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This festival in Nepal celebrates dogs in a wonderful way

This festival in Nepal celebrates dogs in a wonderful way
Posted at 7:30 AM, Nov 11, 2023

I love dogs. You love dogs. Your giggly toddler loves dogs, and your grouchy old dad will always crack a smile for a pup.

But in Nepal, it’s not enough to simply love a dog. No, dogs deserve an entire day of celebration and feasting, complete with ceremonial attire and unlimited belly rubs.

That day is called Kukur Tihar, and it puts our National Dog Day to shame.

Kukur Tihar is part of the five-day Hindu festival of Tihar, a Nepali analog of Diwali as celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains in India and around the world.

Like Diwali, Tihar is a major holiday on par with Christmas, with festive lights, family gatherings and cherished traditions. Good news: Tihar is happening now!

Man and child light candles for Tihar in Kathmandu
AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha

Kukur Tihar arrives Nov. 11, day two of the festival, when Hindus honor the dogs who attended Yama, the Lord of Death, in the underworld.

According to one version of the legend, the dogs, dubbed Syama and Sabala, had four eyes and guarded the supernatural trail that led to Yama. Sometimes the dogs performed a familiar function as retrievers, sent to the overworld to bring dead souls back to Yama.

Today, this means the dogs of Nepal get an entire day of adoration to acknowledge their role as loyal helpers to humans (and to gods of the underworld, of course).

Pups are draped with garlands of marigolds and blessed with tika, temporary red dots on their foreheads that mark the holiday and offer spiritual protection. Celebrants are encouraged to spoil dogs rotten on Kukur Tihar, offering treats and pets and general words of praise to every dog they see.

MORE: Dogs rush to help owners when they cry, study suggests

Dog stands decorated with a garland of flowers during Tihar festival
AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha

This lavish lovefest isn’t just for family pets or working dogs. Street dogs and dogs in shelters also get luxurious treatment.

A 2022 Reuters article on the tradition described a ceremony for injured dogs at a shelter in Lalitpur, including at least one pup in a wheelchair. Lalitpur’s mayor offered some remarks to a videographer on hand.

“On the day of the Festival of Dogs, I want to convey the message that humans should show compassion and love to dogs and feed them as much as we can,” Babu Maharjan said.

I can tell my Chihuahua agrees, especially about the “feeding as much as we can” part.

Kathleen's Chihuahua
Kathleen St. John/Simplemost

MORE: Meet Maverick, this year’s winner of the American Humane Hero Dog Award 

Dogs aren’t the only ones who get a special day during Tihar. The first day of the festival, Kaag Tihar, is a day to spoil your local crows.

Crows and their raven cousins are seen as Yama’s messengers, and giving them a day of treats and worship can bring good luck to your household.

Day two is Kukur Tihar — dog day! — followed by Gai Puja, the cow festival. Cows are regarded as nurturing, maternal beings by Hindus, so day three of Tihar is dedicated to their worship.

The next day of Tihar is devoted to beasts of burden, like oxen, and the last day is a blowout celebration of siblings, with gifts and good wishes exchanged between brothers and sisters.

Tihar as a whole is dedicated to Laxmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity — the beautiful lights and candles on display are meant to welcome her.

But back to Kukur Tihar.

People praise dog during Nepal's Dog Festival
AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Our dog-worship practices might seem insufficient in comparison, but consider this: Americans spent $136.8 billion on their dogs in 2022. We worship dogs, too, in our own way.

Still, it’d be fun to have a major holiday to honor our dogs and all the ways they love us. Ceremonial garb and city festivities! Hours of chin scritches and fistfuls of treats!

My Chihuahua told me to say that last part.

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