Gai Jatra is an important cultural festival of Nepali society, especially of Newar society. It falls on the day after Bhadra Shukla Pratipada i.e. next day of the Janapurnima festival. It is celebrated for eight days from Bhadra Krishna Pratipada to Ashtami. Gai Jatra festival of religious, cultural and historical significance is celebrated in different places of the Newar community in the memory of the deceased relatives of the deceased within a year.
The word “Gai” means cow in English. The cow is regarded as the goddess of wealth in the Hindu religion. Sharing of sorrow and taking comfort in knowing that their lost ones are safe is the true reason for celebrating this festival. Gai Jatra festival is celebrated in memory of the deceased relatives and for peace of soul.
It is mentioned in the Garuda Purana that the main gates of Yamalok will be closed throughout the year and the gates of Yamalok will be opened after Gai Jatra on earth and the dead souls will be saved after entering Yamalok.
There is a religious belief that people who die during the year will cross Vaitarani (a river on the way to Yamalok) by holding the cow’s tail. In the memory of the deceased relatives, it is customary for the devotees to donate milk, fruits, bread, curd, grains, money and other items to the participants of the Gai Jatra.
Nowadays Gai Jatra festival is celebrated in Kathmandu Valley, Banepa, Dhulikhel, Trishuli, Dolakha, Khotang, Bhojpur, Chainpur, Ilam, Dharan, Biratnagar, Birgunj, Hetauda, Nepalgunj, Pokhara and other part of Nepal.
The origin of this celebration goes back to the reign of the Malla rulers. It is said that the Malla Queen was in mourning for a long time after the untimely death of her son. The king in an attempt to console her asked every family that lost a loved one to come out in a procession to show the queen that she was not alone with her suffering. That is why there is much joy and joking during the procession that goes through the streets.
Although there is a legend that King Pratap Malla used to celebrate Gai Jatra, no one except the Newar community celebrated Gai Jatra. In the Malla period, Nepal Mandal, especially in the Kathmandu Valley, was inhabited only by the Newar community, so Gai Jatra was developed as a festival celebrated only by the Newar community.
The tradition of holding Gai Jatra in Bhaktapur had started during the rule of King Jayasthiti Malla. In Lalitpur Gai Jatra is performed in the name of the deceased relatives. This journey seems to have started during the rule of King Gunakamdev.
Gai Jatra in a different way
Nowadays, there is a growing trend of organizing various programs in public in an entertaining and satirical manner to expose the existing distortions and anomalies in the society by taking the opportunity of this festival and publishing and broadcasting satire on newspapers and TV including social norms.
It is no less than a decade for a comedian to strike a political blow at a social object. Bang Gai Jatra is also an easy way to make a comedy, which is celebrated with more importance as it is free to entertain.
Gai Jatra in Bhaktapur
In Bhaktapur, there is a tradition of celebrating GaiJatra for eight days. Especially in Ghintangkisi, a group of children and youths take a wooden jawbone in their hands, knock it down and dance in a unique and fun way around the city. Similarly, four green bamboos, about 15 feet long, are tied vertically in a rectangle and wrapped in a cloth to make tahamcha. A picture of a cow and a straw horn as well as a picture of the deceased are placed on the head of the tahamcha and the tahamcha is carried around the city by the relatives of the deceased with a bamboo knot on their shoulders. Along with the cow, Geeti Leela, Ramayana and Shrikrishna Leela filled with compassionate juice reflecting the memory of the deceased are performed.
Gai Jatra in Kritipur
The GaiJatra celebrated in Kirtipur is slightly different from other places. It is customary to perform Gai Jatra in the name of the deceased and on the occasion of building a new house.
Gai Jatra in Patan (Lalitpur)
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 Matayaa which is followed by Hindu with much more devotion and much more involvement by the people. The involvement of people in this Matayaa can be in thousands. Thus, for people in Lalitpur, the procession of Gaijatra is less entertained.