Category Archives: Culture and Religion

Tihar Festival Celebrations

Tihar is the five-day festival of lights, worshipping Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth. Houses are lit with lights which makes it a very enjoyable festival to watch as well. You will find houses decorated with all types of combinations of flashing lights, or traditional diyos and candles.

The festival usually starts with worshipping Ganesh, the elephant-headed god of prosperity. The following days, worshipping of the crow, dog, goddess of wealth Laxmi, the cow and bull is done, followed by Bhai Tika, in which sisters pray for the long life of their brothers.

Crows, dogs, and bulls are given Tihar celebration days to themselves as they are messengers of Yama, the god of death, so they must be satisfied.

There are some variations among the different communities in Nepal on how they celebrate Tihar. Generally, all make patterns on the floors of living rooms or courtyards using colored rice, dry flour, colored sand or flower petals, called Rangoli, which serves as a sacred welcoming area for gods and goddesses, particularly Laxmi. All communities also include the Bhai Tika in their celebrations.

Kag (Crow) Tihar and Kukur (Dog)Tihar (1st and 2nd day)

The first day of Tihar is known as “Kag Tihar”, crows day, when they are offered food in the morning on a plate made of leaves, before anyone in the house has taken breakfast. Crows are the messengers of Yamaraj, the god of death.

The second day is called “Kukur Tihar” or dogs day. The dog is seen as a guardian of the house. A big red tika is put on the dog’s forehead and a nice garland.

Laxmi Puja and Guru Puja (3rd and 4th day)

Laxmi Puja on the third day is the most important one of the Tihar festival, when the goddess of wealth, Laxmi, is worshipped. Early in the morning on this day the cow is worshipped. A Tika is put on her hand and a garland around her neck, and food is offered to her. The cow symbolizes wealth and is the most holy animal in Hinduism. Threads are tied to the cow’s tail to make the journey of the soul to the afterlife easier.

In the evening the goddess Laxmi is worshipped. During the days before the puja the house is cleaned and decorated. In the evening a Mandala is painted in from of the house with an oil lamp lit on it. From there, a pathway is made. Once the puja rituals are over, people start gambling in the house, which is allowed on this day. Laxmi Puja marks the end of the accounting year for more religious business people.

On the fourth day, “Guru puja” (ox worshipping) is typically performed. On this day, “Dause” groups of boys go from house to house singing songs

The indigenous population of the Kathmandu valley (Newars) celebrate Mha Puja on the fourth day, worshipping their own self with varieties of sweets, fruits, flowers, eggs, fish etc. The “self’ is worshipped for longevity and healthy life. It is also the start of the Newar New Year.

Bhai Tika (5th day)

Bhai Tika is celebrated on the fifth day of Tihar. The story behind Bhai Tika is that a girl received a hint from Yama that her brother would not be harmed until his garland of flowers dried and the line she drew around him vaporized. So when Yama came to claim the soul of her brother she already had him surrounded with a circle of oil and put a garland of betel flowers for his protection, and Yama had no other option than to prolong his life.

Sisters apply a sacred Tika on their brothers’ forehead and pray to Lord Yama (the God of Death) for his long life and prosperity. On this day, sisters invite their brother and his family to their house. Following the rituals of Bhai Tika, the sister then draws three Mandaps at a selected place in from of their brother. These Mandaps symbolize Lord Ganesh, Janmaraj (the God of Birth) and Yamaraj. A Puja is then performed for the deities while her brother is sitting in front of her on a mat. In Nepali culture, the Tika applied on the forehead of the brother has five colors; red, green, blue, yellow and white. Then a garland with velvet flowers is also put around the brother’s neck to wish him longevity and good health. Brothers offer presents in return.

Tihar festival food

Sweets are prominently there during Tihar and the choice is quite rich.

Sel roti is a home-made circular-shaped bread prepared during Tihar. It is made of rice flour with some added flavors. Ingredients include cardamon and clove and other flavors of personal choice.

