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:

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