Why make Rangoli in Tihar?

Cilla Khatry

Cilla Khatry

Why make Rangoli in Tihar?

Many homes make Rangoli in Tihar, and quite elaborate ones too, but views on whether this is imperative to celebrate the festival are divided. Many feel it’s a ‘borrowed’ ritual and that we are heavily influenced by the Indian way of doing things

There’s some time to go for Tihar but she’s already looking up rangoli designs online. She is determined to craft a bigger and better Rangoli this year. But making a rangoli during Laxmi Puja gets mixed reactions from her family. While her mother and sister enjoy it as much as she does, her dad and aunt think it’s an ‘Indian’ thing—something they learnt from the many Hindi serials they watch. But Swati Thapa, who works for an NGO in Kathmandu, says making a rangoli fills her with a sense of calm. It also amps up the festive vibe at home, she says.

Many homes make rangoli in Tihar, and quite elaborate ones too, but views on whether this is imperative to the way we celebrate the festival are divided. Like Swati’s dad and aunt, many feel it’s a ‘borrowed’ ritual and that we are heavily influenced by the Indian way of doing things. Several years ago, a young boy vented his frustrations on social media. The post read: What is up with Nepalis making rangoli? Are we trying to be Indian?

However, ApEx spoke to over two dozen people who believed there is nothing wrong with emulating rituals and adding to our way of marking festivals. Creating a hullabaloo over such things shows our narrow-mindedness and unwillingness to change and adapt. Tihar, they agreed, is a fun festival and there’s no wrong or right way to celebrate it as long as what we do is safe and sparks joy.

Anjali Rai, diagnostic radiographer, says rangoli creates positive vibes and energy at home. She is all about embracing the good things, irrespective of culture or religion. Rangoli, she adds, is so pretty to look at. It perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Tihar. Dibya Karki, program development manager at CECI Nepal, says rangoli is very much a part of our Tihar decorations too. “When we say it isn’t a part of our culture, we are forgetting that it is an important tradition in the Tarai region of Nepal,” she says. “We celebrate festivals like Halloween and Christmas now, don’t we? There’s no harm in adding rituals to our own culture if we feel like it.”

Though making rangoli might be a relatively new practice in many households, to call it ‘Indian’ couldn’t be more wrong, argues Pratibha Rawal, mother of a five-year-old girl, who loves making rangolis because it’s interesting and engaging. It has long been practiced in the Tarai and even in hilly regions of Nepal, like Kathmandu, where there is a tradition of decorating areas set up for pujas and hawans with colors and flowers. In Tihar, we decorate our homes to welcome Goddess Laxmi. Rangoli is just one of the many ways in which we prep our spaces for that.

Also read: Nepal’s decennial census needs a rethink

And let’s for a minute assume we have been influenced by Indian culture, what’s the harm in that when it makes us happy? Some might argue that letting other cultures seep into ours will mar their essence but isn’t inclusiveness the need of the hour? Rather than letting cultures divide us, shouldn’t we use it as a tool to bring us together? Indeed, the undivided opinion was that cultures and their merging should be ties that bind rather than tools that create rifts. For Renu Halwai, who is from Siraha and has been working as a house help in Kathmandu for two years, watching her employers make rangoli in Tihar fosters a sense of connectedness and kinship. She feels good and included in the family rituals, she says.  

Bhairabi Ghimire, executive at Chaudhary Group, says rather than harping about what’s borrowed from where and why we could focus on the fact that every rangoli design has some significance or the other. The main purpose of rangoli is to beautify your space while creating positive energy and warding off bad luck. Bhairabi usually makes the swastika, which is a symbol of luck and well-being, or the satkon which is associated with Goddess Laxmi’s Shree Yantra that stands for power and money.

Traditionally made using colored chalk, rice powder, and crushed limestone, most rangolis had a symmetrical design to signify prosperity and good luck. Round designs supposedly have a calming effect. But today, with people experimenting with different patterns and forms, there are many variations of it—from flowers and idols to abstract art. Shreya Joshi, founder of Pinches Artcore Pvt. Ltd, says she makes rangoli primarily because it’s a form of art and she loves it. “Why make a fuss about where it comes from? Art is art,” she says.

On a similar note, Isha Upadhyay, founder of Homemade Flavors, says she finds it therapeutic. Making rangoli, after a day of backbreaking work getting everything ready for Laxmi Puja, helps her relax. “It’s an IRL coloring book, what’s there not to like about it?” she says. The healing effect of art aside, the vibrancy of rangoli lifts your mood too, adds Brinju Thapa, a computer engineer based in Denver, Colorado. For her, Tihar is more than a culture or religious festival—it’s a reminder of how life should be celebrated. Rangoli acts as a cue to appreciate and be grateful for the life she’s been blessed with, she says.

As Avinashi Paudel, mother of two boys and a working professional in Kathmandu, says, there isn’t any culture that is pristine and totally unique. Everything is borrowed and tweaked according to personal preferences. The ability to accept and embrace different rituals even when we can’t understand them—especially if we can’t understand them—is perhaps the first step to a more inclusive society.

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