One of the best parts of traveling is learning about other cultures. After spending a month in Bali and seeing the daily Hindu rituals performed there, I was excited to experience Tihar (a Nepali Hindu festival). My friend, Kalu, thought it would be fun for me to see the difference between celebrating in a small village and in the city. We spent half of the festival in the mountains in Tangting which you can read about here. The other half, we spent in the city of Pokhara.
Tihar is a five day long festival known as the festival of lights. My understanding is that this festival celebrates the animals which humans are closest to. On the first day, they celebrate the dog which is like a bodyguard. The second day, they celebrate crows which act as messengers. On the third day, they celebrate the cow which is a Hindu god. The fourth day is seen as the start of a new calendar year. Nepal has a different calendar, and it is currently 2074. On the last day, sisters (not necessarily by blood) put tika (red dots) on their brothers’ foreheads to ensure a long life.
After settling into our guesthouse in Tangting, we went on the search for a dog. We had bought some biscuits and our guesthouse owners kindly made us a mala (a garland made of fresh flowers) to string around one dog’s neck. We were able to find two dogs to thank for their protection and gave them the biscuits and flowers. One even followed us back to our guesthouse. Clearly, he understood he was being worshipped as a bodyguard and took his role seriously.
Unfortunately, we had a really hard time finding crows in the mountain. Regardless, we laid out rice in several spots for them to eat. At night, the small village was lit with candles in every house. Kalu explained that in Pokhara, the candles are replaced with LED lights (like Christmas in the U.S.). Children came around our campfire at night and offered dances in exchange for money. It reminded me a little of Halloween back home.
Kalu held up a 100 rupee note and told the kids they would get it for one dance, however, if the dance was good he’d throw down a 1000 rupee note. One of the kids cracked me up. Although I couldn’t understand what he was saying, he came closer and Kalu showed him the 1000. I burst out laughing because the kid didn’t believe him and wanted to see it. Immediately, the kids got a lot better at dancing. I joined in the fun and threw down a 500 rupee note which got us at least two more good dances. The kids left thrilled with their earnings for the night. They’d made almost $20, which I think was a pretty good haul.
Day 3 & 4
We spent the morning in the village and found some cows to worship. It’s customary to bring them food, malas, and tika. I got to put a tika on each cow and touch his feet for good luck. Kalu put the mala’s on and tied a bracelet to one of their tails which would ensure him good fortune for the coming year. I might add that all of this was done while I was wearing traditional Gurung (the villages caste) clothing.
After spending time with the cows, we headed back to Pokhara to see a different side of the celebration. People were in the streets dancing. Music blared from speakers. Comedians told jokes on the sidewalks. LED lights were everywhere, and the whole city seemed to be outside. We walked through town and stopped to watch several of the groups dancing. Everyone was giddy and or drunk knowing there was no work the next day.
The sidewalks were decorated with colorful mandalas. Each one different from the last. An offering to please the goddess Lakshmi so that the family is given good fortune for the coming year.
Since day 5 is spent with family, I did not partake in the rituals or festivities. I’m told there is a feast of food in the morning, traditions including tika, and an exchanging of gifts. Overall, experiencing Tihar for the first time was so much fun. I learned so much about Hindu beliefs and really felt like I got to be a part of another cultures customs.
What’s your favorite holiday? Have you ever celebrated one in another country?
This post originally appeared on www.fulltimeexplorer.com