KATHMANDU: With a hope to ease the journey of deceased’s soul to heaven, relatives of dead persons take out a procession in the year of their demise, a day of after Janai Purnima, that is known as Gai Jatra.
As the name suggests, it is the festival of cows that is celebrated every year in Kathmandu Valley, especially by the people of the Newar community. On the day of Gai Jatra, relatives of the deceased, on the year of the death, take out a gai (cow) in Gai Jatra where all relatives participate in it and visit local temples. It is believed that the deceased will reach heaven easily with the help of a cow.
Besides its religious significance, Gai Jatra is one such occasion when people can come out and express themselves in whatever way they want all dressed up and even donning a mask. It is also known as the day of humour and satire.
The Gai Jatra festival was celebrated on August 3 this year.
Procession around Kathmandu
Long processions, where people following the gai — either a real cow or young boys decorated with various accessories resembling a cow was a common scene of this year’s Gai Jatra.
Young boys who had not yet completed their ritual of bratabandha had turned into a cow during the procession. Adorned in attractive, eye catching bright red clothes along with apt make-up, the young boys walked the streets symbolising the cow. Also one could see other boys dressed as various Hindu Gods like Krishna or Shiva (in yellow dhoti with or without shoes).
Some of the processions were accompanied by musical bands — be it traditional or modern, and in some people marched singing holy hymns along with the music.
Nati Kaji Dongol, who was heading one of the processions at Basantapur accompanied by cultural band shared, “It’s my sister-in-law’s procession and we are from Tangal.”
There were around 50 men including the musician who were playing Taa Khin Baja but did not have the cow. About this Laxmi Narayan Maharjan, son of the deceased Laxmi Maya Maharjan for whom the procession was taken out informed, “It is not necessary for us to have gai as we have musical band from our Guthi. And along with the relatives we have our Guthi members in the procession.”
Laxmi Narayan, who was carrying numerous incense sticks explained the ritual, “Very close relatives of the dead person carry these sticks and place them in temples they visit during the Jatra. It also creates a pleasant smell on the way.”
All the processions taken out in Kathmandu district start from their respective houses and march along the same route of Kumari Rath Parikrama (that passes through Ason, Basantapur, Jaisideval, Lagaan and Humat Tole) during the Kumari festival in Indra Jatra.
In another procession, nine-year-old Sashant Shrestha and eight-year-old Nitesh Shrestha had become cows.The boys were wearing red blouses and skirts with a white cloth tied around their waist and the end of the white cloth hung on both sides of their waist. Also they wore small basket made of bamboo on their head like a helmet. And the picture of Lord Ganesh on white paper was stuck on the front and back of that basket along with two colourful paper fans on their head.
Keshav Shrestha, father of Nitesh explained, “The bamboo head gear and white cloth
symbolise cow’s horn and tail where after the procession these are taken to a nearby Lord Ganesh’s temple.”
Sashant and Nitesh who
were walking happily accepting the daan (offerings given by
people from other processions) expressed that they were
happy to be gai as they were
having a good time roaming around drinking juice, milk and taking daan.
While the processions were heading towards their destination, some people just sat outside their houses and watched the procession. Some fed the gais with milk and juice and offered daan as well.
Seventy-five-year old Kanchi Prajapati, who was watching
the procession at Wana Dhe, near Lagaan Tole explained about daan as, “Those who
have lost their mother feed milk to the gai. And those providing daans are the ones from whose houses the processions have been taken out.”
As per Prajapati, foods like Malpuwa, Swari, peas, fruits and others must be given as daan to 360 gais or other people walking in the procession. The 360 daan resembles providing each day’s food to the deceased ones who are roaming around their homes for a year as mentioned by Prajapati. It is believed that dead one would get the offerings provided as daan on this day only.
And the music played during Gai Jatra makes the spectators emotional.
Prajapati being emotional shared, “The music I hear during Gai Jatra reminds me of my deceased close ones and my heart just aches remembering those old days.”
Meanwhile, for 18-year-old Sushant Shrestha of Lagaan, Gai Jatra is all about bidding goodbye to the dead relatives and opening heaven’s gate. He said, “Gai Jatra is Nepali’s traditional culture and is a big festival where dead relatives are remembered and given respect on this day.”
On the other hand, Lisa Kapali, a foreigner married to Nepali and who has been living in Humat Tole since the last one year, was busy taking photographs of the procession.
“I liked the story behind this festival. I heard that during the Malla period, a king in order to make his lamenting queen happy asked his country people to take out procession from houses whose relatives had died that year. He also declared that those who will be able to make the lamenting queen smile will get reward,” she shared her knowledge about the festival.
And she added, “The festival
is special and I find little babies walking as cows very cute. I
think this festival brings the people together.”
A modern touch
Even though everyone claimed that the religious rituals are followed as per the old days, Prajapati opined, “These days people have started to use readymade packets of food as like biscuits, juice, chocolate and more instead of homemade Malpuwa, Swari, etcetera for daan.”
On the route of procession
few local clubs distributed drinking water to the participants of the processions. Also one could see the litter like tapari being cleaned from the road in a few areas.
Before the procession headed on to the streets, people were busy taking photos, maybe to keep the memory of the day alive while opening the gate of the heaven to the deceased.