Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Festival of Tihar in Nepal

Americans and others are now revving up for the holiday season. It may sound a bit odd to hear that statement in October before Halloween has come and gone, but reports on Facebook tell me that some American stores are already pushing Christmas. Candy corn has not even gone into hibernation yet, people! I may invest in a Santa costume to cover Halloween and Christmas in one fell swoop. Thanks to the steady march of holiday creep, they may soon become indistinguishable anyway.


Nepal's holiday season has been in full swing for a while and is now nearing an end. It all began a few weeks ago with Dasain, Nepal's largest and longest celebration that went largely unnoticed by us as we trekked in the Himalayas. Quick on Dasain's heels comes Tihar, the Nepali festival of lights. Tihar is closely related to the worldwide Hindu holiday of Diwali (or, as my friend Sundeep prefers, Deepavali), though there are some differences.

Signs of Tihar are all around us. Literally. Our landlord has blanketed our home in electric lights (I would call them Christmas lights, but I suppose a Nepali might call them Tihar lights), and looking out our windows it feels as though we are living in a Christmas tree.

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As an aside: this is a good thing. It is like combining every child's Swiss-Family-Robinson tree house fantasy with a touch of jingle bell rock. Magic.

The lights are everywhere, and they are beautiful.

Like in the US, many here swathe their homes in lights, though the Nepali approach seems to emulate a blanket's smothering more than the border trimming common back home. No place demonstrates this Nepali method better than our local grocery store. You can see it clearly from the distance of our rooftop, though I suspect it may also be visible from space.

For me, this conjures images of the tastefully understated Disney's Main Street Electrical Parade. Hurrah!


Tihar spans five days, and each of these days is marked by a special worship or honoring called puja. Yesterday we saw many dogs in the street wearing collars of marigold garlands and red tika on their foreheads as part of kukur (dog) puja. Wikipedia tells me that some do a puja for cow dung. I am not sure I want to experience just what that would look/smell like, but I certainly understand the desire to honor the substance after spending some evenings huddling in heat of dung-fired stoves while high in the mountains.

This evening Claudine and I witnessed worshipers using colored rice and powders to create mandalas outside their homes and businesses. From these mandalas, artful paths mark the way inside, sometimes complete with footprints.

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After dark, candles will light the way along these paths for the goddess Laxmi to enter and bring wealth and prosperity.

Fireworks also play into Tihar celebrations. Judging from the symphony of shockingly loud firecrackers that graces our neighborhood after sundown, the fireworks are quite popular. Less popular among those of us who could do without the heart-stopping sound of artillery fire outside our windows. So, in addition to shades of Christmas, Tihar also brings a hint of July Fourth. Way to bring it, Nepal.

To all of our Nepali friends we say Happy Tihar. To others: Merry Christmas (it's just around the corner, you know).

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