In Hinduism, Yamaraj represents the god of death who is believed to rule the fate of people after death. The five days of the Tihar festival is called Yama Panchak during which houses are illuminated, the crow is fed, the dog is worshipped and garlanded. The cow, the incarnation of the goddess Laxmi, is worshipped with much fanfare and reverence. Sisters show their love and respect to their brothers by decorating their forehead with seven-colour spectrum of tika. This array of colours is created in nature and seen in the rainbow.
In Nepal there is a sacred and close bond between sisters and brothers. The relations are based on love and care of unique kind. The last and most important day of the Tihar festival is Yama Dwitiya that takes place on the second day after the dark moon of October or November. The festival is popularly called Bhai Tika because sisters offer the seven-colour tika to their brothers. The sisters worship the god of death wishing for the long (eternal) and healthy life of their brothers.
The mythology has it that the sister insisted on saving her brother forever but the Yamaraj said that nobody can be saved from death and every one has to die. So, she tricked the death god and set a condition. She bound the Yama that he cannot take her brother until the Makhamali flower wilts and the protective line of mustard oil dries. Actually the Makhamali flower, which blooms in this season, never wilts. The oil mark also does not dry. Moreover, the sister renews the protection of her brother every year on the day of Bhai Tika. She offers the new Makhamali garland and draws the protective line of oil so that her brother can live on healthy forever.
On the day of Bhai Tika, the sister also smashes the hard-shell walnut as a symbol of breaking the head of the Yamaraj so that it can longer come and take her brother. She also gifts soft walnut to her brother for his health. The food items she offers her brother on this day have high value in terms of nutrition and healthy qualities. Dry fruits such as almond, cashew nut, pistachio, walnut, peanut, chestnut, date and raisin have anti-oxidant qualities and are known for maintaining good health. Tihar shopping involves buying these high value food items for the health of brothers. This reflects the cultural richness and sister-brother love in the Nepali society.
While the sister prays and deceives the Yama and offers best items to eat and drink on the day of Bhai Tika, brothers return their respects to sisters with gifts of cash and kind. Brothers show their deep respect to their sisters, no matter whether they are seniors or juniors, by touching their feet with their forehead. The day becomes a source of sadness for the sister if her brother fails to be available or visit her for the Tika. Even those who do not have their own brother or sister look for nearest relatives to observe the festival. In Kathmandu, we have a kind volunteer sister Anjali who has invited anybody to come to her and receive the Bhai Tika.