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Tihar Festival—Diwali in Nepal

Diwali, known as Tihar in Nepal, is a major Hindu festival. While Diwali is the most important holiday for Hindus in India, for those in Nepal Tihar is considered to be the second-most important holiday after Dashain which takes place only around 15 days before.

While Diwali and Tihar are both celebrated with clay lanterns, lights, and sweets and come from similar cultural roots. These 5-day festivals are also different from each other in many ways.

If you want to learn more about Hinduism and Indian culture, you might want to experience Diwali, but if you are an animal lover and want to honor the importance of animals in our lives then Tihar in Nepal may be the best festival for you.

In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about Tihar including the differences and similarities between Tihar and Diwali, Tihar dates, how Tihar is celebrated, where to celebrate, and how to celebrate as a traveler.

Diwali lanterns, Guide to Tihar festival

Why Experience Tihar in Nepal 

  • Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, comes alive during the celebrations with fireworks, ceremonies, and animals being honored.
  • Join in the celebration of Kukur Tihar and thank dogs for their friendship by giving them food, placing a marigold wreath around their necks, and applying a holy red tika to their foreheads. 
  • Nepali people are known for their generosity and hospitality and often invite travelers into their homes to celebrate the holidays together. This is a great opportunity to get an authentic view into the lives and culture of locals.
  • This is the only time of year that the Rani Pokhari Temple is open to the public and accepts visitors to see its pristine sacred pond and impressive white buildings.

Diwali vs Tihar 

Major Differences in Celebrations Tihar Diwali
Legends Lord Yama, the God of Death Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth
Celebrated by Nepali Hindus Indian Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs
2020 Date November 13-17 November 12-16
Day 1 Kag Tihar: Crows, which are considered to be a messenger of Lord Yama, are worshipped and given food. Dhanteras: People clean their homes to prepare for the festival. They also go shopping and buy auspicious items like gold and kitchenware.
Day 2 Kukur Tihar: Dogs are worshipped for their loyalty. People hang marigold garlands around their necks and apply red marks to their foreheads. Choti Diwali: People start decorating their homes with string lights and designs called rangoli
Day 3 Gai Tihar: During the day cows are worshipped in a similar way to dogs on the previous day. A ritual for Lakshmi is performed in the evening. Diwali: Families get together to exchange presents and share food. A ritual for Lakshmi is performed and the clay lanterns are lit.
Day 4 Goru Tihar: What is worshipped on this day depends on the ethnic group. Some worship the ox while others the mountains or themselves. Padwa: People open new business accounts for the year. Husbands and wives celebrate their love for one another.
Day 5 Bhai Tika: The bond between siblings is celebrated through special rituals. Sisters often place red marks on their brother’s forehead. Bhai Duj: Siblings celebrate their bond by performing protection rituals and exchanging gifts and sweets.

Both Tihar and Diwali are festivals of lights and celebrate the victory of good over evil. During both festivals, diyas or small clay oil lamps are lit and decorate homes, streets, and temples across the country. 

In both countries, the holiday is also celebrated by creating intricate designs called rangoli which are placed at the entrance of homes to welcome visitors. Rangoli are normally placed on the ground and created by the women of a family. Both countries also celebrate the goddess Lakshmi on the main day of the holiday.

The major difference between Tihar and Diwali is the legends behind the holidays as well as the fact that Diwali is more focused on the gods while Tihar focuses on thanking animals and celebrating the help they provide in the lives of humans.

When is Tihar?

Like Diwali, Tihar is celebrated in the Hindu month of Kartik on the night of the new moon which is considered to be the darkest night of the year. The date of this 5-day celebration changes every year because it is based on the lunar calendar, but it normally falls in late October or November.

The date of Tihar is sometimes one or two days different from the date of Diwali. This year Tihar will take place from November 13th to November 17th with Kukur Tihar on November 14th and the main day of celebrations on the 15th. 

Upcoming Tihar Dates:

  • 2020: November 13-17
  • 2021: November 3-7
  • 2022: October 23-27

Why Tihar is Celebrated

Tihar is celebrated not only honor specific gods and goddesses but also to thank animals for their companionship and help with the harvest. In Nepali culture, it is believed that the gratitude and worship shown to the animals and gods will bring success and luck into their lives.

Tihar Legends 

There are many legends and stories that surround Tihar. The main legend centers on the story of Lord Yama, the god of death and his sister Yamuna. This legend explains the worship of crows, dogs, and cows as well as the reason behind the celebration of sibling bonds on the last day of the festival.

The story says that Yama was supposed to meet his sister Yamuna but was unable to make it because he was busy with his work deciding which souls to send to heaven. When Yama didn't arrive, Yamuna grew worried and tried to send messages to her brother.

First, she sent a message with a crow and when it wasn't answered she sent one with a dog and then with a cow. On the fifth day of Tihar when her messages weren't answered, she went to go meet her brother. When she arrived she performed a special ritual for Yama and blessed him with good fortune. 

