Gai Jatra festival of Nepal - 16th August 2019
Most festivals in Nepal have turned into a coersion today. In specific cases, it has even become a burden financially and timewise due to the dilution over the time of the sources and concealed reasons.
The Gai Jatra (Sa Paro in Newari) or the cow festival is one such an event that is more appropriate these days than ever. It is a festival that helps family members cope with the death of a near and dear one. It is an essential factor in helping with the healing process. Every town within and outside the Kathmandu valley celebrate this festival in different ways.
History has taught us that King Pratap Malla, the ruler of Kathmandu from 1641 - 1674 AD begun the festival as a means to heal the grief of his wife after the demise of their son. The concept behind the long parade was to help her recognize that many families in the city had also lost a loved one the same year. He believed that this experience would lessen her grief a little. He then is supposed to have announced a reward to anyone who could bring a smile to his wife's face when the parade could not help.
In order to achieve this, he granted complete 'freedom of speech' during this festival. The public got dressed up in ridiculous attire, makeup and put up satirical performances. Seeing the queen smile, he began to pay them to perform in front of their houses as well.
The queen then voiced her request to bathe in numerous confluences of rivers in the region. King Pratap Malle was once again faced with this challenge of fulfilling her wish. The king who was also renowned as an innovator, he had Rani Pokhari (Queen's pond) constructed, and it was filled with water from all the holy sites she yearned to visit.
Today when you drive in the heart of Kathmandu city, you will notice a dry pond that is under construction after the 2015 earthquake. During the Gai Jatra festival, families, where death has taken place, will bring a cow or dress up young boys as cows and parade in the streets of Kathmandu.
It is believed that the deceased will make it to the gates of paradise safely by holding on to the tail of the cow. In the old days, one could get a sense of the number of deaths that had taken place in that particular year among the Newar community by counting the number of participants.
Moreover, the parade was not only a simple way to keep consensus but also a way to begin the healing of the deep sorrow that is caused by any form of death of the bereaved families. The satire with the complete 'freedom of speech, where no one is spared helps to speed up the healing process.
Cartoons, comic books, cross-dressing, mimicry, poetry, street theater, speeches; you name it, and you will be able to enjoy all of these and more both on the streets and stages (dabali). There will be music and feasting everywhere. In recent times the public has complained that some of the presented materials are of poor taste and downright vulgar. This festival is a great outlet to release resentment, annoyance, dissatisfaction while making fun of those whom you usually would not be permitted to be ridiculed.
Traditionally the parade walked past the palaces of the old Malla period in the valley. Some years the parade marches past Birendra International Convention center (BICC), where the reinstated parliament meets. The politicians need to be reminded of the corruption and inconveniences that the Nepalese have to bear with and to make sure the politicians are reminded that the public sees everything.
There is a similar story that prevails from the time of the Buddha. When the Buddha was going around giving the lessons of Dhamma; a woman named Krishna Gautami approached him carrying a dead child and wailing. She insisted that her child be brought back to life if he was as great as people claimed he was. The Buddha gently asked the woman to get some mustard seeds from a house where no deaths had taken place so that he could sprinkle the seeds on the child to bring it back to life.
The woman happily agreed and began her search to get seeds from a household where no one had died. She went from house after house only to be told sad tales of death in every home. The woman realized the futility of her efforts as the way went on with the realization that death is inevitable and every family experiences it. Hence her healing process began.
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