Among numerous festivals in the season, one of the most unique is the fun-filled festival of Gai Jatra. Observed in August (Shrawan of Nepalese calendar) to assuage the grief of families who have lost their family members within a year, the festival is gleefully celebrated in Kathmandu valley by Newar community as Sa Paru (Nepal Bhasha). Meaning literally ‘cow festival’ in Nepali, the festival of Gai Jatra teaches one to accept death as a part of life. Signifying the strong social fabric Nepal has, the festival is designed to help the bereaved families to get over the grief and sorrow.
Cow, in Hindu mythology is the most sacred animal. Hindus believe that cows do help dead ones in their journey to heaven. To pray the deceased reach heaven, the bereaved families parade decorated cows or children dressed as cows. Ascetics and fanatics try to amuse people by walking and chanting hymns around the city. The family members also walk along the festival route, sympathizers queue up along the streets to sympathize, help and feed the participants. With jovial characters, the festival has similar features to carnivals that are organized in different parts of the world. The three cities of Kathmandu valley, celebrate the festival with a little variation. With the interesting and often the paradoxical mixture of sorrow with humor and ritual with satire, the festival has the potential to be promoted an internationally recognized carnival of Nepal.
Vibrant processions thrill Bhaktapur on the day. A series of Taha Macha, a tall bamboo figure wrapped in clothes and decorated, is carried around the city. Hundreds of ecstatic participants bang drums and perform the famous Bhaktapur stick dance of Ghinta Ghisi, a symbolic portrait of the life of the deceased. The guests of honor of the day are posthumously the dead ones whose photos – as a mark of memory, are shown by their relatives, as the procession parade around the streets. An image of Bhairav made up of straw is moved at the end of the celebration on the defined route.
In Patan, the participants of the festival meet in front of the famous Krishna Temple at Durbar Square to walk around a defined route. Fanatics and ascetics often lead the festival and participants parade dressed as cows with religious music and even utensils rolled on the streets in the name of the dead ones. People as a couple come out often dressed or decorated as gods and goddesses. A child impersonating Lord Krishna would give the musical parade a finishing touch. The Buddhist festival of Mataya, during the week, is celebrated by visiting stupas, chaityas, and monasteries in the city.
Chronicles tell that when one of the sons of Pratap Malla died, the queen was so sad that the king had to cleverly craft the festival. The festival was designed to console the queen that she is not the only one to lose member/s in the family. Watching so many family members who lost the loved ones coming out and sharing are said to have alleviated the queen’s sorrow. The smart initiative by the King Pratap Malla in the mid-seventeenth century was so popular that the festival is today considered one of the most fascinating festivals of the valley.
Humor and satires are allowed during the festival. The festival used to be the only day when people were permitted to express their frustrations and denounce the actions of the government during the autocratic regimes in Nepalese history. Media bring out special editions during the festival. LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex) community has been bringing out demonstrations to raise the voices of sexual minorities in Nepal for many years.