Nepal’s Kukur Tihar Festival Is Diwali for Dogs

On the second day of Tihar, Nepal's autumnal religious festival, dogs are honored, celebrated, and even worshipped.
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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 in the Hindu tradition

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.

Diwali for dogs: the garland

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.

Diwali for dogs: the tika

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.

Diwali for dogs: food offerings

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.

How will you celebrate Diwali with your dog?

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:

21 thoughts on “Nepal’s Kukur Tihar Festival Is Diwali for Dogs”

    1. Looks like it’s the other way around, friend. Look at the publish dates. This one is from 2014 and the link you posted was published a year later.

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  9. I have a dog. She participates in all activities in Diwali. We put tika on her head and feed her Diwali food. There is NO other animal like dog. I am sure they all go to heaven. If not then there is NO heaven ❤️????

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  11. M soo glad to know this that there is a festival like this in which dog play a major role. I am a animal lover n yes i love dogs. Its really good!

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  16. Dear Karla, thank you for your lovely comment. I was just going through this article and coming from Nepal, I have to say it has really beautifully explained what this special day denotes. The Kukur tihar day falls today in Nepal this year, I mean 18th Oct. It’s not the exact same day every year as we follow our own Nepali calendar (Would you believe it’s the year 2074 for us this year?! Hehe) .
    But it is always during the 2nd day of the 2nd biggest festival of Nepal called Tihar or Dipawali/Deepawali (Festival of Lights) which will generally fall around Sept/Oct each year. (The first day being for crows, the 3rd day for cows etc)
    You could plan to visit Kathmandu around this time, the weather is perfect too! Hope the short info. helps!

  17. This is the most wonderful read!! Such respect for all animals! I would love to visit sometime to experience this wonderful living tradition!! It warms my heart to see such love and respect for dogs as I am a dog lover as well actually I love all animals lol Thankyou so much for sharing and please I would love some information on when this celebration happens and where! Would love to plan to come visit and experience such a blessed event ????
    Karla

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