One of Nepal’s most important festivals, Kukur Tihar (or dog festival) is celebrated annually in the Himalayan country on what is otherwise known as Choti Diwali in India. This is on the second day of the five-day Diwali festival. This Tihar honours and worships man’s furry friend, and is celebrated in a grand way in Nepal, when people of the Hindu community worship the animal, thus, commemorating the special bond between humans and dogs.
For the festival, pets and strays are treated alike and are decked with garlands, which is a way of showing respect. The dogs are also adorned with red tika or tilak, with kumkum or gulaal along with rice and yogurt, very similar to any tilak ritual in Hindu tradition. After the puja, the dogs are given special treats and lot of food to eat. As far as dogs are concerned this is the best part of the festival for them — the treats include milk, eggs, meat, high-quality dog food or anything that one likes.
Wondering why dogs are worshipped this way? Well, the answer lies in Hindu mythology. Bhairava, an avatar of Lord Shiva has a dog as his vahana (vehicle) known as Shvan. Yamraj, or the God of Death also has two watchdogs, who guards the gates of Narak (hell). Owing to this belief, the festival is observed on this day that is also known as Naraka Chaturdashi or Bhoot Chaturdashi. It is believed that dogs can sense impending danger, importantly death and are specially worshiped on this day.
Dogs also find a special mention in the Mahabharata. End the end of the epic, when the Pandavas started their final voyage, a dog followed them on their journey towards the Swarga. While in the journey, Yudhishtir lost all his brothers and wife, however, the dog continued with him till the gates of the heaven. In the religious text, it is said that he refused to enter heaven without the dog. It is believed that it was Yama himself who disguised as a dog and followed him throughout the journey.
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