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Durbar Sq., Kathmandu and Tihar Festival

NEPAL | Tuesday, 5 November 2013 | Views [649]

Kathmandu and Tihar Festival

 I arrived in Kathmandu from Chengdu after a wonderful flight over the Tibetan Himalayas.  The clouds skirted the snow-covered mountain peaks, creating a fluffy blanket on the valleys. Mt Everest, the goddess Chomulunga in Tibetan and Sagarmatha in Nepali, had her almost perennial cloud tuft off the summit but was otherwise completely clear.  The waves of peaks make it seem as if they create multiple points of intersection for earth and sky; this is the abode of gods and gurus.

 Back on the ground, the road from the airport into town hadn’t changed much in the intervening eight years since I was last here, other than it is perhaps even more torn up than before.  On the other hand, there is more active construction going on than during the Civil War in spite of a political system that is still in chaos. Nepal has had more changing governments over the past few years than just about any other country.  The Maoists still have a majority of the Congressional seats, some say because they terrorize the rural communities. To prepare for the upcoming elections in a couple of weeks and to avoid any potential problems during the current Festival season, the Army has soldiers stationed throughout villages and rural temples.  I was surprised to see them in Sankhu at the Vajrayogini site and in Pashupatinath, the main cremation site within Kathmandu, as well as throughout the city itself.

 The other surprise was the incredible number of Western tourists who are currently here.  This is high season for trekking on Everest and the Buddhist Mani Rimdu Festival in Tengboche, which lies near the path to Base Camp, will be happening in a couple of weeks, and it seems that young and old have left Europe, Japan, Russia and No. America to climb/hike the highest mountain ranges and hang out in Thamel, the backpacker haven of town. The tourists provide needed income and it seems that the shopkeepers are doing fairly well because of the increase in the number of people this year over the past few.

 This week is also the Nepali version of Diwali, Tihar, the Festival of Lights.  The festival here lasts five days and is to celebrate Laxmi, as well as to celebrate animals and for sisters to worship their brothers. Each day is dedicated to worshipping a particular animal or aspect. The first day is for worshipping crows by feeding them. Crows are associated with being the messengers of Yama, the Lord of Death, so it is important that they be kept happy.  The next day is for dogs, who are the protectors of houses and the Underworld.  Even the mangiest homeless canine is dressed in a garland of orange marigolds and given a red tika on this day. The third day has a number of special ceremonies, the first deals with worshipping cows ,and I wish I had been able to get a picture of a couple of elderly people in the middle of the old town forcing a not exactly willing (and fairly filthy) brown cow into their house via the front door, but by the time I fished out the camera their door was shut with the bovine inside. This is also the main day for the Laxmi Puja complete with candles lit and mandalas  created in front of the entrance to one’s house/shop/office. The evening of the third day is a real party day with young musicians and dancers taking to the streets. Music is everywhere and the dancers, mostly pre-teen or early teen-aged girls, move from shop to shop blessing the owners with their happy rhythms.  The fourth day is another day of song and for taking some of the local idols out for a walk on their individual chariots (boxes on a couple of long poles). Today is the fourth day and the music performance out my window lasted from about 7am until well after 2pm. providing wonderful entertainment while I typed up my notes for this blog. It started again around dusk. The fourth day is also to worship Oxen, and oneself – or rather the realization of the lack of self.  Laxmi is the Goddess of Wealth, but she is the wealth of spiritual realization as well as material prosperity.  In this Festival, she is worshipped to remind the faithful of the wealth found in the giving of the self to the point of selflessness.  The last day is the day that sisters worship their brothers, by giving them a tika and a garland of flowers, putting oil on their hair, and cooking for them. There are prayers offered asking for the brother’s long life. There is no corresponding ceremony for brothers to worship sisters.

As part of the ceremony, young kids go around to each of the shops, sing a song and basically beg.  It seems like a form of trick or treat where they are asking for money, and I heard that this is a fairly recent adaptation. All in all, though, it is a happy celebration of life, light and laughter.




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