The Amazing Jyväskylä!

The Amazing Jyväskylä!
Me at the harbor of Jyväskylä

31 October, 2014

Tihar, when "sweet" bears both literal and figurative meanings ;)

The second most important festival of Nepal has come and gone but the marks of Rangoli in front of every house's door will stay put for a while.

While during Dashain, Hindus worshiped Goddess Durga - the source of power for the Hindu trinity Shiva, Brahman and Vishnu, during Tihar, they worship Goddess Laxmi - the wife of Vishnu, the Goddess of spiritual and material prosperity, wealth and fortune. She is also the embodiment of beauty since she is believed to be an extremely beautiful woman herself.

A mandala of Goddess Laxmi in the making
Final work
This is a five-day festival with interesting customs conducted every day. The first day is for worshiping crow (Kag), the messenger of Death. On the second day, many dogs (kukur) here are seen with tika and flower collar (garland?) because they are the object of worshiping. This is to celebrate the tight relationship between men and dogs. Cows are worshiped on the third day, also with puja (ritual ceremony) to put tika and garland on them. This is also the day when people do puja to worship Goddess Laxmi because cows are believed to be one of the incarnations of Goddess Laxmi. In the afternoon of the third day, a trail of red mud is drawn by the woman in the family from the front door to the place in the house where Goddess Laxmi is worshiped. Afterward, when the mud is dry, they draw footprints on the trail to symbolize that the Goddess has already come into the house. At the beginning of the mud trail, many families arrange flowers and candles to make it into very beautiful Rangoli. The forth day is actually celebrated differently among different communities in Nepal. For the Newari, one of the original settlers of Kathmandu, they call it "my day", meaning one worships oneself on this day. For others, this is the day for worshiping ox. The last day is the most important day and to me personally, my favorite day because of its lovely meaning. It is called Bhai Tika. Bhai means brother. So this day is for honoring the bonding relationship between brothers and sisters.

Mud trail and Goddess Laxmi's foot prints (well, it's supposed to have a trail but my landlords did not draw it because they would have had to draw the trail all the way up to the top floor of their 3-story house
An example of a very pretty Rangoli

There are many different versions of legends about Tihar festival and particularly this last day. However, there's one legend that's more popular than most. Legend says that Lord Vishnu once gave Yama Raj (the God of Death) five days off in ruling his world. So, he went to visit his sister because it had been such a long time he had never seen her. When Goddess Yamuna, the sister of Yama Raj, saw her brother come to visit, she was so happy and did everything she could to keep him happy. At the end of his five days, Yama Raj was so pleased with the his sister's hospitality, he presented a unique gift to her; and granted that any brother who came to visit their sister on this day would have a wealthy and happy life.

The version that I was told by my co-workers at the office is that this festival started when a smart sister managed to save the life of her brother from Yama Raj, the God of Death. When it was time for Yama Raj to come and take away the soul of the brother, the sister invited him to stay for the honor of "brother worship" as well. The sister did the rituals so well that Yama Raj was very pleased and asked if she had any wish from him. So, she wished that he would not take the soul of her brother until seven-color tika she had smeared on his forehead faded, the oil around him was dry and the flower garland on his neck wilted. However, the oil never seemed to dry and left permanent trail around the brother. And the garland was made of a kind of purple flowers that would never wilt. Then, the soul of the brother was saved forever from the hand of Death.

Therefore, on this day, during Bhai Tika puja, sisters draw a circle around their brothers with oil, put seven-color tika on their brothers' forehead and flower garlands on their necks. All of this is for protecting the brothers from the Death and blessing them a wealthy, healthy and happy life. They also prepare very delicious meals for the brothers. In return, the brothers prepare gifts for their sisters to show their appreciation like Yama Raj did.

Those who do not have sisters go to a special temple called Yamaleswar Mahadev in downtown Kathmandu, in the middle of Rani lake to receive tika and blessing. This temple is locked all year round and only open once a year on the last day of Tihar.

Yamaleswar Mahadev temple in Rani lake

Only opened once a year, the temple attracts lots and lots of people on the last day of Tihar

It is a sweet and lovely tradition of Hindus and a heart-warming day for those with brothers and sisters.

Giving and receiving tika at Yamaleswar Mahadev temple
What I love most about this festival is that it is also called the festival of light. For three days straight, Kathmandu's citizens enjoyed full-time electricity with no load-shedding. The city was lit up in colorful lights. I kept saying (while vigorously taking photos): "This is such a luxury for Kathmandu ... well, but it's only once a year!"
Kathmandu city sparkling in lights (taken from Swayambhu Stupa)

In an alley, branching from one of the main roads in Kathmandu

A temple in Kathmandu Durbar Square, decorated with lights 

Kathmandu Durbar Square

Kathmandu Durbar Square

Another alley branching from a main road in downtown Kathmandu

Aside from roaming the city in the evening to take photos, I do not have any personal take on Tihar like I did during Dashain. I did come to my friend's house on the forth day and we made Selroti together, a sort of round donuts - traditional food during Tihar. It was lots of fun actually because no matter how much we tried, we could not get it in round and plumed shape like they did in the stores. Tihar is also the time for those with sweet tooth. Gosh, they eat so much sweets here for the past few days!

During Tihar, most shops were closed but sweets shops were always open! 

The streets and the markets during the week of the festival were filled with flowers garlands and colorful powder (for seven-color tika) being sold on pavements.
Color powder is mixed with water to make tika
Flowers garlands

I feel blessed and glad to be here during this festivals season. Kathmandu has been so lively, pretty and bustling with its busy citizens. Even modernity has had very visible impacts on people's lives here, I still hope these wonderful traditions will still live on to enrich the spiritual lives of many more Nepali generations to come. It makes me giggle every time I touch upon the matter of modernity and tradition, Escobar always comes to my mind. It could be that I have had to read his book Encoutering Development ... for so many times due to assignments at school. Almost 20 years ago, he was already worried about the local culture and traditions being destroyed by modernity because development was strongly accompanied with modernity and economic growth regardless of anything else. Development, as a result, was being conducted carelessly at the time in regard of culture preservation. Now, 20 years later, his prediction has become more visible than ever in developing countries such as Nepal.

When I was at Yamaleswar Mahadev to seize the opportunity of entering the temple which only happens once a year, right next to the traditional rituals being conducted, people with all sorts of digital devices: camera, smart phones, notepads ... vigorously taking photos and taping videos. Well, I am glad people's lives have gotten better in term of meterials. However, in situations like this, living in the moments should be more important than looking at them through the cameras lens. As a tourist, I do take tons of photos, I'm tired of it sometimes but I know I'm going to regret it afterward if I don't have some photos to mark places I've been or things I've seen. Well ... I could also be quite unreasonable sometimes.


  1. Wow!I finished reading your article and experience tonight, which is quite interesting and attracting to me ! It is like a funny and meaningful story! I hope there will be more waiting for our audience.....
    Thank you for your working.

  2. Whoever you are, thank you very much for taking your time to read my posts. i am glad you enjoyed it and yes, I'll keep them coming.