The procession of sacred cows aka Gai Jatra
Gai Jatra, very much like a carnival, begins on the day after full moon day of August September. Pratap Malla, a king of Malla Dynasty, is said to have started the conversion of celebrating the festival in the eighteenth century to console his bereaved queen by showing her that every householder is compelled to depart with his/her kinsfolk.
The eight day festival begins when the householders whose family members have died within the year send a small procession consisting of perople impersonating cows, a priest and a band of traditional musicians. Along the traditionally prescribed path march gorgeously costumed boys representing cows closely followed by the family priest and a band of traditional musicians. The cow procession is sent thus to arrest the departed souls to get to the heavenly abode as it is believe that is has to cross a river called Vaitarani, the river of fire, blood and pun. One should it is believed to cross the river with the help of the cows.
Almost all the householders on the way offer home-brewed beer, breads and coins to the participants of the processions when it passes by presenting pantomimes of various activities like planting rice, sowing seeds, tilling land, etc. amidst the defining choir of traditional musical instruments. The frantic music slows down as they start feasting in the houses of the bereaved.
The festival takes a different turn after the feast. It takes the form of a carnival. Laughter and mirth dominate the whole atmosphere. Many bands of musicians and actors perform various acts in chowks (Yards) and ancient place square. Mostly they burlesque established institution authorities, the governement, political parties, leaders and other prominent people. Such a full fledged freedom reminds one of the ‘speakers corner’ or London. Anyone is free to criticize or satirize anybody or any institution. Newspapers also publish special issues making full use of the freedom granted during the festival.
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This Article and upcoming posts are extracted from the book, TOURIST INFORMATION DIRECTORY, 1997. by my Late Father Journalist, Sociologist & Anthropologists, Er. Ramesh Chandra Bandhu Bhattarai.