Gai Jatra The carnival of dancing, singing, mirth, and laughter: Festivals of Nepal
The meaning of Gai Jatra is, the march of the cow, generally falls in the month of Bhadra (According Bikram Sambat Nepali Calendar) which correspond to English calendar months of August and sometimes September starting the season “Festivals of Nepal”.
The festival of Gai Jatra is one of the most popular festivals in Nepal. It is also known as starting of festival sessions of Nepal. People in ancient time started worshiping Yamaraj,”the god of death” on this day.
However, the current form of celebration of Gai Jatra came into existence in the primitive period of Nepal during the rule of Malla Kings. The current form of Gai Jatra with parody, humorous acts, comedy and was started by the King of Kathmandu Pratap Malla.
Pratap Malla was the King who made Rani Pokhari (Pond) in the heart of Kathmandu and builds a temple in the middle of the same pond. Which is only open once in a year for devotees on the precious occasion of Janai Purnima.
Every Newari family who had death in the family during the previous year must participate in a Gai Jatra through the streets leading a cow.
If a cow is not available then a young kid dressed as the cow is considered a fair substitute. However, there started the tradition of leading a cow with kids in funny costumes.
History Behind the Festival
Pratap Malla lost his very young son. His wife, the queen was in great misery. The king was very disappointed to see the condition of his queen. King after millions of tries could not make her queen smile. King Pratap Malla announced that anyone who could make the queen laugh would be rewarded adequately.
Pratap Malla asked to bring the Gai Jatra before the sad queen. Then local Newari people tried their best with different costumes and humorous acts. The dance and Gai Jatra finally gave queen smile on her face. The smile of the queen at the moment was temporary, but the Jatra gave the queen a big relief.
She knew that there are several deaths in the city during the period and she is not alone. Death is the natural phenomenon and no one has control over it.
Hence, from the day King Pratap Malla started the tradition of Gai Jatra with boys with different funny makeups in funny costumes. The boys even put tails and makeup like monkeys and Hunuman walk through the city road to show people that the death is the truth in the life and everyone has to face it one day.
The Gai Jatra festival is slowly developed into doing humorous acts including jokes, satires, sarcasm and caricature in the Gai Jatra days.
After the Gai-Jatra is over, in the afternoon, everyone takes part in another ritual in which the participants dress up and wear masks. There also people enjoy the moments with traditional Newari Baja, songs, jokes, mockery and humor until late evening.
Gai Jatra is a festival which enables people to accept the truth of death and to prepare oneself for the life after death. It heals the unhappiness and sadness, at least a little when people see the Gai Jatra and realize people die, and we are not alone in the world who lost our loved ones.
Modern Day Gai Jatra
Modern-day Gai Jatra added various flavors to the festival inconsistency with traditional values, Pratap Malla had established.
In the past when there was Shah’s rule (Panchayati System), people were not allowed to speak openly about the political system and the leaders therein.
Gai-Jatra was stared as the day when people are given such freedom to talk, point and satire the system, government and the leaders of Political Parties.
Still, various comedy shows acts, and dramas are organized in different places of Nepal including televisions and radios. The special edition of newspapers is also published on this day with different cartoons and comedy articles.