September-November is prime festival season in Nepal… even though we are at the end of August, the festivals are already starting.
Today is another such festival, one I hadn’t heard of until we talked about it yesterday evening while P was showing off his rakhi.
Gai Jatra basically means “festival” (jatra) of the “cows” (gai) and is most commonly celebrated by people of the Newar community in the Kathmandu Valley. The festival commemorates those who have passed away during the previous year.
Supposedly the festival has roots with the royal family—one of the Malla kings lost his son and the queen was so grief stricken throughout the year that her husband desperately wanted to relieve his wife of her sorrow. He announced that anyone who could make her laugh would be rewarded—so the local people paraded through the streets with cows (a sacred animal in Hinduism), and afterward there was a giant party with costumes, music, and jokes, particularly satirical jokes which made fun of important people in society. Eventually they were able to make the queen laugh, and the festival became an annual occurrence.
As part of the tradition, every family who has lost a relative during the past year participates in a procession through the streets of Kathmandu leading a cow. If a cow is unavailable then a young boy dressed as a cow can be substituted. After the procession the atmosphere is light and jovial—people dress up, wear masks, sing songs and tell jokes. Humor and mockery continue until late in the evening.
According to Wikipedia: “Gaijatra is a healthy festival which enables the people to accept the reality of death and to prepare themselves for life after death.”