Why you should care
Because man’s best friend is kind of a big deal here.
Pet Love: A global look at cozy relationships between people and animals.
When Anil Chitrakar sees his pack of dogs digging in a yard, he doesn’t scold them. The dogs are strays that the social entrepreneur adopted following the devastating earthquake that killed more than 9,000 people in Nepal last spring. And ever since then, Chitrakar says, his dogs have managed to warn him about impending tremors.
In Nepal, dogs are said to have special powers.
It may be a dog-eat-dog world in most places, but in Nepal, the canine is treated with a sort of reverence you might reserve for a god. For 2,500 years, dogs have been venerated as protectors by Nepali Hindus. Here, canines are the descendants of the “big doggy” up in heaven that guards the gates, according to Sthaneshwar Timalsina, a Nepali professor of Hinduism at San Diego State University. Within every human and animal lives a divine soul, or god, the faithful believe — and many stanzas in the Vedas, ancient Hindu texts, praise dogs — so worshipping a dog and a god is one and the same. If you treat dogs with love and respect in life, it will save you in the afterlife, says Bimala Bogati, founder of the Nepali Students Association at the University of California, Davis. Contrast that with nearby Vietnam and China, where dogs are considered good food.
In Nepal there’s even a festival to honor pooches. Kukur Tihar, the second day of a five-day celebration of light, is meant to honor animals, thank the gods and take away pain. It’s like Thanksgiving for Nepal’s Hindus, Chitrakar says. Nepalis bathe their canines and offer them a delicious meal first thing in the morning. (Are guests allowed?) They drape garland necklaces made of orange flowers around the dogs’ necks and smear red tika, a colorful dye, on their heads as a sign of sacredness. And if you don’t have a dog at home, you can “borrow” your neighbor’s, Timalsina says; the day is as simple as “hanging out with your dog,” he says. (Except our dog would handle the garlands and tika about as well as he handles his hot-dog costume.)
There are many Hindus in the world, but this particular dog veneration is specific to Nepal, says Varun Soni, dean of religious life at the University of Southern California. There are “no deities with a dog in Indian Hinduism,” he says, explaining that Hinduism is “disorganized,” with many differing and sometimes conflicting opinions. Unlike most other religions, it doesn’t have a central founder or language. And despite the love of dogs, not every pooch in Nepal, where 85 percent of the population is Hindu, has a home — a lack of effective population control has meant a large number of strays.
Even stray dogs get love on Kukur Tihar. It’s considered a sin to disrespect them during their day. And for good reason: Many Nepalis rely on microagriculture for subsistence and dogs fend off crop-destroying coyotes, jackals and monkeys. “I’ve even seen a dog defend his territory [against] a leopard,” Timalsina says. That’s what we call man’s, and woman’s, best friend.