Gai Jatra - The Festival of Turning Grief into Joy

Young boys with mascara smeared faces and painted as cows move barefoot on the streets of Nepal to celebrate the festival of life and death; the Gai Jatra. Also known as the Sa Paru, the Gai Jatra hosts find tons of Nepalese singing, dancing and laughing together on the streets. Celebrated by Newar community on the outskirts of the Kathmandu region, the Gai Jatra is said to be one of the unique festivals of the world. Gai means cow and jatra means festival in the local language.

Watch the Cow Parade 2019 - Dates

Gai Jatra
A decorated cow during the Cow Parade
Source
According to the Hindu calendar, Gai Jatra occurs during the month of Bhadra, which generally falls during August and September. As per the Nepal Era Lunar Calendar, the Gai Jatra celebrations are carried out on Pratipada, the first day of the dark fortnight. The Gai Jatra is a public holiday, as all main roads remain dysfunctional on this day.
Dates this year: 19th August 2019

Gai Jatra Across Nepal

Gai Jatra
Temple processions and rituals during Gai Jatra
Source
Various Nepali cities such as Patan, Kirtipur, and Bhaktapur celebrate the festival of the dead in varied forms like the Nepali folk arts at Kathmandu. The origin of Gai Jatra, Katmandu also commences the queen's annual presentation. Distribution of sweets, oats and fruits are common customs of the Gai Jatra.

1. Kirtipur

Widely celebrated in several historical towns of Kirtipur such as Itagol, Panga, Bhajanga, Kepu Dey and Naga; the Gai Jatra holds a different interpretation here. As Kirtipur devotees march through the city as they mimic the attires of various Gods and the Goddesses. Praying for their departed loved ones to reach the gates of heaven throughout the parade, the Kirtipur Gai Jatra vastly bases celebrations believing the gates of heaven to open on this day.

Farmer Celebrations
Following the grand procession, farmers organise a grand feast in their fields and call upon the Kirtipur families to join them in unity. With a variety of folk dance performances, Kirtipur diversely celebrates the Gai Jatra in Nepal.

2. Gai Jatra in Bhaktapur

Gai Jatra
Goats are also used during the Gai Jatra at Bhaktapur
Source

Taha Macha Chariot
One of the main components celebrating the Gai Jatra is the Haku Patasi (a type of black sari cloth) adorned Taha Macha chariot of Bhaktapur; decorated with pictures of the dead denoting departed souls.

Funny Fashion Show
An entertaining fashion show comprising of men donned in the Hakupatashi; a female outfit forms part of the tradition.

Ghinta Ghisi

Gai Jatra
Cultural programs and parades during Gai Jatra
Source

Celebrated from the day of Gai Jatra to Krishna Janmashtami, Ghinta Ghisi also hosts an array of cultural programs. Locally performed, the Ghinta Ghisi folk dance also hosts devotees and children masked in colours along with painted bodies. Dressed as different Gods, children have funfilled participation at the Ghinta Ghisi.

3. Patan

Gai Jatra
Evening processions during Gai Jatra
Source

Celebrated with comparatively lesser enthusiasm, Patan conducts the Matayaa, a religious procession. 

How is Gai Jatra Celebrated? 

Gai Jatra
A procession dedicated to one of the departed loved ones
Source

Traditionally celebrated by the Nepali Hindus, the Gai Jatra (Cow Festival) is conducted in memory of departed loved ones. The belief and intention behind the Gai Jatra are to share in the sorrows of losing their special ones with each other as they gain their blessings. A compulsory Nepalese festival, especially for grieving families, it is a time of familial participate in activities considered to bring happiness and safety to departed souls.

Cow Parade Traditions

Gai Jatra
A young boy dressed and paraded as a cow during the festival
Source
The Newari people decorate a cow; in the absence of which, a cow-costumed young boy is further street-paraded; the latter being the latest custom. During the parade, distributions of home-made food items to the needy take place.
New traditional clothing manufactured before the event are exclusively adorned on the day of the Gai Jatra. A positive physiological effect among participants is believed to be the outcome of the parade.

