Kukur Tihar- A Day To Worship Dogs in Nepal
As said "Every dog has its day", it is true here in Nepal. Kukur Tihar is a day in which people worship Dogs every year as a messenger of Yama.
Every year in Chaturdashi of Kartik Krishna Paksha (Naraka Chaturdashi), Nepalese people celebrate Kukur Tihar. It is the second day of Tihar Festival which falls in late October or early November. Newari people term Kukur Tihar as Khicha Puja.
A dog is a holy animal in Hinduism and is the ride of the deity Bhairava. People believe it as a Heaven's guide, hell's gate guards and informants of god Yama. So, they worship each and every dog as Yama’s messenger in Tihar Festival (Yama Panchak). They adore all four-legged Canines (mongrel and tamed pets) on this very occasion. People worship them by putting tika and mala (garland) made of marigold flowers. They also offer milk, dog food, eggs, and other food items to them.
Many Nepalese social foundations also organize rabies vaccination campaigns and dog treatment campaigns on this day. Not only in Nepal, Kukur Tihar has influenced other foreign countries too. Since 2016, people of Mexico have also started celebrating this day as a day of the dog.
Legends and Myths about Kukur Tihar
One of the well-known Nepalese myths surrounding Kukur Tihar is about the deity of death 'Yama'. Yamuna didn't receive the reply of the message sent on Kaag Tihar. So, on the second day of the Yama Panchak,she called for Yama's second informant 'dogs' to send him a message. She said “Go and tell Yama that his sister wants to see him”. She also fed the dog and put tika and mala. However, people say that even on the second day, Yama remained busy and so he couldn’t visit Yamuna.
Likewise, the dog tihar also has a legend in the final chapters of Mahabharata. According to the Mahabharata, five Pandavas were followed by a dog as they ascended to Swarga (heaven) alive. Yudhishthira, the eldest pandava and dog, crossed the Himalaya and arrived at the gates of heaven but the other four Pandavas and their wife had died crossing the himalayas.
After Yudhishthira and the dog reached heaven, guards asked Yudhishthira to enter the gates without the dog but refused to enter swarga without the dog. He said the dog appeared to be more holy than his siblings and wife as they failed to make it to the gates alive. But the guards refused and Yudhishthira said he would rather return to the earth. Then the dog revealed himself to be Yudhishthira's guardian father Yama. So till this day, people believe the dogs have the purest heart and that’s why dogs are worshiped in Tihar.
Local Myth says, Since the Kirat ruler King Bali Hang's sister tricked the crow on Kaag Tihar, Lord Yama sent a dog as his messenger. When King Bali Hang's sister noticed the dog, she again fed the dog with sweets, milk, and eggs and persuaded the dog to resend her message to Yama begging not to take King Bali Hang until she applied tika to her brother's forehead in Panchami. So, the dog returned empty handed just like the crow.