There is a special festival in Nepal called Tihar, during which people honor animals and their sacred and unique bond with humans. Since Tihar celebrates the victory of god over demons, people worship different animals who help communities in one way or another and who are considered to be divine gifts from Mother Nature.
Tihar is celebrated on the night of the new moon in the month of Kartik according to the Hindu calendar. The entire festival stretches from two days prior to Tihar till two days post-Tihar. As per the English calendar, Tihar is observed from late October to early November.
Tihar is also known as the festival of lights, since the city and houses are lit up with extra lights and decorated with garlands.
Tihar is a five day long festival. Every day is dedicated to the celebration of a different animal.
Day 1: Kaag Tihar. This day is devoted to crows, who are considered the messengers of death. By pleasing them, it is hoped that they will not bring any news of sorrow to our own families.
Day 2: Kukur Tihar. On this day, dogs are worshiped.
Day 3: Laxmi Pooja. On this day, Hindus across the country pay homage to cows, who are considered sacred animals. The goddess of wealth is worshiped today as well.
DAY 4: Goru Puja. This day is devoted to oxen.
DAY 5: Bhaitika. On this day, sisters worship their brothers in hopes that they will have a long life. Sisters give sweets, fruits and other special food items to their brothers. In return, brothers give gifts and money to their sisters. On this day, sisters also worship Yamraj, the lord of death, to lengthen the life span of the brothers.
Practitioners of the Hindu religion worship dogs because they are messengers of Yamraj, the God of death, and worshiping animals is supposed to help appease Yamraj himself. Dogs are considered our protectors for the active role they play in safeguarding the community.
On Kukur Tihar, dogs around the community are adorned with flower garlands, tika (a red mark applied to their forehead) and offered food after a ceremonial function. Hindu mythology says that feeding a dog and making him happy will help to remove all sins committed in everyday life.
Stray dogs are honored on this day too. OIPA (International Organization for Animal Protection) Nepal celebrates this day dedicated to our precious four pawed friends by feeding them and honoring them with different rituals.
The OIPA delegation is very active in the Kavrepalanchok District of Nepal and constantly performs TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) campaigns and gives assistance to animals in need. Their activity is essential in a poor country such as Nepal.
Featured image: a dog during Tihar. Image credit Wolf Gordon Clifton / Animal People, Inc.