The traditional festival of Gaijatra or the ‘cow festival’ is being observed in three cities of the Kathmandu Valley and some other places in the country amid various entertainment programmes, fun, humour and satire.
The eight-day festival generally falls on the first day of the waning moon in the month of Bhadra as per the lunar calendar.
During this time-honoured tradition, people of all ages in the guise of cows and lunatics go around the city, wearing odd costumes to commemorate those who died during the past year. The bereaved families offer fruits, bread, beaten rice, curd and money to those participating in the procession including the cows.
This festival is believed to have started during the time of King Pratap Malla (1624 – 1674 A.D.), who, in a bid to console his queen, much grieved at the untimely death of her son, ordered his people to organize humour and satire programmes in various comic postures. That was also to note that others also lost their loving ones and participating in the procession with praying for heavenly abode to the departed souls. As the saying goes, the festival derives its name from the religious belief that the deceased, during their journey to heaven, cross a legendary river by grabbing the tail of a cow.
This tradition remained continued in the form of the Gaijatra festival during which people also vent out their feelings towards social and political anomalies, human follies and other contemporary affairs through comic skits, cartoons and the like.
The parades and processions in Bhaktapur feature exclusively entertaining. Ghitang-ghisin, the procession with dancing steps in traditional music and attractive dresses and appearance participated by a number of locals is much to appreciate. The crowd of audiences is also equally encouraging to the festivities. Matayaa in Patan, Lalipur on the day after Gaijatra is also another important cultural event of the season.
Apart from the Valley, the festival is also observed in Banepa, Dhulikhel, Trishuli, Dolakha, Khotang, Bhojpur, Chainpur, Ilam, Dharan, Biratnagar, Birgunj, Bahrabise, Hetauda and Pokhara.
In Kathmandu, the third gender group known as LGBTQI+ brought out a parade on the occasion of Gaijatra. Since a few years, the community has been participating with a colourful parade that signifies their demand for dignified social recognition. That is also a voice against violence and discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals in Nepal and beyond.