WHAT IS GAI JATRA?
Gai Jatra (Gai means cow and Jatra means procession or journey) is one of the biggest festivals of Kathmandu valley celebrated to commemorate the demise of the loved ones during the year.
Gai Jatra is a time to remember lost ones and also to ease the pain. Cow is regarded as the goddess of wealth in the Hindu religion. Sharing of sorrow and taking the comfort in knowing that their lost ones are safe is the true reason of celebrating this festival.
HISTORY BEHIND THIS FESTIVAL
In ancient ages, the Gai Jatra fundamentally begun when people used to fear ‘Yamaraj,’ the god of death and worshipped him. However, the modern tradition of celebrating Gai Jatra started since the death of a prince during the Malla Era. At that time King Pratap Malla ruled Kantipur (now Kathmandu). Unfortunately, his second eldest son Chakrabartendra Malla died on the second day of his reign. 
The death of the prince led the queen to serious depression. The king could not see his beloved in such a miserable condition and made all his possible efforts to improve her condition. However, all his attempts went in vain. Finally, after all his attempts, the king asked to organise a parade in which each family who had suffered a loss in that year participates in the parade. As the procession begun and passed across the palace, the king explained to the queen the huge mass have also experienced the same grief she is going through.
As the journey processed, the mass made silly jokes without any hesitations. When it came to social injustice and some reputed persons in the society, the queen could not help herself out, and she burst into laughter. The king, overwhelmed with happiness, commenced the tradition of Gai Jatra celebration annually and decided to include jokes and sarcasm as a part of the festival.
HOW DO WE CELEBRATE IT?
As a part of the festival, the members of the deceased family send a cow for the procession. In the morning, the cows are bathed with the special cleaning of their tails. The people worship the cow, put vermilion powder (Tika) on it and then the procession starts around the valley. For cows are not common in cities nowadays, young boys from the family dress as a cow. Various cultural programs are conducted and many nearby villages involve in the ceremonies.
GAI JATRA IN DIFFERENT CITIES
The most enjoyable and exciting Gai Jatra is observed in Bhaktapur with full of energy and enthusiasm. A two-wheeled chariot called Taha-Machas made of the bamboo framework that indicated the dead ones with their possessions and photographs. The men are dressed up in women’s dress which we call Hakupatasi. Face painting and masks are common. Similarly, what is more unique about Gai Jatra in Bhaktapur is Ghinta Ghisi dance which is celebrated for a week. The dance is performed in a long row of people, the two opposite people hitting each other’s stick.
Ghintang Ghisi 2019
The celebration of Gai Jatra is almost similar in Patan to that of Kathmandu. Only what differs is the participant’s density. Since the people in Patan observe a Gai Jatra like festival called mayata, people’s involvement is observed to be higher in this festival rather than Gai Jatra.
Lalitpur is believed to be the origin of this festival since the king who started this festival is from this city. However, the custom has been passed from generation to generation. People celebrate Gai Jatra in Kathmandu with more joy and programs than in Patan.
Kirtipur has a wide celebration if Gai Jatra specifically in the historical towns Kipu dey, Panga, Naga, Bhajanga, and Yarwocha. They have a peculiar way of celebrating the festival. Apart from the good wishes of the demised soul, it indicates the hard work of the farmers in their fields. The men dress as women and visit door to door requesting to join them in the celebration. Music and dances are performed in varieties of manner. Kirtipur carries many beliefs and stories behind the celebration of Gai Jatra than other cities.