Tihar is the second greatest festival of Hindus after Dashain. It is also called Yamapanchak since it is celebrated for five days. It is a festival of lights since lights are the prominent features of this festival & also called Dipawali which means row of lights placed together. Tihar generally falls after 22 days from the day of Dashain & is normally observed in the month of Kartik.
Why is Tihar celebrated?
Hindu mythology tells an interesting story of Yamuna & Yamraj, the God of death. Once, Yamuna wanted to meet her brother Yamraj. On the very first day of Tihar, the crow is worshiped as a messenger of Yamraj & the day is known as Kaag Tihar. The second day of Tihar is Kukur Tihar & the dog is worshiped as the representative of Yamraj. The third day of Tihar is Gai Tihar / Laxmi Puja. There is a religious belief that Goddess Laxmi will roam the earth on that day & give blessings to the beautiful & well-lighted houses. Laxmi Puja marks the return of God Ram from Lanka ( Dashain was the victory of Ram over Ravan in Lanka ). Laxmi Puja also marks the return of Pandavs from 12 years of banishment ( Dashain was the end of banishment ).
The fourth day is Govardhan Puja & is related to Lord Krishna & Lord Indra, the God of lighting & rain. It was a battle of duty versus sacrifice between them. Lord Krishna debated to farmers in a village that they only need to perform their regular works instead of making sacrifices to Lord Indra since the god should help people rather than making them worship for him. Then, in return, upset God Indra made continuous rain & thunder in the village. Lord Krishna then lifted the Govardhan mountain to protect the villagers from angry king Indra & his misdeeds. Worshiping Govardhan is believed to have begun from that incident.
On the fifth day of Tihar, i.e. the day of Bhaitika, Yamraj visited his sister the Yamuna. The Yamuna applied an auspicious tika on his forehead & fed him special dishes. Being happy with this, Yamraj declared that anyone who receives tika from their sister will not die on that particular day.
Origin of Deusi & Bhailo
According to Hindusim, once king Bali was performing yajna in order to become the king of heaven & to defeat king Indra. At the moment, Lord Vishnu took his fifth incarnation in the form of vaman & approached king Bali. Aware of the generous nature of king Bali, vaman appeared in front of him & sought a gift of three paces of land from King Bali. Bali readily agreed. Vaman then took his huge universal form & occupied the whole space with the first step. His second step occupied the whole earth except space where Bali was standing. Since there was no other space available to put his third step, King Bali offered his own head for the third step to put, fully realizing that the person is none other than God Vishnu. Lord Vishnu was impressed seeing the devotion of king Bali & blessed him in a supreme position in heaven. Since then, it is believed that anyone who gives alms will get a position in heaven. So people play Deusi & Bhailo & ask for tips and alms in the name of King Bali.
How is Tihar celebrated?
Kaag Tihar is celebrated by worshiping crows. People cannot actually catch it to worship as it is a cunning bird. People leave some food for crow at roof or some other places.
The dog is worshiped on Kukur Tihar. People put a tika on the dog's forehead and a garland around his/her neck. They give food to dogs.
The cow is an incarnation of Laxmi. So, the cow is worshiped in the morning at Laxmi Puja. At night, people worship Goddess Laxmi & the day is actually called Dipawali. People start to play Deusi/Bhailo from this day. Sisters make Rangoli in front of their houses.
In Govardhan puja, the ox is worshiped. People put Tika on the forehead of an ox.
In Bhaitika, sister worships their brothers, give them presents, sweets, fruits, etc. Sisters put Tika on brothers' forehead & garland them. Brother give them money in return & also put tika on their forehead.
Thus, Tihar is a festival of great rejoicing. We keep our houses neat and clean. We don't kill birds and animals. We play Deusi & Bhailo and have a lot of fun. The most attractive feature of this festival is cleanliness. We should try to keep our house clean throughout the year. The idea that Laxmi does not bless an unclear family is worth entertaining.