Each year, a five-day festival of lights called Diwali is celebrated in Nepal, and it honors animals. The second day of that celebration is called Kukur Tihar or Kukur Puja, which means "worship of dogs." On this day, all dogs – police dogs, family dogs and stray dogs – are honored as guardians of humanity and as dedicated, loyal friends.
An entire day of celebration is given to canines because Nepali Hindu cultures believe dogs are messengers of Yamaraj, the god of death, and that a dog waits at the gates of heaven for all people. Ancient and sacred Hindu texts also mention dogs. In these references, dogs often serve man in the role of guardian or as a liaison between man and the gods.
Kukur Tahir is in honor of the Hindu god Shiva's (Bhairav) dog, often depicted as a black dog in religious paintings and other artwork. The festival is celebrated annually between October and November.
A red tika or talik paint is applied to dogs' heads as a sign of sacredness; the substance is made from red powder, yogurt and rice. It is considered a blessing to cross paths with a dog wearing this mark. Festival participants also place a flower garland, or malla, around each dog's neck.
After they have been decorated, the dogs are offered food in thanksgiving for their service and loyalty. The menu consists of meat and cheeses as well as biscuits, eggs, fruits and high-quality dog food. These meals are given in gratitude for dogs who protect people's families, homes, towns and cities. On this day, the dogs are fed and eat first before people have their own meals.
The police dogs of Nepal are singled out for a special, formal ceremony in honor of their role. With the police in full regalia, the dogs are worshipped, painted, given a garland and fed. Afterward, the dogs are paraded at the Central Police Dog Training School in Kathmandu.
The five-day festival of Diwali celebrates other species as well. The first day, Kaag Tihar, is dedicated to ravens and crows. The third day is Gai Tihar, a celebration of cows, who are provided with the best grass to eat and decorated with garlands. The fourth day is in honor of oxen and the fifth day focuses on humans, with sisters givng thanks to their brothers for their protection.
The Kukur Tahir festival is also celebrated worldwide. Some people have their own private ceremonies for their dogs, honoring them for their devotion and deep bond. Although the main festival takes place in Nepal, dog lovers around the world celebrate with the Nepali Hindus in their worship of and appreciation for dogs.
Learn more about the Kukur Tahir festival and celebrate your dog next fall and all year.