7 Facts Gai Jatra “The Nepal Festival of Cows”

We have talked about festivals that are dedicated to common pets like dogs or cats. How about another animal, for example, cows?

There is a festival dedicated to cows in Nepal. If you remember from the previous article, there is Kukur Tihar, a day of dogs in Nepal. Turns out, dogs are not the only one that is worshipped in Hinduism, but cows too! Gai Jatra means festival of cows is celebrated around August to September, or in the month of Bhadra of Hindu calendar. Gai Jatra has a lot of interesting facts about it. Here are some of them that might interest you.

7 facts Gai Jatra “The Nepal festival of Cows”

1. Important Festival in Nepal

Gai Jatra often occurs in Nepali Badhra months or around August to September. It is an eight-day festival and particularly held by the Newari community in Kathmandu valley. Gai Jatra is a public holiday so schools, stores, and local government offices remain closed during the event.

2. The festival of the dead

Gai Jatra is heavily correlated with Pitri Paksa, a Hindu ritual that is done for the deceased ancestors. Besides worshipping cows, Gai Jatra is also a festival to honors the dead, and unlike common memorial ceremony, Nepali celebrate them by throwing a joyful festival with many performances. People believe that filling ourselves with happiness from singing and dancing is a great way to cope with the loss of loved ones. The family who has lost their family members will participate in the Gait Jatra procession and march with their cows. Those who don’t have cows will dress up their young boys to replace and represent the cows.

3. Hinduism Mythology, Cows, and The God of Death

In Hinduism belief, it is known that Yama, the God of Death would send black crows to guard the gate of heaven that only opens to the dead once in a year, which is on the day of Gai Jatra. Yama is the one who will judge the souls that are waiting outside the gates and determine the reincarnation depend on the deeds that they have earned in their life before. Hindu believes that the road to heaven is extremely difficult for the deceased and the thing that could make it much easier is to catch the cow’s tail. This is why cows are one of the worshipped animals in Hinduism and become the symbol of the Gai Jatra procession. It is meant to help the deceased’s afterlife journey.

4. The story about Saddened King and Queen

The story behind Gai Jatra lays on a historical event back to the 17th century, about the queen of King Pratap Malla who was deeply sad with the loss of their young son. She was so sad until she would not talk nor smile to anyone, and this made the King confused. The King tried everything to make his queen smile again, but nothing happened. So, he held a cows festival and a reward for anyone who can make the queen smile or laugh again. After the announcement, many people came to the procession with cows, fully dressed and wear funny makeups, and tried to cheer up the Queen. The Queen surprisingly could not stop laughing from the hilarious performance. She understood that she was not the only one who lost family members and then she accepted the loss of their son. Later on, this event is marked as the time of Gai Jatra, where people gather and dress up to cheer up the family who has lost their loved one with cows to symbolize the dead.

5. The Procession

Gai Jatra starts early in the morning. People will give a bath to the cow, especially cleaning their tails. The groomed cows then will be decorated and adorned with beautiful garlands and red Tika. If the family doesn’t have a cow, then their young boy will dress up to replace and represent the cow. The family and the decorated cows (or boys) will march together in a parade around the whole Kathmandu valley and walk through the temples, Gods’ statues, and many other sacred places. Along the parade, people will offer them gifts and foods to them as it is believed will bring them good luck in the future. There are also choirs and religious hymns during the parade, so you can imagine how festive and packed the street is!

6. Gai Jatra as an afterlife reminder

Gai Jatra is a reminder for humans about the reality of life and that death is an inventible natural phenomenon. Not only to cheer up and encourage the family to accept the loss of their relatives, but also to remind people to prepare for their life after death.

7. Opportunity to criticize the corrupt government

Nowadays, Gai Jatra is celebrated more festively. The parade is not only used to ‘cheer-up’ the family who lost their loved ones but also becomes the opportunity for people to dress up with funny masks and paints on their faces. It almost looks like Halloween, but it doesn’t necessarily dress up as scary monsters… Instead, people use this event to perform a satire or mockery as a way to criticize corrupt officials or nobilities.

That’s only a glimpse of facts that can capture how extravagant Gai Jatra is. From here,  we know that Gai Jatra or the festival day of cows is not only a day to worship cows that will help us in our afterlife, but more than that, it holds the value to cheer up our neighborhood who had lost their relatives, to accept the reality of life and inventible death, and to remind us to prepare for our afterlife.

It is uncommon for a ‘death reminder’ to be filled with sincerity and happiness as much as Gait Jatra, isn’t it? Maybe Gai Jatra can be your next holiday destination besides the other festivals around the world that celebrate animals too!