Celebration of Gai Jatra in Nepal You Should Know

Remember about the previous article about facts of Gai Jatra, The Nepal Festival of Cows? In this article, we will talk more about the celebration. Gai Jatra is a festival of cows that celebrated in the month of Badhra, according to Hindu calendar, or August to September. Despite of the name, Gai Jatra holds more value than just a worship rituals to the cows, but it is also known as the festival of the death.

Gai Jatra, unlike the most common memorial ceremony, has put a lot of colors and festiveness in the ceremony, with music, dances, until comedy performances, and it is last for eight days. It is one of the most interesting festivals that associated with animals around the world. So, there is no way we skip this one, right? Here’s the information that may interest you about Gai Jatra, the festival of cows.

Celebration of Gai Jatra in Nepal you should know

The historical background

Gai Jatra is believed to be born on 17th century, when King Pratap Malla and the queen lost his young son. The queen was deeply saddened and cried all day long. She would not talk or smile to anyone or anything. The king was concerned with the queen’s condition, and then held a cow festival with a reward for anyone who can cheer up the queen and make her smile again. Then, people started to attend the festival. They all wore colorful costumes with funny makes up, and bring their decorated cows to symbolized the death of their relatives. The festival was filled with music, dances, and cow procession. The king wanted to make the queen understand that she is not the only one who grieves from the loss of family member. The queen surprisingly could not stop laughing from the funny performances, especially from a group that began to mock the nobility with satirical performance –as the king granted the freedom of speech during the event (he really did anything for his queen, see?). The queens became happy again and then eventually accepted the loss of her son. The event is marked as the first-ever Gai Jatra, a festival of cows to heal the sorrow and commemorate the deceased of the loved ones.

Why cows?

Besides dogs that being worshipped and have a special day in Kukur Tihar, cows are also one of the sacred animals in Hinduism belief. Gai Jatra was also knows as a ceremony to appease Yama, the God of Death. According to the ancient legend, Yama, the God of Death is the judge of many souls that are waiting in front of the entrance to the heaven, deciding their reincarnation that depends on their deeds when they lived. The gate of heaven is only open to on Gai Jatra day. It is believed that the journey to heaven is extremely difficult, so the deceased souls need to catch the cow’s tail during the journey to make it become much easier. Therefore, every family who has lost their loved ones last year must participate and bring their cows in the procession of Gai Jatra, as the representation to help their beloved’s afterlife journey into the heaven.

The festival

Gai jatra is widely known as a Nepal tradition and also celebrated in various places like Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. Different places may have different traditions, but generally, Gai Jatra has a cows parade with music and feasting all around as a way to cheer up and help the family who had lost their relatives cope with their sadness.

In Kathmandu, people will give a bath to the cows and clean up their tails from early in the morning. The groomed and cleaned cows then decorate with garlands and Tika. If the family doesn’t have any cow to participate in the procession, their young boy will dress up as a cow to represent and replace it. The dressed up cows and the family will then march into the parade around the whole valley and walk through temples, God’s statues, and other sacred places. During the parade, people on the sidewalks will offer them with gifts and foods. The streets will be packed with people (and cows), a choir, and a group of older men that chant religious hymns too!
On the other places like Kirtipur, people celebrate Gai Jatra by marching around the city as a tribute and to help their beloved to reach the heaven’s gate.

Unlike in Kathmandu where people dress up as cows, people in Kirtipur dress up in different forms of god and goddeses. They also perform dances that are imitating different artists. Kirtipur is enriched with many beliefs relating to Gai Jatra, which makes the celebration in the city become more diverse then in any other cities of the valley.

In Bhaktapur, people march in the parade by bringin a Taha-Macha, a chariot made of bamboo wrapped in cloth with a photo of the deceased relative hung at the center of it. There is also a popular cultural dance in Bhaktapur called Ghintang Ghisi that is performed during the parade. People hilariously dress up and wear mask or paint on their faces or dress up as Gods. It is one of the most festive ceremony in the city!

Despite the different forms of Gai Jatra in different places, they all share the same value. It is a moment to share sorrows and cope the sadness from the loss of the loved ones. Gai Jatra is a ‘cheerful’ reminder about the reality of life and inventible death, to remind us to prepare for our afterlife, and to hold the value of togetherness.

Gai Jatra is just one from many festival around the world that celebrate animals. If you want to know more about them, you can read about the dog’s day or Kukur Tihar festival or even animal blessing ceremony on St. Francis’ feast day here!