tihar/nepal (november 2005)
Tihar, the festival of lights, is perhaps the most popular Hindu festival in Nepal. It is a celebration of Laxmi, the Goddess of good fortune and prosperity. It takes place over for four consecutive days, during the new moon of late October or early November.

In order to entice Laxmi, the houses are meticulously cleaned, decorated and illuminated. In the morning, the women paint the floors of the houses red, using a mixture of cow dung (a purifying substance), red clay, soil and water. The same red mixture is then used to color the thresholds of the houses and to paint a mandala (on the ground surface in front of the door) in the form of a red circle representing the footprint of Laxmi.

Typically, a floral design, made from white rice powder, vermillion pigment, flower petals, rice grains and fruits, is used to decorate the mandala. Often, little candles are also incorporated into the design.

In the evening, oil lamps are lit throughout all of the rooms in the houses. The windows and doors are left wide open, and decorated with garlands of marigolds. Entire towns and villages are made transparently luminous to attract Laxmi. The flickering oil lamps are all the more attractive as the new moon provides but a slice of natural light.

The actual 'Puja' begins when a lit oil lamp is placed in the center of the mandala, and the family gathers in the Puja Room to offer sweets and fruits to Laxmi. It believed that Laxmi will double the wealth that she sees displayed in the room.

The Mandalas of Tihar are another form of street art from a different culture... paintings in a public space, fading away over time.
click on a thumbnail to see the full image