Apart from sel roti, chini roti is also popular Tihar food. Although it is sweet (chini means sugar), it goes well with homemade pickle or with meat items.

Lakhamari is particularly consumed among the Newari community and one of the most important sweets for a lot of communities during Tihar. It is very hard to bite, but once you are able to bite it, the taste is sugary and savory at the same time.

Importance of Tihar

Tihar is the second biggest festival in Nepal, after Dashain. It is an important festival in Nepal as it celebrates moving away darkness with light and defeating evil with goodness. The festival is unique in the sense that it shows admiration not just to the gods but also to animals, who are honored because of their sacred and unique bond with humans.

Tihar is similar to the Indian festival of Diwali, as they are both considered as the festival of lights but Tihar includes the celebration and worship of the four creatures associated with the Hindu god of death (Yama).

The Bhai Tika is an event that brothers and sisters are looking forward as an annual highlight of their sibling bond. They value it highly because of its cultural and religious importance. Brothers from all around the world get home to Nepal to tika from their sisters.

Traditional music of Nepal

For a country with a rich culture like Nepal, music is a very important aspect of life. In rural areas in particular, you will come across many villagers who like singing or gathering around someone playing an instrument in the evening. Nepalese know many songs and actually often can and like singing them as well, arranging their own entertainment. Music group with Madal and Bansuri instruments

Traditional music group, playing the madal (drum) and bansuri (flute)

Music instruments of Nepal; amazing sounds

The madal, like in the picture above, is a folk musical instrument of Nepal that you will find throughout the country anywhere where people are playing folk music. It is a hand drum which is mainly used for rhythm-keeping accompanying songs and dance. The madal consists of a cylindrical body with at both ends a slight bulge at its center and heads, of which one head is larger than the other. It is usually played horizontally in a seated position, with both heads played simultaneously.

Another traditional Nepalese music instrument that is at the heart of traditional folk music performances is the sarangi, like shown in the picture below. This is a small fiddle which is used in folk music throughout South Asia. It is a short-necked instrument with three melody strings that are made of gut.

Sarangi

The bansuri is a side-blown flute, traditionally made of bamboo, widely used in India and Nepal. It is a traditional instrument already depicted in ancient Buddhist, Hindu and Jain religious icons, paintings and reliefs. The bansuri is revered as Lord Krishna’s divine instrument.

The fact that the bansuri is a very portable instrument of 2.5-3 feet length, made from a single hollow shaft of bamboo with six or seven finger holes, makes it easy to be carried and taken along. The instrument covers two and a half octaves of music. One end of the bansuri is closed, and its blow hole is few centimeters from the closed end. Longer bansuris feature deeper tones and lower pitches.

Explore the different music genres; from classical to folk…something for everyone

As Nepal has more than fifty ethnic groups, its music is also highly diverse. Some of the main genres that are widely played are linked to specific ethnic or language groups like Tamang Selo, Maithili, Gurung, and Newa, others genres like Dohori, Bhajan, and Classical music are generally applied by all ethnic groups in the country. Musical genres from Tibet and India have greatly influenced Nepalese music.

Tamang Selo is music by the Tamang people of Nepal and is widely popular among the Nepali-speaking community. Typical instruments that accompany this music are the damphu, madal and tungna. The Madal we have seen in the picture above. A Damphu is a percussion instrument, like a large tambourine, and the tungna a small string instrument made from a single piece of carved wood. The front hollow body of the tunga is covered with stretched animal skin on which the ‘bridge’ is fitted.

Dohori folk songs are usually sung by two teams of men and women, and originated in the rural areas of Nepal. In this type of folk songs, one team sings a question and the other team replies with a couplet and vice versa. In Nepali, Dohori means ‘back and forth’ and relates to an exchange of phrases between the contesting groups of collaborating singers. The groups of men and women sit on opposite sides and keep on improvising, teasing and flirting with each other in the improvised verses, until one of the team runs out of answers.

