Gaijatra Festival of Nepal: A procession that commemorates the dead
The festival of Gaijatra that is taking place in Nepal after a massive gap of three years is a procession which commemorates the dead.
By Binod Prasad Adhikari The festival of Gaijatra that is taking place in Nepal after a massive gap of three years is a procession which commemorates the dead.
It is a time-honoured tradition where people of all ages in the guise of cows and lunatics go around the city, wearing odd costumes to commemorate those who died in the last year. Donned in cross-dress or impersonating a cow, people often go touring the town during the festival which is meant to count the number of deaths.
Bereaved families offer fruits, bread, beaten rice, curd, and money to those participating in the procession including the cows. "The impersonated cows that are taken out onto streets follow the scientific technique introduced in the medieval period to prepare the statistics of deceased. It is seen that the impersonated cows hang on the photo of their bygone beloved ones on their neck. In order to show on the record of the deaths as well as to overcome the sorrow and entertain, this festival is observed," Prayagiman Pradhan, a resident of the ancient town of Kirtipur told ANI.
The ancient town of Kirtipur serving as a hill station on the outskirts of Kathmandu also features some real-life as well as dramatic characters along with impersonated cows. "The Purnas has dictated about sending on the (impersonated) cows and the bereaving house should take out a cow in order to make departed soul cross the 'Baitarni' river would need a tail of cow to get across. Some participants here also are seen dressed in rugged clothes- they are from families residing in Kirtipur who lately have constructed a house. They come out in the form of beggars instead of a cow because they have spent a large sum of money building their shelter and they go around collecting alms to celebrate the festival," Pradhan added.
As per sayings, the festival derives its name from the religious belief that the deceased, during their journey to heaven, crossed a legendary river by grabbing the tail of a cow. The tails of cows demonstrated today are also credited for helping the deceased one to get across Baitarni, a legendary river to get into heaven.
The Garuda Purana, one of the scriptures mentions that on the 11th day of death rites, people have to perform "Brishotsarga"- release an ox or bull, with a belief that it would give peace to the deceased soul. "In Kathmandu the beats of musical instruments and other performances are absent. But here in Kirtipur, a large swath of people gather commonly and celebrate with fanfare. I also had a pleasant experience watching the procession," Rajan Shrestha, one of the travellers who came to see the procession to hill-town told ANI.
As it would be costlier, some historians claim GaiJatra is celebrated as an alternative to it on the day of Bhadra Krishna Pratipada and has since been celebrated. While some of the manuscripts mention that the festival started as 'saa yaa(t)' or 'gai yatra' meaning 'journey of the cow' during the time of Jayasthiti Malla, around 600 years ago. But, it was during the reign of Pratap Malla in Kathmandu, Jagat Prakash Malla in Bhaktapur and Siddhi Narsingh Malla in Lalitpur that the Gai Jatra turned into a pilgrimage and a festival, with musical instruments.
The person who takes part in this brief pilgrimage of cows praying for the salvation of departed souls should eat clean and should maintain the hygiene of high level. The ancient tradition which still is practised in the present time is credited to have started in 500 Nepal Sambat (popular amongst the Newari Community of Nepal). Historians have claimed that people use to glorify the deeds of the deceased ones through songs and hymns in order to inform and encourage others.
This festival is also marked by the mockery of the wrongdoings of the politicos and other concerned groups through the means of drama, music and other means of performance. (ANI)
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