This past week, many Nepalis celebrated Tihar, the festival of lights. It’s also called Dipawali here and in India Diwali. Tihar is a series of puja‘s (“religious worship”) that are done over the course of 4-5 days. On the first day is kaag (crow) puja and on the second kukkur (dog) puja. On the third day, there is both gai (cow) puja and Laxmi (the goddess of wealth) puja. On the fourth day, according to wikipedia, there are potentially three pujas that can be performed: gobardhan (cow dung) puja, goru (bull) puja, and Mha (self) puja–performed in the Newar community. On the last day is Bhai (brother) Tika, which is not a puja but a day where sisters put tika (often red vermilion powder mixed with water) on their brothers’ foreheads.
This year, Laxmi Puja fell on a Wednesday, our fourth night in Bhutwal. The family friends we were staying with on Wednesday worked much of the day, cooking food and preparing the alter for the puja. The day before, they made some of the traditional Nepali treats that are eaten around Tihar, like celroti, khajuri, and goje (or bharuwa). Celroti is made from rice flower batter that’s been fried in oil. It’s crunchy when right out of the frying pan but gets stale quickly, so it’s not one of the favorite desserts. However, the khajuri, made from flower, butter, and sugar was so delicious, sweet and crumbly. I also like the goje (comes from goji, meaning “pocket), which was stuffed with ground coconut and sugar.
There were already enough hands in the kitchen, so I went with one of the girls to help make the rangoli. A rangoli is placed in front of the door to the house and is be made from colorful powder (avir) and flowers (often marigolds, sayapatri). I didn’t see these in Kathmandu when we returned on Friday, and Tri told me that they’re more popular in Southern Nepal. I also found out through my friend’s blog that South Indians living in Indonesia make rangolis as well.
The girl I was helping bought some avir from the market. After bringing it home, she added very finely ground cement to thin out the brightly colored powder. To start, she made a rectangle of marigolds and then used the lid of a big pot to trace a circle inside of the rectangle. Then she added some designs with white powder inside of the circle and filled them in with color. To do this, she took a bit of powder between her fingers and slowly sprinkled it inside of the white lines. I thought it looked easy, so I tried it, but my work looked awful. It was clumpy and uneven, so, due to my lack of skill, I mostly just watched the making of the rangoli. After about half and hour, it was finished…
Footprints were also painted on the stoop outside of the house.
They lead up to the room in which puja was performed and are supposed to guide Laxmi into the home.
Before the puja started, our hosts lit lots of diyo‘s (small ceramic bowls with wicks) and put them in front of every room in the house. They also prepared them for the puja…
Then everyone, dressed in their finest, gathered for the puja.
I like Tihar because it’s about respecting things that are important in our lives. The crow and dog are worshipped because they perform important services; they are messengers and guards. The cow and bull are respected because of the milk and work they provide. I’m not sure about why cow dung is worshiped, although it is considered a sacred substance because it comes from the cow, a representation of Laxmi. Although my family doesn’t celebrate Mha Puja because they aren’t Newar, I think that’s my favorite of the pujas. nepaliaustralian describes it here. It’s an opportunity to formally show respect to ourselves. I also enjoy Bhai Tika, the last day of Tihar, because it acknowledges the important and unique relationship between sister and brother. I’ve been told me that when we celebrate tihar next year, I’m going to have to perform Bhai Tika. I have to two brothers back in the US, so maybe I’ll have to give them tika through skype 🙂