Showcasing different colorful attires with a presence to run the streets, this centuries old festival of Nepal has transformed into a spectacular festival that gives tribute to the dead. On this day the streets are filled with people who characterize themselves as cows. People of deceased family of all age groups are seen dressed up in colorful attires to march the streets. Every family who has lost someone during the past year participates in a procession leading a cow. If a cow is not available a young boy dressed as a cow is considered as a fair substitute. In Hinduism, a cow is regarded as a most respect among all the domestic animals. It is believed that the cow, revered as a holy animal in Hindu will help the deceased relative’s journey to heaven.
Looking back to history the festival, begins on the first day of the waning moon in the month of Bhadra as per the lunar calendar. This festival is believed to have started during the regime of King Pratap Malla, who, in a bid to console his queen, much grieved at the death of her son in a smallpox epidemic, ordered his people to organize humor and satire programs in various comic postures.
He desperately wanted to see his queen to come out of the grief, so he announced that anyone who made the queen laugh would be rewarded adequately.
In this attempt a cow procession was brought before the grief-stricken queen. Then the participants began ridiculing and be-fooling the important people of the society. Finally, when the social injustices and other evils were highlighted and attacked mercilessly, the queen could not help but smile. The queen laughed and the king instituted a tradition of including jokes, satire, mockery and lampoon into the Gai Jatra celebration.
To look at the brighter side this festival has not only evolved as a tradition but it has continued in the form of venting to pent-up feelings towards social and political anomalies, human follies and other contemporary affairs through comic skits, cartoons and the like. It has been a form of expression for the press and other publications to make comic mimicry in standing of expressing their discontentment. It’s absolutely unconditional and people just laugh about it having no grudges because, it’s Gai Jatra.
Likewise, another side of Gai Jatra is the Gay Parade where dozens of young men and women, dressed in costumes, masks and animal ensembles, marched in a gay pride reminding one of the Mardi Gras celebrations in Brazil. Organized under the aegis of Blue Diamond Society, they march, the streets in awareness and showing their presence in the society.
The day is a public holiday in Kathmandu Valley. Apart from Kathmandu Valley, the festival is also observed in Banepa, Dhulikhel, Trisuli, Dolakha, Khotang, Bhojpur, Chainpur, Ilam, Dharan, Biratnagar, Birgunj, Hetauda and Pokhara.
Gai Jatra not only stands as a symbol for the dead but today it stands strong with the presence of expressing the social and political anomalies, human follies and other contemporary affairs. It has adopted a new form of expression where it holds its traditional values and culture.