Gaijatra, literally translated to a rally of cows in Nepali, is a tradition of the Newar community of Nepal. The festival sees a lot of movement, laughter, dancing and singing with children dressed up as cows parading around the valley. The festival is celebrated to commemorate the death of loved ones that passed away in the past year.
Those outside the Newar community might wonder how the commemoration of the dead can be a festival full of happiness and laughter. After all, funerals and deaths have been a sensitive matter throughout the world. Then, why do people in the Newar community decide to celebrate this day in such mood and manner? Here is the legend that answers the question.
Gaijatra, also known as Sa Paru, was first initiated by the King Pratap Malla of the Malla reigns. The King and his Queen had lost their young son, whose grief remained with the Queen for a long time. Worried about how the grief-struck Queen could ease her pain of the loss of their son, King Pratap Malla ordered all the members of the society that had lost a family member in the past year to participate in the Gaijatra.
Each family with a lost member had to parade a cow on the streets on the day of Gaijatra. Dressed in funny masks and singing around the valley, the people of the community attempted to make the Queen laugh again. The King wanted the Queen to understand that she is not alone if the sadness and grief of the loss of a loved one. The message was to show that death is a natural process of life and one must try to move on from the death of loved ones. The Queen laughed at the carnival parade, even if the laughter was brief.
These days, the festival is mainly observed in the Kathmandu Valley. Due to the growing number of families, it is no longer possible to send out real cows to the parade. As an alternative, children dressed as cows are sent out by families that are grieving the loss of a family member in the past year. Songs, dances, laughter and foods can be seen in such magnitude that one might forget the festival is in commemoration of the dead. The motive is to diminish the sadness or grief of the living members of family that lost a member by understanding that many families are going through the same ordeal.
The festival has been dedicated to cows because of their religious significance in the Hindu mythology. It is believed that the gates of the heaven only open once each year and the journey to heaven is a very long and difficult one. By sending out cows, the family members hope that the departed souls are guided towards the gates of heaven by catching the tails of the cows. Although purely mythical, it is an attempt of the family members to ease the pain of their lost beloved one’s journey to the next realm.
Gaijatra has been celebrated each year on the first day of the dark fortnight on the Nepali month of Bhadra ( August/Spetember). Will you be participating in the Gaijatra this year? Let us know in the comments below.