Yamapanchak commonly known as “Tihar” is one of the most important festivals in Nepal. It is celebrated on the night of the new moon in the month of Kartik. The entire festival stretches from two days prior to Tihar till two days post-Tihar, making it a five-day grand celebration.
“Yamapanchak” is composed of two words, “Yama” is the “god of death, and “Panchak” means five, hence the festival is celebrated for five days for Yama and his messengers. During this period, people pray to Lord Yama to appease him so that he may judge people’s virtues and vices fairly after they die and that God may transfer the deceased to heaven.
Nepalese do not only praise Gods and Deities like Goddess Laxmi, Lord Yama, Govardhan Mountain, etc on this day but also honor and worship animals like crows, dogs, cows, and oxen with the belief that it will bring happiness, success, and good fortune in their lives.
People consider these animals divine gifts from Mother Nature and the relationship that they share with them is considered sacred.
The Five Days of Yamapanchak
The celebration starts almost a month prior when people clean their homes, discard all the unwanted and broken things, and purchase new clothes. The 5 days of the celebration involve the worshiping of five different deities in the form of animals or humans for peace and prosperity.
Day 1, Kaag Tihar (Worshiping the Crows)
On the first day of Yamapanchak, ‘Kaag’, a crow, the messenger of Yama is worshiped. People offer sweets and other home-cooked delicacies on a tapari (leaf plate) on their rooftops or balconies. Or simply toss rice grains on the grounds for crows to feed on.
They worship the crows with the belief that the god’s messenger will not bear any unfortunate news to the family.
Day 2, Kukur Tihar (Worshiping the Dogs)
For Hindus of Nepal, dogs are the guardians of the gates of heaven. They are worshiped for their love, protection, and their loyalty toward people.
People put ‘Tika’ (red/ white color mark) on the dogs’ forehead, tie a garland of marigold flowers around their necks and offer them a grand feast.
Day 3, Gai Tihar (Worshiping the Cows)
‘Gai’ or a cow is known as the symbol of prosperity. On the 3rd day of Tihar, cows are worshiped and praised by putting a ‘tika’ on their forehead and a garland of marigolds around their neck.
On this day, people scrub clean their houses and surroundings, and the windows and doors are decorated with marigold garlands in preparation to welcome Goddess Laxmi at night. They also light oil-wick lamps, candles, and lanterns all around the houses. Colorful ‘Rangolis’ are designed on the floor using sand colors, multi-colored grains, and flowers. People often paint red-colored footsteps from the doorway to the shrine room or a locker room. These footsteps represent the Goddess Laxmi’s entry into the homes and also of wealth and prosperity. The ritual follows an elaborate puja at every home and office.
On this occasion, groups of small children and young girls visit every house in their neighborhood and dance and sing Tihar songs called “Bhailo” and “Deusi” and ask for money alms, fruits, or sweets.
Day 4, Goru Tihar (Worshiping the Ox and Govardhan Hill)
Day 4 observes three different rituals throughout the day.
Just as the crows, dogs, and cows people on this day people worship oxen which have proved to be a farmer’s best friend in this agricultural country.
Some communities worship the Govardhan Mountain by structuring a representative small mountain idol made of cow dung. This symbolizes the victory of Lord Krishna over Lord Indra. Hundreds of food items, known as ‘Annakut’ are offered to this deity. This day is marked as the new year of the Newar community and the beginning of the new ‘Nepal Sambat’ or the Nepali calendar.
In the evening, every home of Newari community performs the ‘Maha Puja’ which is aimed at worshiping self to purify one’s soul. The elder father of the family draws the traditional auspicious geometric designs and performs puja under the ‘Mandap’ decorated with marigold. The females of the house prepare a grand feast, known as ‘Shagun’. People enjoy various delicacies like fried eggs, fish, meat, sweet dishes and much more.
