Gai Jatra – The festival of cows
Gai Jatra (Saa Paru), literally translating to Cow Festival, is a carnival of dancing, singing and laughter. This festival is celebrated in the Kathmandu Valley by the Newars to commemorate the death of loved ones. As part of the festival, every family who has lost a relative during the past year must participate in a procession through the streets of Kathmandu leading a cow. If a cow is unavailable, a young boy from the family, dressed as a cow is considered a fair substitute.
Comic books, cartoons, pantomime, street drama, poetry, speeches, cross dressing, everything will be seen on the streets and raised platforms (dabali). There is music and feasting all around. It is a great way to heal the wounds created by the loss of loved ones.
It is generally celebrated in the month of Bhadra (August–September) as per nepali calendar. The date is set according to the lunar Nepal Era calendar. It falls on the first day of the dark fortnight in the month of Gunla (month of Nepal Sambat). This year, it falls on 27th August.
The festival of cows is one of the most popular festivals in Nepal. It is said that people in ancient times started worshiping Yamaraj,”the god of death” on this day. However, the modern form of celebration of Gai Jatra came into existence in the medieval period of Nepal during the reign of Malla Kings.
How it all started:
According to ancient history, King Pratap Malla, who ruled Kathmandu from 1641-1674AD initiated the festival as a way to heal the sorrow of his wife who was devastated after the death of their son, Chakrabartendra. The idea behind the procession was to help her realize that many families in the city had also lost their loved ones that year. He hoped that this experience would ease her sorrow. When the parade did not help, he is said to have announced a reward for anyone who could bring a smile to her face. For this, he granted complete “freedom of speech” to the paraders during the festival. Seeing the queen smile and laugh at the various jokes and ridiculous dresses, others in the city took up the idea as well and began to pay for satirical performances in front of their homes as well.
Sharing of sorrow and taking the comfort in knowing that their lost ones are safe is the true reason behind celebrating this festival. And we hope to see this practice continue on for generations.
Also read other Nepali festivals