The festival of "Gai Jatra", the procession of cows, is generally celebrated in the Nepalese month of Bhadra (August-September). The festival of cows is one of the most popular festivals of Nepal. The whole complex of Gai Jatra festival has its roots in the ancient age when people feared and worshipped Yamaraj,"the god of death". However, the ironical sessions synonymous with the Gai Jatra festival came into tradition in the medieval period of Nepal during the reign of Malla Kings. Hence, the present form of Gai Jatra is a happy blending of antiquity and medievalism.
According to the traditions since times immemorial, every family who has lost one relative during the past year must participate in a procession through the streets of Kathmandu leading a cow. If a cow is unavailable then a young boy dressed as a cow is considered a fair substitute. In Hinduism, a cow is regarded as the most venerated among all the domestic animals. It is believed that
the cow, revered as a holy animal by Hindus, will help the deceased relative's journey to heaven.
In terms of historical evidences, once when King Pratap Malla lost his son, his wife, the queen remained dumbstruck. The king was very sad to see the condition of his beloved queen. The king, in spite of his several efforts, could not lessen the grief of his wife.
By all means he wanted to see little smile on the lips of his sweetheart. He announced that someone who ever made the queen laugh would be rewarded adequately.
During the festival of Gai Jatra, the cow procession was brought before the griefstricken queen. Then the participants began ridiculing and befooling the important people of the society. Finally when the social injustice and other evils were highlighted and attacked mercilessly, the queen could not stop smiling. The queen laughed, and Pratap Malla, the king ensued a tradition of including jokes, satires,mockery and lampoon in the Gai Jatra days.
After the procession is over, in the afternoon, nearly everyone takes part in another age-old tradition in which the participants dress up and wear masks. The occassion is filled with songs,jokes, mockery and humour of every kind become the order of the day until late evening. Hence, Gai Jatra is a healthy festival which enables the people to accept the reality of death and to prepare oneself for the life after death. According to Hinduism,"whatever a man does in his life is a preparation to lead a good life, after death".
Article by Prabhakar Chettri
Photographs collected from Min Bajracharya and Deependra Bajracharya.