festival of Tihar. Rangolis are made in front of the entrances or shops to welcome Goddess Laxmi to bestow her blessings with prosperity. Many cultural programs are organized. Groups of children wearing traditional costumes can be seen around dancing and singing house to house, shops to shops. The whole scenario is really a melodious stunning moment. The festive mood goes on with the grand celebrations.
  2. Ranipokhari Temple: The famous Ranipokhari temple dedicated to Matrikeshwar Mahadev, the incarnation of Lord Shiva is built at the center of Ranipokhari. Rani means Queen and pokhari means pond. This pond was constructed by King Pratap Malla to solace her queen who was shattered with the unexpected death of their son. This temple is opened to general people on the day of Bhai Tika only. The temple is surrounded by iron fences and there are 4 small temples in the 4 corners of the pond. The pond got destroyed by the massive earthquake in 2015. The reconstruction process is going on.
  3. Thamel: The tourist hub of Kathmandu, Thamel is really crowded on regular days as well. But during the Tihar festival, all the shops, malls are decorated and glowing in the amazing colorful lights. Rangolis with different vibrant colors are made in the entrance to the shops. The restaurants will be conducting many musical concerts playing Tihar songs. Different delicacies to celebrate Tihar special are made exclusively.
  4. Ason: The main market area of Kathmandu valley is Ason. During Tihar and Dashain, each and every corner of Ason is bustling and very busy in selling and buying things. All the shops are crowded. Attractive decorations are done to lure the buyers to enter their shops and do the shopping. During evening or night time, the whole market seems to be glowing due to the lightings.


As for last say, Tihar is a wonderful festival that brings joy to everyone. Even foreigners are also invited to celebrate this festival without any favoritism. ‘Yamapanchak’ meaning the five days of Lord Yama, the God of Death, several mythological stories are present in support of the celebration of each day of this festival. Prayers, singing hymns, worshipping continues along with the festive feeling of togetherness, opportunities to celebrate this delightful festival. Visit Nepal during Tihar is highly recommended to see the true colors of celebrations of Tihar-The Festival of Lights, The Festival of Brothers and Sisters, The Festival of happiness and prosperity in the whole nation.

Author: Step On Himalaya

Date: 23rd October, 2019