The Gai Jatra or the cow festival (Sa Paro in Newari) will be observed on August 16 this year
One of the most lively festivals of Newar community, Gai Jatra is observed annually. On the surface, Gai Jatra looks like a festival of music, dance, merrymaking, fooling around and laughter but it has a deeper meaning to it. Households, where death has occurred, will take out a cow or young boys dressed as deities and cows through the streets, it is believed that the departed soul will make it to the gates of heaven by holding on to the cow’s tail. This festival helps people in the process of psychological healing from the loss of loved ones and moving on with their life.
History teaches us that King Pratap Malla who ruled Kathmandu from 1641-1674AD initiated the festival as a way to heal the sorrow of his wife after the death of their son. The king asked his subjects to organise a parade in which one member of every family that had suffered a loss that year would take part.
On this particular day, the king allowed his subjects to make jokes about existing social norms and people in powerful positions. Every sort of buffoonery and ridiculing was permitted. This flamboyant parade was to pass along the main gates of the royal palace, from where the king and his queens would watch the revelry.
As the parade drew near, the king pointed out the huge contingent of participants and told the grieving queen that every participant in the parade had suffered the death of a family member in the year gone by. On knowing this, the queen realised that she was, after all, not the only one who had been so aggrieved. This silly yet an ingenious parade brought a smile to the queen’s face.
The festival has spread to other parts of Kathmandu Valley, in Patan and Bhaktapur. In Bhaktapur the festival lasts for eight days. The day is also marked with a gay parade along with many people dressed in weird clothes.