Gai is cow and Jatra is Procession (Festival). Gai Jatra festival, the procession of cows, generally falls in the month of Bhadra, which often falls in Nepali Bhadra month (August to September in Solar Calendar) and continues for eight days.. It is said people in ancient time started worshiping Yamaraj,”the god of death” on this day.
However, the modern form of celebration of Gai Jatra came into existence in the medieval period of Nepal during the reign of Malla Kings. The present form of Gai Jatra with humorous acts, parody, comedy and was started by then King of Kathmandu Pratap Malla. He made Rani Pokhari (Pond) in the heart of Kathmandu and build a temple in the middle of the same pond.
In this festival,Traditionally every family who had death in the family during the preceding year must participate in a procession through the streets of Kathmandu leading a cow.
If a cow is unavailable then a young kids dressed as cow is considered a fair substitute. However, there started tradition of leading a cow with kids in funny costumes.
King Pratap Malla started the tradition of cow procession with boys with different funny make ups in funny costumes. The boys even put tails and make up like monkeys and Hunuman walk though the city road to show people that the death is the truth in the life and every one has to face it one day.
The Gai Jatra tradition slowly developed into doing humorous acts including jokes, satires, mockery and lampoon in the Gai Jatra days.
Gai Jatra is a traditional festival for Newaris and prevails in the three ancient cities in Nepal, namely, Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. The details of the celebration may be different, but the core of the festival of cows is exactly the same.
If you are planning a visit to Nepal during August to September, Gai Jatra is something you shouldn’t miss. You will enjoy it a lot.
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