Today, this day is called Bhai Tika and is dedicated to the bond between siblings. 

Another legend shows why some Nepalis worship the Govardhan Mountain on the fourth day of Tihar. In the story, Lord Krishna's home of Gokul was flooding because of a curse from Lord Indra. In order to protect his people, Krishna raised the Govardhan Mountain from the ground. 

The people and animals of Gokul went to the mountain for safety and gave offerings to the mountain as thanks for saving their lives.

How to Celebrate Tihar

Tihar is celebrated in many different ways across Nepal, but the holiday is mostly a family-focused festival about thanking animals for the harvest and worshipping Lord Yama, Goddess Lakshmi, and the Govardhan Mountain.

During the five days of the holiday, people often pray to Yama and ask him to judge them fairly upon their deaths and to Lakshmi to bring them prosperity and wealth in life.

The celebration of Tihar starts many weeks before the festival as people start to deep clean their homes and throw away any unwanted or broken things to make way for new beginnings. During Tihar, it is common to purchase new clothes and wear them during the celebrations.

The Five Days of Tihar

Each day of Tihar is celebrated through different rituals and traditions. The first three days focus on the worship of animals and prayers to Lord Yama and Goddess Lakshmi. The subject of worship on the fourth day depends on the ethnic group and culture the person belongs to.

On the last day, the bond between brothers and sisters is celebrated through a beautiful ritual.

Day 1: Kag Tihar—the Worship of Crows

Kag is the Nepali word for crow and on this day, crows which are considered to be the messengers of death are worshipped and thanked. People put sweets and different types of grains on the roofs of houses or on the ground outside for the crows to eat. This food is sometimes placed on a banana leaf.

It is believed that by feeding and thanking the crows, it is possible to avoid misfortune and that the crows will protect those who feed them from evil.

Day 2: Kukur Tihar—the Worship of Dogs 

The second day is for the worship of dogs who are not only man's best friend but are also believed to be the guardians of the gates of heaven. On this day, people thank all dogs, whether they are pets or strays, for their loyalty and friendship by placing a marigold garland around their necks and a red tika mark on their foreheads.

Afterward, a ritual is performed for the dogs and they are treated to a large feast that can include milk, meat, dog food, and anything else that dogs like to eat.

This day of Tihar has become famous in the west especially among pet lovers who appreciate this celebration for its purity and beauty. If you love dogs, then Kukur Tihar is a great chance to thank them and also capture beautiful photos of the special bond between people and pups.

Day 3: Gai Tihar—the Worship of Cows and Lakshmi

On the main day of celebrations are worshipped. Cows are considered to be sacred in Hinduism and are symbolic of wealth. This belief stems from ancient times when having a cow was important for the survival of a family.

To thank cows for all they have done for humans, a garland of marigolds is placed around their neck, a tika is placed on their forehead, and they are fed with the best grass. 

Day 4: Goru Tihar—the Worship of the Ox, Mountain, and Oneself 

On the fourth day of Tihar, there are three different worship traditions and the one that is chosen depends on the cultural background of the person.

Most Nepali Hindus worship the ox on this day. Oxen have always been important to the livelihood of farmers and are worshipped in the same way as dogs and cows are during the previous days of celebrations.

People who follow the beliefs of Vaishnavism (a certain sect of Hinduism that follows Lord Vishnu) often perform a Govardhan puja, or ritual dedicated to the Govardhan mountain, on this day. This mountain symbolizes the victory of Lord Krishna and is celebrated with offerings and replicas made from cow dung.

For the Newar community, the fourth day is a time for worshipping oneself and purifying the soul. Newar families often perform a ritual called Maha Puja, which focuses on new beginnings, and eat a large feast together. 

Day 5: Bhai Tika—Celebrating the Bond Between Siblings 

How to Celebrate Tihar as a Traveler 

Tihar is a great time to travel in Nepal for visitors who want to have beautiful and authentic experiences with locals. Nepalis are very generous people and often invite travelers into their homes for meals and to participate in ceremonies during the holiday.

But besides joining a Nepali family for the celebrations, there are plenty of ways to enjoy Tihar in Nepal. Here are some of the best:

  • Explore Kathmandu which is full of beautiful lights, religious celebrations, cultural shows, and festival events. Here you can head to the famous Thamel market for souvenirs and also visit beautiful temples to witness rituals. 
  • Head out into the streets with your red powder, marigold garlands, and treats to celebrate Kukur Tihar and thank dogs for their loyalty.
  • Visit the Rani Pokhari Temple which is only open to the public during Bhai Tika every year. Here you can walk around the edges of the serene lake and take in the views of the surrounding city.
  • Head to the villages to experience a more local celebration. Stay near Chitwan National Park to learn about how the Tharu group celebrates or hike the loop near Annapurna and stop in small villages along the way to have unique and authentic festival experiences.
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