Dogs hold a significant place in our lives, offering an immense source of love and companionship for us dog owners. Their presence not only elevates our mood but also contributes to our mental well-being. In Nepal, a unique Hindu festival called Tihar unfolds over five days, each dedicated to exploring different relationships. The second day, known as Kukur Tihar or the “day of the dogs,” is a special celebration that extends to all dogs, whether they are cherished pets or resilient street dogs.
Rooted in Hindu mythology, it is believed that the God of Death, Yamaraj, is accompanied by two vigilant dogs named Shyama and Sharvara, tasked with guarding the gates of hell. In the context of Nepalese Hindu traditions, there is a profound connection between the worship of dogs and cultivating a positive perception of death. It is held that by revering dogs, individuals will forge a harmonious link with the canine companions who accompany Hindus in their afterlife journey. The act of worship is also embedded with the hope that these dogs will serve as protectors, shielding devotees from potential torment in the realms beyond. The maintenance of the dogs’ goodwill is regarded to appease Yamaraj himself. Consequently, on this day in Nepal, any harm directed towards dogs is deemed strictly sinful, underscoring the reverence and importance of these animals in the cultural and spiritual fabric of the region.
On this special day, dogs are elevated to a position of reverence through a ceremonial ritual that involves adorning them with flower garlands and applying tika—a blend of rice, yogurt, and vermillion powder—on their foreheads. This act symbolizes the values of love, power, and purity that are deeply associated with our cherished companions. The ritual unfolds with the dogs receiving a refreshing bath, a gesture that cleanses them and prepares them for the sacred rituals. As tika is carefully applied, and flower garlands draped, the individual overseeing this process bows to the foot of the dog, symbolizing a gesture of worship and respect. Following these acts, the dogs are indulged with their favorite treats, and throughout the day, they bask in an abundance of extra love and attention. This heightened significance underscores the importance of making dogs feel exceptionally special on this occasion, recognizing and honouring the vital role they play in our lives.
While Hindu mythology suggests that the worship of dogs on this day aims solely to appease the God of Death, the observance of this tradition in Nepal extends beyond strict adherence to religious beliefs. Irrespective of one’s religious affiliation, the focus for most Nepalese individuals during this celebration lies in honouring and celebrating the profound bond between humans and dogs. The occasion serves as a moment to express gratitude for the unwavering loyalty and companionship that these animals bring into their lives. In Nepalese culture, there exists a deep-rooted belief that dogs possess an innate ability to sense impending danger and death. Beyond religious rituals, the day becomes a heartfelt acknowledgment of the unique connection shared between humans and dogs, emphasizing the significance of these animals in both practical and spiritual aspects of life.
One might wonder if dedicating a day to celebrate dogs, primarily seen as pets, excludes other animals that offer companionship. Historically, this might have been the case, but today the festival has evolved to encompass a broader spectrum. While the festival traditionally centers on dogs, there is a noteworthy shift in some Nepalese households, welcoming cats into the celebration. Homes with feline companions now adhere to similar rituals, recognizing and appreciating the companionship that cats bring into our lives.
Crucially, this celebration extends beyond the distinction of pet or stray. On this day, it matters not whether a dog is someone’s cherished pet or a street-dwelling canine; Nepalese individuals universally extend respect, provide treats, and address healthcare needs for any dog they encounter. The essence of the day lies in ensuring that every dog in Nepal feels loved and appreciated, irrespective of their circumstances. This inclusive approach reflects an acknowledgment of the positive and endearing qualities that dogs contribute to Nepalese homes and communities.
Kukur Tihar was celebrated on November 12, 2023 in Nepal.