The World's Friendliest Festival for Dogs
In Nepal, the festival of Tihar (or, Deepawali) is a 5 day long festival held around October/November each year which celebrates the divine attachment humans have with certain animals. As part of the festivities, thanks are given to a different animal on particular days, and man's best friends are given day number 2 - known locally as Kukur Tihar.
The first time we were in Nepal for Tihar festival we were absolutely blindsided! While we knew that it was approaching (and that everybody we knew was quite excited) we had no idea as to the level of involvement the Nepali people give to their festivals. And why not - what a beautiful reason to get together and celebrate life!
Day 1 of Tihar Festival is all about the crow or raven (and is called Kaag Tihar). The cawing sound this bird makes symbolizes sadness and grief. Nepali people believe that by offering sweets to the crow they can avert death in their families.
Day 2 of Tihar festival is called Kukur Tihar - all about dogs. Pets, street dogs and even those in rescue homes are hugely decorated, and offered treats and other delicious foods to thank them for their valued friendship and protection throughout the ages.
The marigold flower woven into garlands is placed around the dog's neck and tikka is given, not only on the 'third eye' but sometimes on all four paws as well.
It also goes without saying that this day is a grand feast day for pooches around the country. Treats are given all around.
This particular day of animal worship resonates with us as we are HUGE dog lovers! We have a 3.5 year old Bull Arab (Shiva) who we met at our local pound around 2 years ago. She has inspired us to want to become foster parents for other rescue dogs, especially larger breeds as they tend to stay at the pound far longer than the smaller dogs and have a hard time getting foster placements.
We donate each month to a wonderful not-for-profit organization in Nepal, called Street Dog Care. They have a few different programs (including a shelter), but the one we just LOVE ❤ is their weekly 'fixer-up' for street dogs living in and around Kathmandu.
You literally bring in your street dog (if you can get them in the taxi), and take them to Boudha Stupa where the Street Dog crew are all set up and ready to go. They wash and dry them, worm and de-flea them, clip their nails, treat the terrible mange that most free spirited pups in Nepal have, and keep an eye on other more serious ailments.
And all for free (while relying on donations of course). The pic below was the last time we visited in June 2016 - treating one of the local street dogs dogs living around Boudha Stupa.
When they're finished with this little pamper session, you take the dog back to where you 'found it' and off it goes back to it's street life.
In lots of Asian countries - and certainly Nepal - street dogs are a part of life and this is where they belong in the community. The alternative for these dogs is far worse, and while to our Western minds letting them back on the streets could seem cruel, and perhaps even that something should be done about it, the reality is that there is really not much to do about it as there are so many homeless animals. It is organizations (and the wonderful volunteers) such as this that gives these beautiful souls a fighting chance at living for a little bit longer.
... but back to Tihar festival for a moment.
Day 3 is the day of the cow (Gai Tihar). Nepal is a Hindu nation, whereby they believe that the cow signifies prosperity and wealth. It is a sacred animal and it's actually illegal to kill a cow in Nepal. The cow's milk, dung and urine are all used in everyday village life in Nepal, and during Gai Tihar the Nepali people pay homage to this beautiful beast by decorating them with flowers and feeding them the bestest grass available.
The last two days of Tihar festival are dedicated to the lights, candles and sand mandalas. This is the most visually spectacular festival I have seen to date, and at night it's like a little wonderland has popped up in town!
Every street, doorway, and stairway available has decorative coloured sand, flower petals and little tea lights paving the way. The streets themselves are jam packed full of people - it's as if the whole country has all come outside at the same time.
I often tell people that it's the equivalent of our Christmas, but it's really so much more than that. Christmas is generally about seeing family and eating lots of yummy food, whereas Tihar is more about giving thanks and celebrating life in all it's wonderful simplicity. Everybody is family for these 5 beautiful days on the Nepali calendar - even our four pawed (and our winged) friends.
If you ever get the chance to visit Nepal during Tihar festival, make sure you do. You'll leave with a couple more family members you never knew you had, and a healthy respect for our non human brothers and sisters (if you didn't have it already).
Much better than Christmas if you ask me!
Until next time,
Image credits: Surya Australia, Nowra Branch RSPCA, Google Images, and Pinterest
- Melissa Meeks