Day 5, Bhaitika (Celebrating the love between brothers and sisters)
Bhai Tika is celebrated for the protection of brothers from all evil and to pray for their long lives. Sister puts Tika on the brother’s forehead praying to Yama, The God of Death for the success, growth, and longevity of the brother’s health and age. After Tika, sister brings the gift for the brothers including roti, fruits, sweets, etc. In return, the brother also puts tikas on his sister’s forehead and hands over the gift, the gift may be things or a good sum of money.
People celebrate the last day by singing, playing cards, playing deusi (Cultural Program during Tihar) in local communities, and also lighting up the sky with firecrackers. The house owner blessed Deusi Team with blessings, money, and goods in return.
What are the things that people usually do during Tihar?
Deusi Bhailo Programs: Deusi Bhailo is a popular cultural entertainment song sung during the featival of Tihar. During Deusi-Bhailo both boys and girls form a group, who go from house to house singing, dancing, and asking for rice and money. Moreover, at night, Boys gather together to play Deusi by visiting the neighborhood, and Bhailo is played by girls. Usually, boys & girls chant some story about the Tihar festival and sing a song supported by a group of people as a chorus.
Firecrackers: To welcome the goddess Laxmi, people light firecrackers in their houses. It was once a tradition all over Nepal specifically in Southern and Central Nepal, which now is completely banned, because they cause “huge air, noise, and solid waste problems.
Playing Card: Adults and Old People prefer to play a card during the Tihar festival. People spend the whole night playing cards placing bets for fun. This is one of the many ways people celebrate the Tihar in Nepal.
Playing Dice: Yet another thing people prefer during this festival is to play Dice. It is famous among young ones. They spend lots of money on this activity. Some win a huge sum of money while others may lose.
Swing: After the Dashain Festival, the traditional bamboo swing called Linge Ping con continues to entertain people of all ages during Tihar too.
Legends of Tihar
There are many tales about the origins of Tihar. The most popular of them all is the story of Lord Yama, the God of Death, and his sister the Yamuna.
Lord Yama aka Yamaraj, the Hindu god of death, is believed to be the one who judges people after their death. He is the one who decides whether to send them to hell or heaven based on the deeds on earth. He due to his busy schedule of assigning hell and heaven to people could hardly make time for his sister, Yamuna who had been waiting for long to meet her brother. So she decided to send messengers to Yama. As the legend goes, she first sent a crow on the first day, a dog on the second day, and then a cow on the third day to summon his brother, but Yama failed. She then decided to show up at Yamalok (Yama’s place) in person. This was on the fifth day since she sent the first messenger crow. On this day, it is said that the Yamuna upon meeting her brother worshiped him and blessed him with good fortune. She drew a circle around Yama with flowers and Dubo (Cynodon Dactylon) dipped in mustard oil and requested him not to leave until the oil, flowers, and dubo grass dried. And she asked boon for every sister, that all the siblings unite and not even He, the God of death may keep them apart on this day.
Following the legend, every year, sisters follow Yamuna’s worship ritual and pray that their brothers live long and prosperous lives. The day is called “Bhai Tika” and forms the last day of the five-day-long Tihar festival.
Another story, telling the origins of the Govardhan Puja observed on the fourth day of Tihar is about Lord Krishna. It is the story of when Gokul village was under the threat of flood and heavy rainfall after being cursed by Lord Indra, the God of Rain. To protect the Gokul people, Krishna lifted the massive Govardhan Mountain on his tiny little finger and provided shelter to every person and animal in the village. As Govardhan Mountain saved the lives of the people of Gokul, they offered a variety of food items to Govardhan Mountain and worshiped him for becoming their savior.
Rani Pokhari is the Major attraction in Kathmandu during Tihar
Rani Pokhari temple is open to the public only the Bhai Tika Day. In downtown Kathmandu, in the middle of an artificial 400 sq. meter pond lies the temple of one of the incarnations of Lord Shiva known as Matrikeshwar Mahadev. It is a delight to walk across the white bridge that leads to the temple premises.