Remembering their dead ones


Gai Jatra is celebrated in all the three districts within the Valley. The festival dates back at least to 14th century AD. It is observed on the first day of the waning moon of the month of Bhadra (August 29 this year).

The families in which a death has occurred within the year send either a decorated cow or a person disguised as a cow to walk around the city in a prescribed route. It is believed that the deceased would be able to cross the river Baitarani on their way to heaven by holding on to the cow’s tail. The processions pass through the respective Durbar Squares in Bhaktapur, Patan and Kathmandu. The celebrations differ in these three places, but they have the same motive.

“The processions also enabled ancient rulers to have a census of the deaths in

their area in a year,” explains Dr Purushottam L Shrestha, a cultural researcher, Tribhuwan University. “The erotic aspect of the celebration (in Bhaktapur) symbolises that without the union of male and female forces, life cannot go on.” It is believed that king Pratap Malla in the late 17th century asked the Gai Jatra processions to go via the Hanuman Dhoka to console the Queen grief-stricken after the death of her child. It succeded in doing so by showing her that death occurs in every family.

An interesting aspect

An attractive aspect of Gai Jatra is the license to pass satires on the establishment and ills prevalent in society. It is said king Pratap Malla declared a reward for anyone who could make his grief-stricken wife smile. People came with painted faces, outlandish costumes, among others, and passed satires on society, aristocracy and even on the royal family. This succeeded to make the Queen smile. The tradition has followed ever since. Today people use various media, like cartoons, stage shows and caricatures to critique the government and society.

Actor Madan K Shrestha shares that he and some others organised a drama competition in Newari named ‘Muna-sa’ (Gathering of Voices) in the 1960s. “Since it was done in Newari language, we could easily pass satires on political issues,” he says, adding, “Nowadays some people tend to rely on lewd themes, which shows a weakness of the script.” Then satirical programmes were organised at the national level during the late 1970s at Nepal Academy. Satya Mohan Joshi, a cultural expert, says, “We also opened the show for the public despite pressures.” And as this tradition to satire moves on, we hope it can help Gai Jatra continue, as Joshi says, playing a supportive role.