Traditions and History of Gai Jatra

Gai Jatra
Night rituals during Gai Jatra
Source
The Backstory of Gai Jatra - Story of King Malla and the Queen
Traditionally enriched, the Gai Jatra dates back to the era of the king of Nepal Mandala, Pratap Malla who is said to have lost his young son. Unbearing of the grief of the queen, king Malla made a rewarding announcement for the one who could make the queen happy again. Upon mass failure, king Malla ordered for a grand cow parade along with dancers and singers. Lessons from the Myth Upon witnessing the cow parade, the queen turned happy and grateful, thus understanding death to be an inevitable phenomenon of life. Realising that several loved ones depart each day, the queen turned grateful towards life. Therefore King Pratap Malla is regarded as the pioneer of Gai Jatra.

Why The Cow?
Remarkably worshipped as the Goddess of wealth and prosperity according to Hindu myth, cows hold great significance among the Newari tribes. Popular belief holds cow worship to be a way to escape the clutches of Yamaraja, the God of Death.

Gai Jatra After-Parade

Gai Jatra
Masks donned during the festival
Source
Once the parade is complete, every participant adorns a king-like hand-made mask and clothes. An array of comic and humorous performances take place during the Gai Jatra.

Modern Day Traditions
The Gai Jatra today also includes a platform empowering freedom of speech. Political satire and social comedy are standard practices of this gala event. The Gai Jatra organises mass television and radio coverage by several media houses in promotion of the festival.

Traveller Tips

Gai Jatra
Gai Jatra Celebrations
Source
  • Witness the grand Gai Jatra parade at either Kathmandu or Kirtipur.
  • Avoid public modes of transport until the end of Gai Jatra, as roads are deemed to be crowded, causing much traffic.
  • Purchase some food and distribute it among the Gai Jatra participants if you wish to be a part of the local social service.
  • To feel more indulged in the festive mood, wear traditional Nepali clothes, follow the parade.
  • Book your accommodations at the earliest.
  • Be aware of the exact Gai Jatra dates.  Ensure cross-checking from more than one reliable sources.
  • Make sure to check in to your hotels before the festival, as it may be tedious during Gai Jatra.
Gai Jatra
Orchestra groups performing during the parade
Source

Visit Nepal during the Gai Jatra, for a unique and culturally indulging experience of this ancient tradition.

This post was published by Rachana Jain

Share this post on social media
Google +

Related Articles

Fairs & Festivals

Shivratri in Nepal - An Incredible Gathering of Thousands of Pilgrims

Fairs & Festivals

Tihar 2019 - Diwali in Nepal

Fairs & Festivals

Dashain 2019: Be A Part Of Nepal's Biggest Festival!

Fairs & Festivals

Holi in Nepal - Nepal's Celebration of the Festival of Colours

Fairs & Festivals

New Year in Nepal - 12 Fun Things to Do in Nepal To Welcome 2020

Shopping

A Complete Manual to Shopping in Nepal

Wildlife & Nature

Top 10 National Parks You Need to Visit in Nepal

Art & Culture

Religion In Nepal - The Repository Of Ethnic Mosaic

Art & Culture

Discover The Dazzling Culture Of Nepal

Art & Culture

Traveller's Guide To The Languages of Nepal - Go Local & Feel Welcomed!

Experiences

Top 20 Beautiful Places In Nepal That Will Leave You Wonderstruck

Art & Culture

A Brief History Of Nepal - The Multi-Lingual & Multi-Religious Land

Adventure

A Quintessential Guide To 10 Best Adventure Activities In Nepal

Nightlife

An Exhaustive Guide To Nepal's Stellar Nightlife

Adventure

Top 10 Treks In Nepal To Have The Adventure Of Your Life!

Adventure

Complete Guide To Camping In Nepal - The 10 Best Camping Sites!

