Nepal celebrates Gai Jatra, the cow festival
During this time-honored tradition, people of all ages in the guise of cows and lunatics go round the city wearing odd costumes to commemorate those who died during the past year.
Family members of those who died during the year offer fruits, bread, beaten rice, curd and money to those participating in the procession, including the cows.
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 holding onto the tail of a cow.
On this day in Bhaktapur, people who have lost a family member in the previous year bring out a procession in the street, led by a cow. Some years ago a real cow was made to lead the procession, but these days they make a cow structure with bamboo, clothes and locally available raw materials and carry it in front of the procession. These days the photo and name of the lost member is hung from the cow structure.
Different children of the family having the procession are dressed in godly customs to represent different gods and goddess to bless the dead souls.
The procession is led by a band playing traditional music along with a stick dancer. It is believed that these dancers with their sticks clear the path of ghosts and other obstacles that are hindrances for the dead souls to reach heaven.
Gai Jatra is also a day for making merry jokes and satires. It is a day when everyone is allowed to make satirical comments on any one. Before Nepal became a republic, Gai Jatra was only the medium to satirize the kings of Nepal.
While the traditions of Gai Jatra go back centuries, a modern spin was put on the celebrations in past years when homosexuals took out a rally across Kathmandu in what some called “Gay Jatra.”