Biodiversity Nepal
For the Future Generation

Tihar through a Mythological Lens

Every tiny aspect of Tihar has a hidden cultural significance.

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Hindus have been celebrating Tihar for so long following multiple rites and rituals. But are we aware of the cultural significance it possesses? Can we ensure that our future generation follows up on these traditions?

Tihar is not only about colors, lights, and entertainment but is also about bonding, appreciation, and spreading love. The origin of Tihar is believed to be centered around the Lord of Death ‘Yama’ and his sister ‘Yamuna’. 

After Yama became the ‘Lord of Death’, he could not meet her sister ‘Yamuna’ for a long time because his appearance would bring death to his sister. So, Yamuna performed a ritual to stop the negative consequences of their visit.

According to ritual, day by day she sent a crow, a dog, and a cow as a messenger to Yama.  Then, finally, on the fifth day, she went to meet him in his domain and worshipped him first, making a boundary with Dubo and mustard oil. She then, put seven different colors of Tika in her brother’s forehead. She even made garlands of Makhmali flowers with lots of packed dry fruits and nuts as a gift. That’s how several components of biodiversity came into play.  Thus we are following these rituals in Bhai Tika.

There is yet another popular myth. Decades back, a sister was worshipping her brother in Bhai Tika when ‘Yamdut’- who brings death to doors – came to reap the soul of her brother. This made her distressed and asked Yamdut to wait till she completed the Bhai tika ritual. Pleased with the ritual ‘Yamdut’ let her make a wish.

She wished Yamdut to wait for her brother’s life until the Makhmali (Globe Amaranth) garland dried up, which would definitely take decades to dry up. This cleverness impressed the Yamdut and offered a longer life to her brother. Since then Tihar is popular as a festival that gives power to the sister to protect her brother from death through unnatural means. 

Tihar is popular with the name of Yama Panchak (five days of Yamraj) with 5 days of celebrations.

  1. Kaag Tihar ( Crow Tihar)
  2. Kukur Tihar ( Dog Tihar)
  3. Laxmi Puja (Laxmi Tihar)
  4. Govardhan Puja
  5. Bhai Tika
Credit: Chitra Rekha Basyal

Crow is considered as a messenger of Yama and Death. In Nepalese society, it is believed that if a group of crows lingers on someone’s house, it is a sign of unnatural death. Thus, giving a family a chance to prevent them by worshipping Yama, the Lord of Death. This is why we worship crow to bring home only good news during the first day of Tihar.

Dogs have been sharing a special bond with humans providing warmth and protection. With this, it is also believed that they can sense dangers which humans cannot due to their strong sense of smell and can even see death.  According to Vedic mythology, they are believed to guard the gate of the underworld empire and help to guide the soul of the dead to reach heaven. So, being blessed by their bond and protection we worship dogs on the 2nd day of Tihar.

On the third day of Tihar, we worship cows as our mother appreciating them for providing their milk as a staple diet for us and also as an incarnation of Goddess Laxmi. Traditional grinders (Silauto and Lohoro), nanglo, and broom are also worshipped and offered to acknowledge the benefit of their uses where broom and nanglo are also considered as symbols of Goddess Laxmi and God Aakashdev respectively.

Art By : Chitra Rekha Basyal

On the 4th day, we venerate the ox which is considered as a father of food and fuel in Nepali culture. Since we have been using them for plowing our fields and reap our grains. So, we worship them as God for their generosity, their labor, and for an opportunity to work with such a noble creature. This day is also celebrated to mark one of the superheroes of Hindu myth, Hanuman.  

Cow dung is also worshipped on this day as a symbolic representation of Govardhan Mountain. On the same day, Maha puja is also celebrated exclusively by Newari people. Newars worship themselves with a belief that inside each of us lives a God and ask them for their protection and forgiveness in times we have mistreated ourselves.

On the fifth day, sisters worship their brothers with a garland of Makhmali flower, Dubo, and Kumkum with the belief that even the Lord of death could not seize the life of brothers against the will of sisters. Dubo and Makhmali don’t wither easily so they are used to ensure long life and prosperity of brothers. The garlands also represent the bonding of sisters and brothers. 

The ritual of cracking a walnut is one of the interesting parts of Bhai tika in which the sister crack Hadey Okhhar (walnut) with Lohora with a belief of ending troubles in the life of their brothers. Sisters put Saptarangi Tika on their forehead which is regarded as a reflection of sunlight which symbolizes a sister’s wish for her brother to be powerful like a sun as well as her brother’s good deeds expand like the light of the sun. These colors are the colors of the rainbow which also signifies a symbol of change and newness.

There is also a tradition of gifting masala which includes walnut, almond, pistachio, cardamom, cloves, and many more by sisters to brothers, and vice versa as they are enriched with nutrition and their consumption is useful for brain health. Bhogate ( pomelo) and Bimiro ( citron fruit) are worshipped, as God of death like these fruits.

Source: The longest way home

Hence, we can say Tihar is a complete package. By nature, we human beings forget easily so the festivals like Tihar is a reminder to give value and respect for the things and beings around us.

 

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