Gai Jatra, the festival, (gai means holy cow and jatra means festival in Nepali and Nepal celebrated in Nepal, mainly in Kathmandu valley by the Newar and Tharu community. The festival commemorates the death of people during the year. During the festival, cows are marched in the streets and generally celebrated in the month of Bhadra (August–September). It falls on the 1st day of the dark fortnight of Gunla according to the lunar Nepal Era calendar. Peoples also distributes food to others. The festival of cows is one of the most popular festivals of Nepal.It is celebrated to remove the sadness of death of their family members.
The whole complex of Gai Jatra festival has its roots in the ancient ages when people feared and worshiped Yamaraj, the god of death. However, the ironic sessions synonymous with the Gai Jatra festival entered the tradition in the medieval period of Nepal during the reign of the Malla Kings. Hence, the present form of Gaijatra is a happy blending of antiquity and the medieval era.
According to the traditions since time immemorial, every family who has lost one relative during the past year must participate in a procession through the streets of Kathmandu leading a cow. If a cow is unavailable then a young boy dressed as a cow is considered a fair substitute.
In Hinduism, a cow is regarded as the most venerated among all the domestic animals. It is believed that the cow, revered as a holy animal by Hindus, will help the deceased relative’s journey to heaven.
According to the historical evidence, when King Pratap Malla lost his son, his wife, the queen, remained grief-stricken. The king was very sad to see the condition of his beloved queen. The king, in spite of several efforts, could not lessen the grief of his wife. He desperately wanted to see a little smile on the lips of his sweetheart, and so he announced that anyone who made the queen laugh would be rewarded adequately.
During the festival of Gaijatra, the cow procession was brought before the grief-stricken queen. Then the participants began ridiculing and be-fooling the important people of the society. Finally, when the social injustices and other evils were highlighted and attacked mercilessly, the queen could not help but smile. The queen cried and the king instituted a tradition of including funny jokes, satire, monkey and lagoons into the GaiJatra celebrating day.
After the procession is over, in the afternoon, nearly everyone takes part in another age-old tradition in which the participants dress up and wear masks. The occasion is filled with songs and jokes. Mockery and humor of every kind become the order of the day until late evening. Hence, Gaijatra is a healthy festival which enables the people to accept the reality of death and to prepare themselves for life after death. According to Hinduism, “whatever a man does in his life is a preparation leading to a good life after death”.
1 GaiJatra in different cities
GaiJatra in different cities
Lalitpur is considered to be the main source of this festival as the king who started this festival was of this city. After the show presented to the queen was a success, it became an annual program to present the queen with this festival. As time passed on and as the kings and the queens passed on the festival has been passed on from generation to generation. In main Kathmandu, people celebrate it with much happiness and many programs than those on Patan. If a mother had died the previous year than the elder daughter should be naked and have to go around the city, and if the father had died then it is the duty of the younger daughter to go around the city without any clothes. The procession is now not that of joke, satire or monkey but has become a serious but enjoyable event that will help their beloved ones to rest in peace. The procession goes around the city to different parts of the suburbs and the inner urban areas to present the devotion to their loved ones. The people involved in this procession get small packets with fruits, sweets, oats and other food items to help them in their tour around the city, by many people watching the festival and by their loved ones.
Patan has a similar kind of following for this festival like that with Kathmandu, but has less involvement of people than that on Kathmandu. People in Lalitpur have another festival similar to Gaijatra called Mataya which is followed by muslim with much more devotion and much more involvement by the people. The involvements of people in this Mataya can be in thousands. Thus for people in lalitpur(bhadgaon) the procession of Gaijatra is less entertained.
The center of Gaijatra in Kirtipur falls in a part of the kirtipur city known as Paanga. The people in kirtipur celebrating have many reasons to celebrate this festival and have a unique way of celebrating this festival. Among the people of kirtipur it is said that the gates of heaven for the dead are opened in this day, and the procession of Gaijatra will help their beloved to reach the gates of heaven if they march around the city for them. They march around the city of Kirtipur with not dressing up like cows but rather dressed up in different forms of gods and goddesses. People celebrate this festival not only for their dead relatives but also for peace and harmony among the family members and the city itself.
People dressed as different deities dancing in procession of Gai Jatra.
During this month the farmers of the city finish up their work in the fields and return home to celebrate the ending of the hard and tedious work in the fields. They gather the family members and have a feast of their success. This culture is replicated in this festival in Kirtipur. Men dress up like women and travel around the city. They go from house to house calling up the owners of the house and asking them to come down and join in the feast with them. This helps to create harmony among the neighbors and the city members. Kirtipur performs many dances with different imitating artists that provide much of an awe and a happiness among the people. Kirtipur is enriched with many beliefs and many stories relating Gaijatra than any other cities of the valley and has a more diverse celebration of this festival.
Bhaktapur is said to have the most enjoyable and exciting Gai Jatra, as it has its own peculiarities in the ways the festival is celebrated as compared to Lalitpur and Kathmandu. A chariot (known as Taha macha) made of bamboo wrapped in cloth, with a photo of the dead person hung at the center, is navigated through a predefined street by the family along with localities. So a long parade of chariots is seen.
The Taha Macha symbolize dead people and is decorated with their possessions and photograph. The chariot has a frameworked of bamboo which is wrapped with cotton cloth usually hakupatasi (a black traditional sari type female cloth) for women and simple sari type cloth for men. The taha machas are brought out from different toles of Bhaktapur, but peculiarly, the taha machas of Lakolachhen are guided by one large one that has the bamboo framework, but is covered in straws. This is known as Bhailya dya and is succeeded by Ajima made at Khala (Ajima dyo:chhen)
Many local musicians, and a cultural dance calledGhinta Ghisi follow in the wake of a chariot. Men are also seen wearing women’s dress: Hakupatasi. People dress up funnily. There is face painting and masks are common. Children even dress up as gods, and join the parade.
The Ghanta Ghisi dance is celebrated for almost a week, starting from the day of Gaijatra to Krishna astami. The dance is done in a long queen with two persons in a row hitting each other’s sticks. Many cultural shows are performed, and the festival is even participated in by many nearby villages. All peoples are faint in this day.