November is a month that most Americans associate with turkey and Thanksgiving. But for many Nepali students on The W’s campus, it is a month more associated with the stars.
The W has a large community of Nepali students, most of whom are Hindu. During the month of November, Hindus celebrate a five-day festival called Tihar, or Festival of Lights. It was celebrated from Nov. 9-13 of this year. The time when the festival is celebrated each year depends on the positioning of stars.
Urusha Silwal shared about participating in Tihar as a child.
“When I was a kid, it was a very special occasion. I grew up in a village. The people are more hospitable, and they want all the people of the neighborhood to sing for them. We would go and sing songs and dance. It would impress the house owner, and the owner would give us money. It was a very joyous occasion for kids and young people,” said Urusha Silwal, a communication major.
Each day has a special significance during the festival.
The first day of Tihar is Kaag Tihar (worship of the crow). Hindus believe that crows are messengers of gods. Most people leave rice for the crows to eat. The cawing of crows and ravens symbolizes sadness and grief in Hinduism, so they offer food to these birds to avoid death and grief in their homes. Crows will give good messages to the gods that will determine eternal life of the person.
“The festival spiritually signifies light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil and hope over despair,” said Sumit Chaudhary, a pre-engineering and theater major.
The second day is Kukur Tihar (worship of the dog). They believe the closest animal to mankind is a dog. The dog can foresee dangers and guard humans. Participants will cook meat for the dogs. Tika (a mixture of rice, red powders, yogurt and banana) is placed on the forehead of the dog. Hindus believe that the dog is a form of god. They believe that their souls are very pure.
The third day is Gai Tihar (worship of the cow). It is representation of the goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth). People go to the temple and worship the goddess. The offerings they make to the goddess are the same as the same offerings to the cow. The cow provides milk, which nourishes babies to grow. The cow represents a mother that provides food for her children. This is one of the main reasons Nepalis don’t eat beef.
In the evening, people will put garlands made of marigold flowers on the doors. The decorations are to welcome the goddess of wealth. Every corner of each house has lights. Every part of the house must be lit and bright. Because of the lights, the goddess of wealth will be pleased and enter through the main gate. Small children sing Bhalio (traditional songs) then the house owner will give children money and fruit. The act represents sharing love with others and impresses the goddess of wealth.
The fourth day is Goru Tihar (worship of the ox). The people need oxen to plow their fields, and the oxen’s significance in their culture is celebrated. Boys participate in traditional singing on this day.
The fifth day is Bhai Tika. It is the day to strengthen relationships with brothers and sisters. The time of the ceremony is decided by the priest. Brothers and sisters share in a special ceremony on this day. The brothers sit in a horizontal line, while the sisters stand up. The sisters encircle the place where their brothers sit by a jar of oil. They dip one leaf into the oil and drip oil into their brothers’ hair. The significance is that the oil never fades away. It always remains. The stain that is left by the oil means that you want your brother to have a long life.
They will put garlands on their necks and Tika on their foreheads. The brothers give sisters gifts of clothes for winter. It symbolizes their love is as warm as the clothes they give.
“The students will celebrate it at their various houses. The cool thing is even though they are far from home they are still able to celebrate it with each other. They can Skype and see family back home. Wherever you are from, you still carry your culture and traditions with you,” said Billy Simmons, who works with international student services at MUW.