Tihar is a 5-day-long festival that's the second-biggest in Nepal after Dashain, the second half of the double-act that is comparable to Christmas and New Year. For us, it meant business as usual until the final day, when we had a much-appreciated day off.
According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tihar_(festival)), each day of the festival is dedicated to honouring a sacred being - first it is the crow, then the dog, then the cow, then the ox - on each occasion food is left out for the appropriate animal and you're not supposed to eat your own dinner until the animal has eaten its. Read up on it - I don't understand well enough!
The day after the dogs were blessed, however, a nice cat appeared at the school clearly looking for a blessing (and a bit of food) for itself! Sadly, cats are not worshipped here like dogs are, and it was therefore the subject of much pranking (ie being left in unsuspecting peoples' rooms) for a couple of days.
As part of the celebrations on the 3rd day, the children all came to school in their best ceremonial outfits and Bal led a dance and chant around an offering plate before annointing some of the other staff members with Tikka.
Later on that day, trying to enter into the spirit of the festival, we went and found a cow to bless! This lovely heffa is on just the other side of the wall we've been building and seemed to enjoy the experience as we annointed her with garland, red rice grains and loved the roti we fed her. Cows, the incarnation of Laxmi (goddess of wealth) are blessed to say thanks for all their useful products and also to bring wealth to the families.
Meanwhile, a goat was beheaded and skinned and cooked outside! Thankfully not one of my 'favourite' goats (but I'm sure it won't be long for them)
On one of the evenings, Diwali (festival of lights) was celebrated and we wandered round our neighbourhood enjoying the extravagant display of electric and combustion-powered lights.
Annoyingly though, when we were on the roof taking photos of the whole valley which was lit up spectacularly, the power was switched off and it became suddenly less impressive!
Later on, it is traditional for the men of the town to roam around and sing at the houses, taking it in turns to chant some lyrics while everyone repeats the same line (which I think is something along the lines of 'bring out your daughters'!). It was very much like carol singing and great fun - that is until the boom box was brought out and it turned into a kind of rave with the dull Western music you can hear anywhere in the world...
This offering is made outside houses in an attempt to lure Laxmi inside and grant wealth to the family.On another evening, we were invited up to the top storey of Hem's house where his wife and landlady made delicious sel rotis (a sort of sweet batter ring) for us to enjoy and here Amy's having a go making one.
The final day was really quite special. Bhai Tikka is the day where one blesses / is blessed by your sister. In case you don't have a sister, a cousin is normally substituted, but I heard that for those who don't have either to hand, you can go into Kathmandu Durbar Square where lots of women turn up for blessings by random strangers! I don't have a sister myself, and Kit and Alfie didn't have theirs to hand, so Samana kindly stepped in as our surrogate Nepali sister for the purpose of Bhai. She daubed us with the tikka (wishing us success and bravery and richness and happiness and love etc) for the coming year, sprinkled flowers on our heads and put a garland round our necks. Afterwards we were able to reciprocate and swap gifts, and I think she was grateful for suddenly having 5 brothers instead of the usual 2!
We enjoyed this part of Tihar very much and afterwards sat down to quite a feast. It was really special to be part of this tradition so thanks very much to Hem and his family for being so accommodating to us volunteers :-)