Bhajan music refers to songs with a religious spiritual theme, which is widely applied in the Hindu religion.

Classical music in Nepal used to be promoted and protected by Nepal’s rulers, in the courts of the Mallas and Shah Kings and the Ranas, who also had classical music as part of their training.

Nepali classical music is closely linked to Indian classical music, and similar instruments are used with a center place for the sitar and the tabla.

The sitar is a plucked string instrument with a long neck. It can have 18, 19, 20, or 21 strings. Six or seven of the strings are played strings running over curved frets that are raised. The other strings run underneath the frets, resonating with the played strings.

“Nepal Sitars” is group of three professional Nepali classical musicians from Kathmandu. Among them sitarist Satendra Man Singh Tuladhar, son of Tara Bir Singh Tuladhar of the famous Nepalese Folk Music group Sur Sudha.  On the website of “Nepal Sitars” (nepalsitars.com) you can find information on sitar classes as well.

The tabla is a set of two rounded metal or ceramic drums with skin heads lashed on by leather thongs. It can produce an amazing range of sounds by striking the center, edge, or breadth of the drum. In addition, the bansuri (discussed above) is one of the other instruments frequently used in Nepali classical music.

There is also one typical European instrument imported in Nepali music, the harmonium. It is not so much used as solo instrument but more to accompany songs.

Traditional music performances; where to find them

Traditionally, there are several musician castes who perform in bands or individually. Nowadays, cultural practices have loosened a bit with people from other castes also involved in the music scene. To experience traditional Nepalese music, you can either listen to some recordings or visit a life performance.

If you like to take some recordings of traditional Nepalese folk music home, look for recordings from the group Sur Sudha , their album “Festivals of Nepal” is available on Amazon.

As its name already indicates, this album reflects the own tune of several of Nepal’s main festivals. You will hear the tabla (hand drum), bansuri (flute) and sitar expressing the variety of Nepalese traditional music. Music from this album is also very suitable to use as background music for any video you might have made of your visit to Nepal.

If you are more in to vocal music, you can listen to the Ani Choying Drolma, a famous singing Nepalese Buddhist nun of Tibetan origin. Another recommended singer is Narayan Gopal, who is widely regarded by many Nepalese as their best folk-singer ever. He is also referred to as “Swar Samrat”, which means “Emperor of Voice”. His songs are accompanied by traditional instruments like the sitar, harmonium and bansuri.

Get active with traditional music of Nepal yourself

Well, you can get “active” with traditional music of Nepal by listening to it on recordings or at Spotify. There is a playlist of “traditional Nepalese music”, which features music with many of the instruments mentioned in this blog. You can access it at Spotyify through the following link; Traditional Music of Nepal

There are also various places, particularly in the Kathmandu valley and Pokhara, where you can learn to play traditional Nepalese instruments. A good start for your search for such classes is http://musicroomktm.com/classes . They have a section for classes where you can learn playing eastern instruments, and have options for online classes for students outside Nepal.

Traditional food of Nepal; what you should taste!

Food plays a very important part in Nepalese life. A typical way to greet one other in Nepalese is saying Khana khanubayo, meaning “Have you eaten already”? Nepalese food habits traditionally focus around vegetarian dishes with meat only consumed occasionally, particularly at festival time. Depending on caste and tribal background, Nepalese are vegetarian or consume goat meat, chicken, fish, water buffalo or pork.

Dal BhatOver time, and with many Nepalese traveling abroad, food consumption patters have changed with international food influences from all over the world having entered the Nepalese kitchen. Nevertheless, the traditional Dal Bhat (rice with pulses) is still the main staple in many Nepali homes, and typically served on a steel plate. The Nepal Cookbook includes an extensive overview of recipes, representing the best of the authentic Nepali cuisine. You will find recipes of festival dishes as well as everyday favorites.

