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 ).
Dashain is the greatest festival of Hindus. It is also called Bijaya-Dashami or The Durga Puja. It falls in the month of Aswin or Kartik & is celebrated for 15 days as a victory of goodness over evils. Dashain starts from a bright lunar fortnight ( Shukla Paksha ) and ends on the full moon day ( Poornima).
Why is Dashain celebrated?
Hindu mythology tells an interesting tale of the fierce battle of goddess Durga with Mahisasur, a demon who earned the favor of lord Brahma after long and hard penance. The demon had received boons that no man or God shall be able to kill him. He assumed that this boon would be enough to grant him immortality. Armed with this boon, he started terrorizing all the world. Having heard of the misdeeds of the demon, pure energy blazed forth from Brahma, Vishnu & Shiva - the trinity forming the pure energy of godhood. The energy gets concentrated in one spot and took the form of Goddess, i.e. Goddess Durga. She rode her Vahan, which was a lion & held terrible weapons in all her ten hands. In this form, she fought the demon, Mahisasur. It was on the day of Bijaya - Dashami that Mahisasur was defeated & killed.
According to Ramayan, the celebration of Bijaya - Dashami also marks the defeat of the Rakshasa king Ravan. It is said that it was on the day of Bijaya - Dashami that lord Ram finally killed Ravan & rescued Sita from his clutches.
According to Mahabharat, the Bijaya - Dashami marks the end of exile for the Pandavs & they were free to come back & reveal their identity in the eyes of the public.
How is Dashain celebrated?
Goddess Durga is worshiped in Dashain. She is worshiped for nine days. This period is called Navaratri (nine nights ). The first day of Navaratri is called Ghatasthapana, on which we put Jamara ( i.e. seeds of barley, maize, wheat are sowed to use the seedlings of these seeds during the festival ). The seventh day is called Phulpati. On Asthami ( 8th day ) & Navami ( 9th day ), people cut different animals for meat. The tenth day is called Bijaya-Dashami. On that day, we receive Tika, Jamara & blessings from our elders. We also go to our relatives to receive Tika & blessings for five days up to Kojagrat Purnima ( the 15th day ). We also get some money as Dakshina from our elders while receiving Tika.
Thus, Dashain or The Durga Puja should be spent joyfully by spending money within our limits. We should not spend more than what we can afford. Also, we should not kill animals & birds to fulfill our desire. We should show goodwill towards all creatures. I think Goddess Durga will be pleased if we kill our evil desires and behaviors instead of making sacrifices.