Experiences

Honeymoon in Nepal - Everything You Need to Know for a Dreamy Honeymoon

Adventure

Backpacking In Nepal - The Definitive Traveller's Guide

Top Places

12 Most Beautiful Visa-free Countries For Indians

Experiences

Sunrise in Nagarkot- Nature's Magical Canvas

Religious

Best Monasteries In Kathmandu - Rediscover Yourself In Peaceful Serenity

Sightseeing

Top 6 Viewpoints In Pokhara To Get A Dazzling View Of Annapurna Ranges

Nightlife

Nightlife In Pokhara - The Best Bars, Pubs & Nightclubs!

Travel Tips

Know The Essentials Of Currency Exchange In Kathmandu

Religious

8 Primeval Temples In Kathmandu - Encounter The Intangible Past!

Experiences

Top 10 Spas In Kathmandu For A Detoxifying Visit!

Sightseeing

Popular Lakes In Pokhara Worthy Of Being On Your Social Media

Adventure

The A To Z Of Paragliding In Pokhara

12 Best Countries To Visit In May - How To Spend Your MayCation

Sightseeing

8 Museums To Visit In Kathmandu

Adventure

Top 10 Short Day Hiking Trails In Kathmandu That You Must Try Out!

Food & Drink

Top 15 Cafes in Kathmandu for Your Dose of Liquid Hug

Shopping

Kathmandu Shopping Guide - What To Buy & Where To Buy

Transport

Transportation in Kathmandu - Know About Navigating the City of Temples

Adventure

Everest Base Camp Trek - The North Camp!

Adventure

Everest Base Camp Trek - The South Camp!

Experiences

9 Most Mystical Places in Asia For A Truly Enchanting Spiritual Experience

Food & Drink

Food of Nepal - 17 Iconic Nepalese Food Items You MUST Try

Fairs & Festivals

Holi in Nepal - Nepal's Celebration of the Festival of Colours

Travel Tips

Renting a Car in Nepal

Fairs & Festivals

New Year in Nepal - 12 Fun Things to Do in Nepal To Welcome 2020

Art & Culture

Music of Nepal: The Variety Of Music One Can Find In Nepal

Food & Drink

Beer in Nepal: Quench Your Thirst with Nepal's Exclusive Brews

Fairs & Festivals

Tihar - The Nepali Festival of Lights

Art & Culture

Handicrafts of Nepal - Best Handmade Crafts from the ‘Roof of the World’

Historical Places in Nepal

Art & Culture

Dresses of Nepal - 7 Beautiful Traditional Nepalese Dresses

Hill Stations

Hill Stations in Nepal

Religious

Temples in Nepal

Experiences

Complete Guide to the Perfect Wedding in Nepal

Festivals in Nepal - A Vibrant Spread of Nepali Culture

Adventure

9 Landscapes of Nepal Which Will Take Your Breath Away

Travel Tips

Safety in Nepal - Safety Tips When Travelling in Nepal

Fairs & Festivals

Shivratri in Nepal - A Night to Remember!

Fairs & Festivals

Dashain: Everything About Nepal’s Biggest Festival

Religious

Diwali in Nepal - Celebration of the Gods, Mother Nature and Oneself

Adventure

Makalu Base Camp Trek - Best Time, Permits, Operators & Prices

Wildlife In Nepal - Where and what To See On The Wild Lands Of Nepal

Art & Culture

11 Stunning Architecture of Nepal and its 3 Architectural Styles

Art & Culture

6 Bridges in Nepal That Display the City's Engineering Advancement

Art & Culture

37 Facts About Nepal - A Guide to Staying Culturally Conscious

Adventure

6 Rivers of Nepal That Have Breathtaking Views!

Travel Tips

Online Visa for Nepal - Your Guide To The Visa Application Process

Top Places

Cities in Nepal

Adventure

Bungee Jumping in Nepal - Take that Leap of Adrenaline!

Adventure

Most Dangerous Airports of The World

Monasteries in Nepal

Transport

List of Airports in Nepal

World Heritage Sites in Nepal

Comments on this post