Gai Jatra is the festival of singing, dancing, mirth and laughter. The Jatra is celebrated in Kathmandu Valley to commemorate the death of loved ones in the family. The word ‘GAI’ means cow in English. The humble cow is regarded the most venerated among all the other animals and considered holy in Hinduism. The festival usually falls in July or August and if you happen to be in Nepal at this period of time, you could opt for the 1 day Kathmandu city tour . The true reason why this festival is celebrated is to share one’s sorrow with similar people who have lost a family member and taking the comfort in knowing that their deceased loved ones are safe. There is a very interesting story as to how and why this festival started.
During the reign of Pratap Malla(1641-1674), who is also one of the most important rulers of Kantipur (Kathmandu was called Kantipur then), there was an unfortunate death of the king’s second eldest son-Chakrabartendra. The mother of Chakrabartendra who was also the queen, fell into a deep depression following the death of her favorite son. The sadness was so deep that she spent the days wallowing in her misery. Pratap Malla loved his queen dearly and couldn’t bear to see her in such a miserable state. He brought the best entertainers to the court in an attempt to better the mood of his beloved queen but all effort fell in vain. Nobody could make her smile, let alone make her laugh.
In desperation, the king asked his subjects to organize a parade in which one member of every family that had lost a beloved one would take part. He ordered everybody dress crazy with flashy costumes and drag a cow along behind them. People, who couldn’t bring a cow, brought a child dressed up as a cow. The king allowed all sorts of buffoonery and everybody was allowed to make fun of each other. Jokes were made on the existing social norms and even the rich and powerful were not spared from being made fun at. The parade was made to pass along the main gates of the royal palace, from where the king and queen could watch the parade.
When the parade drew near the palace gates, the king pointed out to his queen that every participant in the parade had lost a loved one, yet they were here celebrating their memory by having a good time. The queen finally realized that she was not the only one aggrieved by her loss, many others were too. Yet they were out on the streets, dressed up funny, cracking all sorts of jokes and laughing till their stomach hurt. Watching the merriment, the queen finally smiled and thus the festival stuck on. Today the very popular Gai Jatra is celebrated with much pomp and joy and it is one day when the dead are celebrated with jokes and merriment.