Tihar, also known as the festival of lights, is celebrated throughout Nepal. We chose to spend the four day break in the mountain town of Pokhara, which is about a 5 hour drive or a short 25-minute airplane ride from Kathmandu. (We chose to fly, but as it turned out driving would have been much quicker. But C’est la vie! we made it finally, despite the weather.) The festival began a few days before our departure with the Day of the Crow, where offerings of food, coins, oil-wick lamps and incense in are set out in their honour. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see this for myself, but our driver filled me in on the details. He also explained that the second day is the Day of the Dogs, when they are anointed with the red tika, adorned with garlands and fed well, whether they are stray or pets. This I did see and it was adorable. Dogs were running around the city with little red dots on their foreheads and strings of marigolds around their necks. Unfortunately, it was a work day and I was not in camera-mode. But here is a sample from the interwebs…he doesn’t seem too pleased about it:
The third day is the most important one in Tihar. In the morning, cows are also given tikas and garlands, and doused with yellow and red powder. People touch the cow’s body with their heads, bow down to its feet, and even crawl between its legs on all fours, for the purpose of humbly asking for assistance and guidance for their souls when they leave this world. On the evening of this day, after the homes have been well scrubbed and cleansed with red mud and cow dung, each one is embellished with tiny oil lamps, and candles. From this comes the meaning of the pretty light festival, which also happened to be the second day of our arrival in Pokhara. That evening we watched shopkeepers lay down a line of tiny lights around their stores and a pathway was painted on the ground leading inside. I later learned that the pathways marked by the lamps and the footprints (or painted pathways) made from rice flour paste are to show the goddess Laksmi the way to the family’s treasured possessions.
The fifth and final day is Bhai Tika, when sisters worship their brothers by making holy circles of water and oil around them and by feeding them specially prepared foods, and sweets. The brothers in return give their sisters presents. If a boy has no sister, then a close female relative may perform the ceremony.
I also witnessed another tradition that no-one has explained to me yet, and perhaps it was only local to Pokhara: street dancing. We went for a hike in the morning on the first day and saw groups of singing and dancing kids along the hiking trail up to the peace pagoda. The next morning a few dancers performed outside the stores in front of the Lakeside stores.
On the second day, it became clear that this is what everyone was doing, and it was quite a sophisticated affair. All down the main tourist shopping area of Lakeside, and in the main town away from the tourists, small dancing troupes were singing to shopkeepers. We saw traditional dancing groups, modern Bollywood productions and even the Gang-um Style horse dance. That evening, they kicked it further up a notch. In the darkness they had brought more candles and electric light displays, speakers, microphones and full-scale productions. The audiences were always passersby, gathered in a circle around the act in front of each store. You could spot them from a distance away. These performances were not one dance wonders, but well-rehearsed, multiple acts with musicians. After dinner from our hotel on the other side of the lake, the town was lit up with lights, music and dancing that went on until well past my bed time.