September 22, 2021, Wednesday
Nepal 1:37:26 pm

The story behind Gai Jatra festival

The Nepal Weekly
August 25, 2021

The story behind the origin of Gai Jatra (Cow Festival) is linked to King Pratap Malla, who is credited with constructing the famous Rani Pokhari situated in the heart of Kathmandu city. Pratap Malla, who ruled over Kantipur (Now Kathmandu), between 1641B.S. and 1674 built Rani Pokhari in memory of his dear son Chakravartendra, who had an untimely death at a young age. Pratap Malla’s queen, the mother of Chakravartendra, was devastated as she heard the demise of her dearest son. The queen fell unconscious and even passed through depression, as she could not bear the tragedy. The King also became very sad about the mental condition of the queen. Being desperate, he then asked his men to organize a parade in which one member of each family that had suffered a loss that year would take part.

He ordered that they dress up in colourful and crazy outfits and drag a decorated cow along with them. Those who didn’t have a cow could have someone decorated as a cow. On this particular day, the king allowed his subjects to make satirical presentation on existing social norms and people holding powerful positions to entertain the queen. Every sort of satire and jokes were permitted. This flamboyant parade was to pass along the main gates of the King’s palace, from where the king and the queens would watch the parade.

Finally, the desperate king asked his people to organize a parade in which one member of every family that had suffered a loss that year would take part. He ordered that they dress up in crazy and flashy costumes and drag a colorfully decorated cow along behind them. Those who didn’t have a cow could have someone dressed up as a cow. On this particular day, the king allowed his subjects to make jokes about existing social norms and people in powerful positions. Every sort of buffoonery and lampooning was permitted. This flamboyant parade was to pass along the main gates of the royal palace, from where the king and his queens would watch the revelry.

As the parade came closer, the king pointed out the huge contingent of participants, and told the grieving queen that every participant in the parade had suffered the death of a family member in the past year. Upon learning the truth, the queen realized that she was, after all, not the only one who had suffered the loss of near and dear one. Gradually, a smile of merriment began to form on her grimly tight lips, and eventually a giggle escaped from her, which finally brought laughter. From then onward the festival of Gai Jatra began on Bhadra Krishna Pratipada, in Kathmandu valley, which falls on August 23 this year.