It’s all lights and magic, swings and singing
by SHASHANK SHRESTHA
The five-day Tihar extravaganza of diyos, deusi, devi-devatas forms, along with Dasain, an enviable festive double bill. The lights, decorations—and mind-numbing fireworks—signal jolliness, celebration and goodwill.
Days of light
The festival starts usually after worshipping Ganesh, the elephant-headed god of prosperity. The days that follow worship the crow, the dog, the goddess of wealth Lakshmi, the cow and the bull, culminating in Bhai tika, when sisters pray for the long life of their brothers.
This is the rough outline, but there are plenty of regional and traditional variations in how Tihar is celebrated:
• The day before Lakshmi Puja, practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine observe Dhanbantari diwas, when they revere the founder of their craft.
• In the tarai the same day is celebrated by the business community as Dhanteras, by buying jewellery, or at least a metal pot.
• Lakshmi Puja marks the end of the accounting year for more religious businessmen.
• Newars observe Mha Puja, the start of the Newar New Year, which is ushered in with self-worship for prosperity and good fortune.
• On Bhai Tika, Kayathas of the tarai worship their ancestral Lord Chitragupta, who keeps the ledger of human deeds, evil and just.
• Once a year Kathmandu's Rani Pokhari is open to the general public so siblings can celebrate tika there.
• In the tarai, the festival is observed until Chatta parva, a four-day celebration and worship of the sun, Chhathi Mai, and accompanied by fasting and penance.
The constant is lights, and people go for dizzying combinations of flashing lights, or traditional diyos and candles. (WAVE recommends traditional diyos as the most aesthetically pleasing and green alternative.) Deusi and bhailo remain popular, though some opt to rig up speakers and stages, but this isn't as much fun as being part of a roving troupe.
The most popular Tihar story has Rama returning to Ayodhya at the end of his 12-year exile in the woods and eventual victory over Ravana, and being welcomed with lights. Also popular is the myth of the defeat of the demon Mahishasur by Durga. She was so ecstatic, she danced in a frenzy that threatened to destroy the universe. To calm her, a grand feast was prepared, with decorations and brightly-lit courtyards. A lesser-known myth is about Bali, a great king sent to the netherworld for excessive devotion to Vishnu, who was allowed to visit his kingdom for five days a year—celebrated as Tihar. Deusi and bhailo songs often refer to this story.
Crows, dogs, and bulls are given days to themselves because they are the messengers of Yamaraj, the god of death, and must be appeased. Threads are tied to cows' tails to ease the soul's journey into the afterlife.
Lakshmi Puja needs little explanation, but the story goes that the goddess of wealth was summoned into this world through a massive churning of the ocean. Govardhan puja is important to Krishna devotees, marking the time when he sheltered his village from rain and flooding by holding up the Govardhan mountain with his little finger.
Bhai Tika has its roots in the story of a sister who obtained a boon from Yamaraj that her brother would not be harmed until his garland of flowers dried and the line she drew around him vaporised. When Yamaraj came to claim the brother's soul, she had him surrounded in a circle of oil and adorned him with a garland of betel flowers, forcing Yamaraj to prolong his life.
And then there's gambling. This is the one week of the year when you can gamble legally and participate in langurburja betting in all kinds of seedy alleyway dens.