GAI JATRA, this year, is taking place tomorrow. However, unlike before, this year, there won’t be any huge celebration due to the ongoing Coronavirus uncertainty. The local government has decided to allow the celebrations of cultural festivals by maintaining adequate social/physical distancing and safety measures. Therefore, according to a source, only a few major Gai Jatra festival rituals will be performed in order to avoid public gathering as the Covid-19 infection rate is on the rise.
Even though this year we would not be able to celebrate it like previous years, we can still reminisce about the festival and its importance in our culture. So, basically, Gai Jatra is a fun festival with historical background and traditional beliefs. Gai Jatra is a festival of dancing, singing, mirth, and laughter that takes place on the streets of Kathmandu valley. It is one of the biggest festivals celebrated to commemorate the demise of the loved ones during the year. Gai Jatra is celebrated by a local Newar community residing in Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur districts with great enthusiasm and excitement.
Gai Jatra Celebration
The celebration of the cow festival begins the day after Janai Purnima (which happens to be today this year), remembering the lost ones and to ease the grief. In Kathmandu, the festival lasts for a day. Whereas, in Lalitpur and Bhaktapur, the festival lasts for two (second day as Matya) and eight days, respectively. On the day of celebration, people who have lost their loved ones during that year join in the parade. As a part of the festival, the members of the deceased family send a cow for the procession. The cows are bathed in the morning and get ready for the parade. Since cows are not common in cities nowadays, young boys participate in the parade as a cow.
In the parade, people roam around the valley fooling around, cracking jokes, wearing funny dresses, and celebrating life. Anyone who wants to join in the parade can join in and be a part of this excitement. There are no rules and restrictions, just an immense amount of fun and life.
History of Gai Jatra
The festival has many ancient stories and most of them are probably myths. However, I am going to mention a popular story regarding how the Gai Jatra festival came to existence.
Many believe that the Gai Jatra celebration started since the death of a price during the Malla Era. King Pratap Malla wanted all his five sons to have experience in the administration of the country even during his lifetime. With this aim, he made them rule over the country for one year in turn. But unfortunately, his second eldest son Chakrabartendra Malla died on the second day of his reign. Then the death of the prince led the queen to serious depression. The King couldn’t see her in that condition and did all he could to make her smile again. However, he failed.
After many attempts, he then organized a parade in which each family who had suffered a loss that year would participate in the parade. He ordered everyone to wear colorful and funny dresses and he also gave “Freedom of Speech” where anyone could crack jokes about anything they like.
As the parade was passing through the palace, the King explained to his queen that the huge mass has also lost their loved ones and going through the same grief as her. This made the queen realize that she was not the only one who lost her beloved. Even after the huge loss, people are celebrating life and participating in the parade.
The parade was full of joy and jokes, the queen couldn’t control herself and burst into laughter. The King was overwhelmed with happiness and commenced the tradition of the Gai Jatra celebration annually. The festival with lots of jokes and sarcasm as a part of the festival.
Beliefs regarding the festival
Gai Jatra, the cow festival resembles tribute to the departed soul. The cow is believed to be a holy animal according to Hindu myth and would lead the wandering spirits of the departed soul towards heaven. It is even believed that the dead ones would hold the cow’s tail to make the journey across the Vaitarni River without facing any challenges. It is also believed that being a part of Gai Jatra would lead the descended soul to heaven.
Another belief regarding the festival is that offering food, rice, curd, and even coins at Gai Jatra would bring good fortune and inner peace in their family.
Gai Jatra for sure is one of the exciting festivals celebrated in the valley. It is filled with fun, excitement, religious beliefs, historical background, and more. It has all the reasons to be one of the greatest festivals celebrated in Nepal.