November 16, 2012

Celebrating Nepal's Deepawali/Tihar in DC's Palisades

As we get ready for our two big holidays -- Thanksgiving and Christmas -- my Nepali friends are just ending the second of their two biggest festivals. Both occur in the fall as the harvest is ending. The dates vary with the phases of the moon.

Dashain comes first, and it's the main event. Nepalis in country and abroad do their best to get home for this festival -- at 15 days, their longest. Over the past decade, I've been fortunate to have celebrated Dashain four or five times in Nepal.

During Dashain, the goddess Durga is worshiped with many offerings and thousands of animal sacrifices for the ritual of drenching the goddess in blood (not my favorite part of the festival). But the emphasis is on family gatherings and the renewal of community ties.

Dashain was celebrated in October. On the festival's final day, the family elder gives the red tika blessing to family members. I performed that function for the first time last month as the elder (by far!) in our family.

The second of the big two festivals is Tihar, or Deepawali -- which literally means "row of lights." It lasts five days and honors Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and good luck. I've also celebrated Tihar in Nepal several times and really enjoy it.

The sacred cow, which Hindus regard as their holy mother, is garlanded with flowers and tika is applied to the cow's forehead. During the festival, houses, shops, offices, factories, and mills are brightly decorated with lights. Tihar is a time of lights and tinsel, not unlike our Christmas. Special light arrangements are displayed on the day of Laxmi Puja, which occurred earlier this week. Flickering oil lamps brighten courtyards, doorways, roof tops, verandas and windows.

Nimesh and Bhawana transformed out home accordingly:

Flowers, sweets, fruits, and incense are enshrined, along with depictions of the goddess Laxmi. If we were back in Nepal, Bhawana and other women would visit neighbors, singing and dancing traditional Tihar songs. Home owners offer the women small amounts of money or food... a little like our Halloween.

Here's the Laxmi shrine that my resident Nepalis created:

Those rings of dough that resemble onion rings are especially tasty, I can attest. Why do I reach first for them (and the rice cakes in the lower right corner) instead of the papaya or other fruit?

I really like the last day of Tihar, when brothers and sisters honor each other. Nepali sisters perform rituals and pray for the good health, long life and prosperity of their brothers. They apply tika to the foreheads of the brothers and garland them with marigold or globe amaranth flowers. Brothers bring cloths, jewelry or cash to their sisters, while the sisters feed the brothers delicious food and sweets.

Unfortunately, Nimesh can't be with his sister in Australia, or Bhawana with her brother back in Nepal. Skype is great, but it doesn't quite do it for Tihar.

I had to search back through my photo albums to 2005 for these Tihar shots of brother and sister on the roof of my Pokhara family's house:

"This Just In...."
On Facebook just now, I found this photo posted by my friend Devika Tharu. She and her brother had just given each other the tika blessing:

Until two years ago, only their father Debi was here in America. Now the family has been reunited here, except for one daughter still in Kathmandu.

Here's a look at Tihar being celebrated in Nepal:


John said...

I got this lovely comment on Facebook from Nimesh's lovely sister Sona:

Tihaar is not only the festival of lights and merrymaking and wealth. It also teaches us to be kind, thankful and humble. We thank our dogs for their loyalty, crows for being a messenger even long before the postman and the internet started. Then we clean, paint the house if need be and start the decoration, as laxmi puja and cow's day falls on no moon day we light up our house with candle, diyo or artificial lights these days to guide the goddess to our humble abode to bless us with good fortune, good health and wealth.people will come to our compounds and bless the house and the people by singing much like carols on Christmas and we thank them by giving homemade delicacies like Halloween as you've mentioned. Final day of tihaar is brother and sisters day, my favorite as well, this day we pray for out brothers long life and thank them for protecting, providing and loving us and being a friend through this life's journey, we use everything that doesn't dry easily this day symbolizing the longevity of our best wishes and prayers for our beloved brothers and make them happy by cooking yummy dishes. They will then appreciate our hard work kindness and thank us by giving gifts and money :-)
21 minutes ago via mobile · Lik

Kathy Muller said...

John, thank for your sharing this with others. Thanks to your fine mind and open heart, your life continues to be so fascinating. I truly enjoyed Sona's reminder that Tihaar is also about being kind, thankful, and humble and will be mindful of that. Kathy

John said...

Yes, Kathy. I'll be thinking of Sona's comment on Tihar teaching us to be "kind, thankful, and humble" as we celebrate our Thanksgiving. I worry that we seem to be losing sight of these three things in our culture. I don't want us to substitute "mean, angry, and arrogant."