Tihar is the second-most important festival in Nepal after Dashain. It celebrates the victory of good over evil, akin to Diwali in India. The main celebration activities include:
- Thanking animals for the harvest
- Worshipping Lord Yama (the god of death) for fair judgement regarding deaths
- Worshipping Goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth, believed to have been born on Tihar) for prosperity and wealth in life
- Worshipping Govardhan Mountain (a mountain saving people from flooding) for safety
In 2023, Tihar falls on November 12th with celebrations lasting 5 days from November 10th to 14th.
Tihar is celebrated on the night of the new moon in the 8th month of the Hindu calendar (the month of Kartik), which is considered to be the darkest night of the year. The (international) date changes every year because it is based on a lunar calendar, but it normally falls in mid-to-late October or November.
To help ward off the darkness of the night of the new moon, all of Nepal is decorated in string lights, candles, and clay lanterns (diyas). Most markets, homes, and temples are beautifully lit up in celebration. Thus, Tihar is also called a 'festival of lights.
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5-Day Celebrations of Tihar 2023
Each day of Tihar is celebrated through different rituals and traditions. The first three days (November 10th to 12th in 2023) focus on the worship of animals and prayers to Lord Yama (the god of death) and Goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth). In Nepali culture, it is believed that gratitude and worship shown to animals and gods will bring success and luck into people’s lives.
The subject of worship on the 4th day (November 13th) depends on the ethnic group and culture the person belongs to: oxen, Govardhan Mountain, or oneself.
On the last day (November 14th), the bond between brothers and sisters is celebrated through a beautiful ritual.
Day 1: Kaag Tihar (November 10th, 2023) - the Worship of Crows
Kaag is the Nepali word for 'crow' and on this day, crows, which are believed 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 (November 11th, 2023) - the Worship of Dogs
The second day is for the worship of dogs, who are not only as man's best friend, but are also believed to be the guardians of the gates of heaven in Nepal.
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 (a little red dot signifying purity of faith and devotion) 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.
The day of Kukur Tihar has become somewhat 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 dogs.
Day 3: Gai Tihar (November 12th, 2023) - the Worship of Cows and Lakshmi
On the main day of celebrations, cows and the Goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) are worshipped. Families get together to eat delicious food and cook a large feast and perform the ritual for goddess Lakshmi. They also prepare many delicious sweets to give to visitors and food to give to the crows, dogs, and cows (on their respective worship days).
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 red tika is placed on their forehead, and they are fed with the best grass.
The afternoon is reserved for the worship of Lakshmi. To thank the goddess for all the luck she had brought in the previous year, oil lanterns and candles are lit in houses and temples.
A decorative rangoli (colorful floor mural) is also created in front of a doorway and or window as a symbol of welcoming the prosperity (brought by Lakshmi) that will come in the next year.
People also draw footprints at the entrance of their homes to symbolize the coming of the goddess. At night, groups of girls go from home to home performing songs and dances in exchange for small amounts of money given by each house.
Day 4: Goru Tihar (November 13th, 2023) - the Worship of the Ox, Mountain, or 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 - a ritual dedicated to Govardhan Mountain - on the day of Goru Tihar. Govardhan Mountain symbolizes the victory of Lord Krishna (the 8th avatar of Vishnu, the god of protection) and is celebrated with offerings and mountain replicas made from cow dung.
According to the legend, Lord Krishna’s home of Gokul was flooding because of a curse from Lord Indra (the king of the gods). In order to protect his people, Krishna raised Govardhan Mountain above the floodwaters, and the people and animals of Gokul went to the mountain for safety and gave offerings to the mountain as thanks for saving their lives.
For the Newar community (the historical inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley and its surrounding areas), 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 (November 14th, 2023) - Celebrating the Bond between Brothers and Sisters
The final day of Tihar is dedicated to the celebration of the bond between brothers and sisters. On this day, families gather and watch as siblings perform a special ritual that is meant to wish well-being on the brother and guarantee protection for the sister.
During the ritual, sisters chant holy mantras and put a tika, holy red mark, on their brother’s forehead. Brothers often give gifts to their sisters as a form of thanks. This day is meant to reenact the story of Lord Yama (the god of death) and his sister Yamuna and the love they held for each other.
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.
This legend also explains the worship of crows, dogs, and cows.
Is Tihar 2023 a Public Holiday in Nepal?
Yes, Nepalis enjoy a 3-day national holiday from November 10th to 12th. Government offices, banks, and schools close during the festival.
|Gai Tihar||November 10th, 2023||Friday||√|
|Goru Tihar||November 11th, 2023||Saturday||√|
|Bhai Tika||November 12th, 2023||Sunday||√|
Is Tihar and Diwali the Same?
Diwali and Tihar both celebrate the victory of good over evil with clay lanterns, lights, and sweets, and they come from similar cultural roots. The dates are the same: the new moon night of the 8th month of the Hindu calendar. Both countries also celebrate Goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) on the main day of the holiday. However, the 5-day celebrations are different from each other in many ways.
The main difference is 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.
|Celebrated by||Nepali Hindus||Indian Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs|
|Day 1||Kaag 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. Most worship the ox, while others a 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.|
Othere related readings about Diwali
- Diwali 2022 -Festival Date, Calendar, and Event Info
- What is Diwali and How to Celebrate Diwali
- Top 10 Diwali Foods to Try
- 10 Interesting Facts About Diwali
- Top 9 Places to Celebrate Diwali in India
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. There, you can head to the famous Thamel Market for souvenirs and also visit beautiful temples to witness rituals. Fireworks explode above the city while children play with firecrackers and sparklers.
- 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. There, 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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