Nepal | August 13, 2020

Decoding Bhai Tika symbols

Sabitri Dhakal
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bhaitika file photo

A woman applies seven colours on the forehead of her brother on the auspicious occasion of Bhaitika in Kathmandu on Sunday, November 7, 2010. Photo: Tika R Pradhan/File


Celebration of Bhai Tika — the last day of the five-day Tihar is associated with different interesting elements with symbolic meanings. It is the day when sisters put tika on the forehead of their brothers, wishing for their prosperity and long life. But a lot of items are required to complete the ritual and each item has religious and cultural significance, adding meaning to the festive celebration.

Makhamali, marigold and dubo

flower shopping for Bhai Tika

Photo: Naresh Shrestha/ THT

Garland of makhamali (globe amaranth) flower is one of the most essential items for Bhai Tika. It is used only during this day. Dubo (a type of grass), required for most Hindu rituals, is also a must during Tihar along with godavari (chrysanthemum) flower.

“Dubo doesn’t wither easily and makhamali doesn’t fade away, which is why the grass and the flower have been used in this festival,” states Dinesh Regmi, Co-ordinator of Archaeology and Buddhist Archaeological Sites, Lumbini Buddhist University, and Retired Professor of Tribhuvan University (Archaeology).

And they have symbolic meanings as well. Regmi further explains, “Putting the garlands of makhamali and dubo on brothers during Tihar means ensuring their prosperity and long life (like the long life of flower and grass). These garlands also represent the bonding between brothers and sisters.”

Astrologer Dr Birendra Prasad Kayastha further elaborates, “Sisters make garlands of dubo, wishing for their brothers’ prosperity and happiness. They wish the happiness to last long like never withering dubo.” In some culture, sisters make paste of dubo and put it as tika on their brothers’ forehead.

Another commonly used flower during Tihar is marigold. “It is inexpensive and easily available. So, it is widely used during Tihar,” as per Regmi.

And as the godavari flower blooms in the month of October, “people often mix the flower with makhamali for Bhai Tika” as per Dr Kayastha.

Items required in everyday life

People for Tihar shopping at Asan

Photo: Naresh Shrestha/ THT

Traditional grinders (silauto and lohoro), nanglo (flat round woven tray made of bamboo), and broom also are important aspects of Tihar celebrations. Different communities use these items in different ways during the festival but “they are worshipped during Laxmi Puja to acknowledge the benefit of their uses” as per Dr Kayastha.

He adds, “Such items have made our life easier by helping us in our daily activities, and thus they are valued in this festival. Meanwhile, broom and nanglo, are regarded as the symbol of Goddess Laxmi and God Aakashdev respectively.”

Regmi presents a different opinion. “On the day of Laxmi Puja, people worship all those things they use in their life. And people who used to make their living by using these items in the past might have started worshipping them. With time the use of such items have become limited, but the legacy of worshipping such items has continued.”

Walnut and curd

walnuts for Masala in Bhai Tika

Photo: Naresh Shrestha/ THT

The ritual of cracking a walnut is one of the interesting parts of Bhai Tika. Sisters crack hade okhar (walnut with hard shell) with lohoro, and this ritual is believed to be an act of ending troubles in life of their brothers. For this ritual, people use the hard walnut, that is difficult to crack than the one commonly used for eating.

“People used hard walnut initially because it was the only kind available then. The walnut that can be cracked easily with teeth is a hybrid and is planted by humans,” shares Regmi adding, “Cracking a walnut is a tradition, so there is no need to use the walnut with hard shell only. One can opt for the walnut with soft shell too.”

After worshipping their brothers, the sisters also feed them curd as sagun (good luck). Besides its cultural significance, “curd is helpful in digestion too” as per Dr Kayastha.

Saptarangi Tika

Tihar shopping for saptarangi tika in BHai tika

Photo: Naresh Shrestha/ THT

Men with colourful tika on their foreheads are a common sight on the day of Bhai Tika. Sisters put the saptarangi tika (seven-coloured tika) on their brothers, and these colours are regarded as a reflection of sunlight as per Dr Kayastha.

“Putting on colourful tika on her brothers’ forehead symbolises a sister’s wish for her brother to be powerful like the sun. It also denotes her wish — that her brother’s good deeds would expand like the light of sun,” Dr Kayastha interprets the meaning.

Adding to this, Regmi mentions, “These colours are also a symbol of change. They are the colours of a rainbow and signify newness too. Any change in life is for better, and the seven colours are able to reflect the changes one has to go through his/her life. It represents the diversity of life. They are the optimistic colours of life.”

Masala items

Tihar shopping for Masala in Bhai tika

Photo: Naresh Shrestha/ THT

Walnut, almond, pistachio, cardamom, cloves, and more — they are a must during Bhai Tika. These masala items are gifted by sisters to their brothers and vice versa after putting and receiving the tika.

“These items are enriched with nutrition and their consumption is useful for brain’s health. They also give us energy. So, there is the tradition of gifting masala during Tihar,” shares Regmi.

During the time of Laxmi Puja (the third day of Tihar) and Bhai Tika, bimiro (citron fruit) is worshipped by some people. In Newari culture, bhogate (pomelo) is also worshipped.

Bimiro has its own significance in Hindu mythology as per Regmi. “Yamaraj (God of death) and his sister Yami like bimiro. So, this fruit symbolises them and thus, is worshipped. And we also worship the fruit wishing for the strong brother-sister bond and love, as shared by Yamaraj-Yami,” explains Regmi.

And Dr Kayastha adds, “Bhogate and bimiro, both are citrus fruits and are beneficial to our health.”

A version of this article appears in print on October 29, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.

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