Remembering the Dead

  •   2017-08-08  |  nepaltraveller.com

Gai Jatra is a traditional Nepali festival held in memory of the dead. Family members of a person dead within the last year take out a procession, with either a cow or a person representing the dead person.

The celebration of Gai Jatra dates back to the Malla Period. Then king, Pratap Malla lost his son at a very young age. Both him, and his queen were in grieving but the queen was in greater misery. The king was disappointed as he was unable to bring a smile to her face and after a lot of effort the king got an idea.

The king announced to his subjects that anyone who could make the queen laugh would be rewarded. The people tried their best to make the queen happy using different costumes and humorous acts but the dance and procession finally made the queen smile.

The whole procession gave queen a big relief. She realised that she wasn’t the only one who had lost a loved one. On the day she also understood that death is the natural phenomenon and no one has control over it.


On the day of Gai Jatra, people who have lost their loved ones participate in a in a procession through the streets of Kathmandu which is led by a cow. However if a cow isn’t available young kids dressed as a cow are used as substitutes.

Young boys put up tails and dress up like monkeys and walk through old durbar squares (Basantapur, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur)  to show people that the death is the truth in the life and everyone has to face it one day.

After the cow procession is over, people dress up and wear masks and enjoy the day with songs, jokes, mockery and humour. Gai Jatra is a festival which enables people to accept the reality of death and heals the grief and sorrow and prepare oneself for the life after death.


Modern Day Gai Jatra

Modern day Gai Jatra has added various flavours to the festival in along with the traditional values Pratap Malla had established. During the Shah kingdom, people were not allowed to speak openly about the political system. Gai Jatra then became the day when people are given such liberty to talk, point and satire the government and the leaders.

Various comedy shows and dramas are organised in TV channels and radio to mark the event. Special edition of newspapers are also published on this day with cartoons and comedy articles.