Today is Gai Jatra – a Newar festival celebrated predominantly in Kathmandu Valley, however not limited to it. Various other villages and towns which have a Newar community take out processions on this day.
Gai Jatra, or the ‘festival of cows’ commemorates the death of a family member in a household. Each family who has lost a loved one in that particular year, in remembrance of the person, joins a procession. Each family dressed in flashy colourful outfits either take out a cow, or a child who is dressed as a cow (for those who do not have a cow) and are paraded through the streets.
Although the festival is a reminder of death, Gai Jatra is not a solemn festival – it is an occasion to remember family members who have passed away and celebrate their well lived lives.
Gai Jatra originated because of love – the love a king had for his bereaved queen. History has it that King Pratap Malla (1624 A.D – 1674 A.D) of Kantipur’s (Kathmandu) second son was trampled to death by an elephant. His queen was devastated and could not overcome her grief, despite various measures. The King, who was considered a wise king, then to show the queen there are several others who bereave the loss of their loved ones, and despite their grief continue to live their lives, asked his subjects who had lost a loved one to parade through the streets of his kingdom. The queen upon seeing so many others shared the same loss was convinced that it was after all, time to ‘move on’.
Thus, began an annual affair of colour, procession, festivities and merriment – Gai Jatra.