 

Breakfast; just try a new start of the day

Traditionally, Nepalese eat two main meals daily, with rice or roti. The first meal is taken late in the morning. Earlier in the morning at breakfast time Nepalese typically have tea with some small snack or bread in urban areas. Food patterns are changing with families in urban areas adopting a more western style for breakfast.

Khir (rice/milk pudding) is eaten as a sweet breakfast or as a snack. Khir is also an important festival food, and is used at baby rice-feeding, called Pasni, the first time babies eat solid food.

Puri (a deep-fat fried bread made from wheat flour) is eaten for breakfast or as a snack, served with a curry of a mixture of vegetables, peas and potatoes. It is a good change to try for breakfast, particularly to start the day in winter time.

Lunch and dinner; try the traditional Dal Bhat

Dal Bhat, rice with pulses, is the staple food many Nepalese families eat for lunch and dinner. It is often served with vegetables (tarkari) and some pickle (achar). It is mostly taken as a vegetarian dish, with meat only added occasionally in the weekends or at festivals. Many families have rice for lunch and change it at times with roti for dinner.

Dal Bhat is cooked fresh for every meal. All ingredients are cooked very well which makes it a safe dish to eat when you are traveling.

Festival food and snacks; some of them you will like

The first snack to look at in Nepal are Momos, this is a have to try during your visit. It are dumplings with different types of stuffing on a vegetarian non-vegetarian basis. Momos can be steamed or fried.

Chiura, or “bitten rice” is a popular traditional food of Nepal made of paddy. It is particularly popular with the Newar community and often eaten in combination with Dahi (Yogurt).

Yomari is made by kneading rice flour in a fig shape and fill it with Chaku (sweet mix with black sesame)

Sel Roti is cooked for most festivals, but particularly during the Tihar festival, which marks the victory of good over evil. and is popular with almost all ethnic groups. It is one of my favorites when I’m on the road and like to have a quick snack at a teashop.

 

Jeri (Jilebi) is another (sweet) snack, on flour, curd and saffron basis that is very popular in the country and available in many Nepalese homes during festivals and at teashops. It is also nice to eat in combination with yoghurt (dahi).

Malpuwa is usually eaten as a snack and at festivals and pujas (worships). Iyt can best be described as fritters or pancakes, served as a dessert or a snack

Maasko bara is another popular snack food used at many religious ceremonies and festivals. It is made on a basis of black lentils.

Chana is a snack of roasted chickpeas and popular throughout the country.

Bhatmas Sandeko is a soya bean salad made by mixing garlic and ginger with soybean. It is commonly eaten with cheura as a side dish to the main meal or as a snack. Another popular snack is roasted dry soybeans.

Food habits and cultural practices you need to know

Nepalese traditionally eat by hand. They use their right hand for this, as the left hand is considered “contaminated” as it is used for cleansing purpose while going to the toilet. Food should therefore be handled with your right hand, while you eat or when you pass it on to someone.

When you have touched your fingers to your mouth, you are not supposed to touch food at a common plate or passing it on to someone else anymore. This is also considered to be “contaminated” . So, if something touches your mouth, it is instantly jhuto and can no longer be consumed by anyone else. Also, after your hand has touched your mouth when eating, that hand and your food are now contaminated.

Enjoying the Nepalese traditional food experience

If you like to enjoy a typical Nepali food experience, try to find a Thakali restaurant. Thakali people are an ethnic group from the Mustang area. They are well-know in Nepal for their cuisine and food hygiene. They typically serve a Dal Bhat (rice with pulses) served with vegetables and meat if you like.

The indigenous ethnic group of the Kathmandu valley, the Newaris, are well-known in Nepal for their kitchen. here you can also have the Dal Bhat dish, and several authentic and exotic dishes.

If you like to combine a culinary experience with a cultural exposure, then a visit to such restaurants that cater for this combination enjoying good food, traditional dances and music is for you. Nepali Chulo at Lazimpath in Kathmandu is one of the restaurants in a traditional old Rana palace that offers such possibility.