Right now in Nepal, one of the biggest festivals and holidays is going on. It is time again for Deepawali. The holiday is also called Diwali or is more commonly known as Tihar in Nepal. For every Nepali, Deepawali has a very special connection and importance in their lives and it is difficult to state the importance of the festival and the way it is observed. It is one of the 2 big holidays in Nepal, with Dashain, which occurs between September to October, being the other. The meaning of the word Deepawali is translated as the Festival of lights. It falls around late October or early November depending on the lunar calendar.
This holiday lasts for 5 days, with the last three days especially celebrated with lots of joy and merriment. Right now in houses across Nepal, delicious sweets are being prepared and the houses themselves are adorned with lots of lights — whether it be electricity, candles or oil lamps. It is kind of like Christmas in the US – maybe not as bright. Each of the five days has its own religious and cultural significance. There are days to worship crows, dogs and cows. There is even a day to worship oneself.
As you can imagine, the holiday has importance to people on many levels. The last day of this festival has a very special significance. This day is called Bhai Tika, or the day of the brother. Sisters around the country pray for the long life and prosperity of their brothers. In most cases, sisters visit their brothers while some brothers go to their sisters’ house if the sisters are not able to come to them. Typically, the ceremony involves the sisters applying multi-colored tika on the brother’s forehead and adorning them with flower garlands. A variety of fruits, foods and sweets are given to the brothers, and brothers in turn gift their sisters with money or clothes.
In the world today, life is not as simple as it used to be. Brothers and sisters are often separated because either one or the other or both have to go abroad in search of job or other opportunities. Many young people are in foreign countries working hard in order to make a living. Among them are thousands of women and young girls working as housemaids in countries like Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and many other foreign countries. Most of these women are uneducated and come from poor economic conditions. Once they leave their country — with the hope of a better future and earning money for their family — they face unexpected hardships due to language barrier and not enough training and education. Many face physical and mental intimidation and sadly also sexual abuse by their employers. Compelled by such a situation, many return home with mental and physical scars from their experience without any money, and some don’t even make it back because they end up committing suicide.
Despite the dangers faced by these girls and women, there is always a long line in front of the Embassy with young women and men eagerly waiting to get their passport. Kathmandu Airport is always packed with these same young people, waiting for a plane to take them to what they think will be a better life. Many of them hope to have a nice Deepawali in coming years after returning home with a good earning from their work abroad. Sadly, life doesn’t always give you what you hope for.
This Deepawali, I pray that these young people, if they do choose to go abroad, that they have a safe experience and I pray they will be able to fulfill their dreams and the hopes of their families. I also pray that with more education, many of these same young men and women will have better opportunities within Nepal and that they will not have to risk their life in the pursuit of their dreams. Happy Deepawali and Bhai Tika to all brothers and sisters around the world.
Chairperson, Rukmini Foundation