Diwali, one of the great celebrations in the Hindu calendar, is a five-day autumn festival generally known as the festival of lights. Each day has its own focus, and specific observances vary from one denomination of Hinduism to another. Regardless of regional and denominational differences, Diwali is a period of gift-giving, storytelling, and recognition of the relationships humans have with all things.
In Nepal, Diwali is called Tihar. Similar to other Diwali observances, lamps are lit at night during Tihar. The festival of lights celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of knowledge over ignorance, and the dissolution of barriers that separate humans from authentic experience of the world. Nepalese Hinduism is unique in dedicating the second day of Tihar, Kukur Tihar, to the worship of dogs.
Dogs are especially important to Nepal’s Hindu practitioners. During day two of Tihar, Kukur Tihar, the role of dogs in human life and throughout history is celebrated. In the Rigveda, one of Hinduism’s most ancient texts, Samara — the mother of dogs — assists Indra, the ruler of heaven, in retrieving stolen cattle. Hindu tradition holds that a dog is the guardian and messenger of Yama, the lord and judge of the dead. A dog is also said to guard the gates of the afterlife.
At the close of the Mahabharata, the king of righteousness, Yudhishthira, refuses to enter heaven without his devoted dog. The dog is revealed to represent the concept of dharma, the path of righteousness. During Tihar, each day is devoted to a honoring a different concept or entity: crows, dogs, cows, oxen, and fraternal relationships, respectively. On the second day, Kukur Tihar, all dogs are recognized, honored, and worshiped.
What forms does this worship take? During Kukur Tihar, the mythological and real relationships between humans and dogs constitute the day’s major focus. A garland of flowers is draped around the neck of every dog; not only those with homes, but strays as well.
In our dog photos, you’ll notice a wreath of flowers hanging around the neck of each dog. This floral necklace, called a malla, is a mark of respect and dignity. It announces the wearer as important, and symbolizes the prayers that go with the dog.
On Kukur Tihar, a red mark is applied to the forehead of each dog. In Nepal, this mark is called the tika, a paste made from abir — a red dye powder — along with rice and yogurt. The tika is applied in a single stroke on the forehead upward from the eyes.
Like the malla that garlands the neck, the red tika marks the dog as both a devotee of the righteous path and as an object of devotion. The tika imbues the dog with an air of sacredness and acts as a blessing to those who encounter the dog during Kukur Tihar.
Prayers and flowers are certainly nice, but as far as dogs are concerned, their favorite part of Kukur Tihar must be the food. On the first day of Diwali, Kaag Tihar, food is arrayed on the roofs of homes as offerings to crows. On the second day, food offerings are put out for dogs in the home, as well as for strays in the streets.
These food offerings take a variety of forms. Depending on the celebrant, the dog’s treats may include milk, eggs, meat, or high-quality dog food. Some may even offer dogs a bit of sel roti, a deep-fried confection similar to a donut. This is a day when dogs have the best of everything.
This is a very general overview of Kukur Tihar. While its origins are traced to Nepalese Hinduism, variants of the day of the dog are celebrated by denominations of Hinduism and Buddhism across the world. Kukur Tihar honors dogs in all of their aspects: as guardians, companions, and friends.
By devoting days during the festival of lights to crows, cows, dogs, oxen, and siblings, adherents acknowledge the deep connections between all living things. In 2014, the ancient partnership between humanity and dogs is celebrated on October 22. We would love to hear from our readers. Do you keep Diwali or Tihar? Share your fondest memories of Kukur Tihar in the comments! How will you honor your dog today?
Learn more about dogs with Dogster: