Gai Jatra – Festival to honor deceased soul

Gai Jatra Kathmandu
Participants dressed up as a cow(Photo Courtesy: Compass the Oired Blog)

Kathmandu is rich in its cultural heritage and there is no month that goes by without a festivity or celebration. One of the interesting and popular festivals of the valley is Gai Jatra, which will be celebrated in August 30 this year. It falls on the first day of the dark fortnight of Gunla according to the lunar Nepal Era calendar.

About Gai Jatra

The meaning of Gai means cow and Jatra means festival in Nepali language is celebrated mainly in the Kathmandu valley by the Newar community. The festival commemorates the death of people and wish for the safe journey of the deceased relatives to the heaven during the year.

Those whose relatives are dead during the preceding year, they take out cow in Gai Jatra where all the relatives and kin members have to participate and roam various local holy temples. It is believed that with the help of holy cow the dead relatives will reach heaven without any difficulties.

Gai Jatra Kathmandu
People participating in festival with cow (Photo Courtesy:

It is a is a festival, which enables people to accept the reality of death and to prepare oneself for the life after death. It heals the grief and sorrow, at least a little, when people see the cow possession and realize people die, and we are not alone in the country who lost our loved ones.During the Gai Jatra celebration, one can attack injustices and other social evils mercilessly including jokes, satire, mockery and lampoon without any restriction.

What to observe?

Long procession of people following Gai – either a real cow or young boys decorated with various outfits substituting a real cow is a common scene seen during the festival around the valley. People distribute various food items to participants in the procession.

Young boys are dressed and apply makeup accordingly where some wears attractive, eye catching bright red clothes symbolizing cow or dressed in Hindu Gods like Lord Krishna and Shiva by simply wearing yellow dhoti without or with shoes. Some are accompanied by traditional and cultural musical bands. Some march by singing holy hymns along with the music.

Unique celebrations

Gai Jatra celebration in Bhaktapur is the most vibrant one, where one can observe Ghintang Ghishi dance and chariot procession. Ghintang Ghishi dance is a fast pace dance performed by local people forming two rows with precise steps, banging sticks and chanting ‘Ghintang Ghisi twak’.

Bhaktapur Ghintang Ghishi
Ghintang Ghishi Twak
Bhaktapur Ghintang Ghishi
Tourist participating in Ghintang Ghishi Dance

Not only the Ghintang Ghishi, there is also the procession of chariot made of bamboo and straw symbolising the dead ones and tributes to them with their pictures on the chariot.

Bhaktapur Gaijatra
Chariot made of bamboo and straw symbolising the dead ones

The next day of Gai Jatra is celebrated as Nayku Jatra-Mataya in Patan with the same significance. Mataya literally means light procession in Newari language.

Mataya Lalitpur
Light Processesion

For Patan’s Newar the festival is the celebration to honor dead and Lord Buddha’s day of enlightenment. Anyone can participate the procession from the organizing place. This year, Mataya is going to be held from the Mangal Bazar, Patan Durbar Square. This festival is also known as the amalgamation of Hinduism and Buddhism where one can observe Buddhist priests as well as Lord Shiva participated in the same procession. Buddha stupas around Patan are worshipped along with four Ashok stupas.

Mataya Patan
Participant in Lord Shiva attire

In the procession, one can observe people in cultural and traditional attires, musical instruments, lakhe and various group of people wearing unusual costumes doing humorous acts including jokes, satires, mockery and lampoon.

Mataya Lalitpur
Participant of Mataya with humorous attire

The people, music and celebration make this festival vibrant and witnessing this festival will surely give you a delightful experience. Happy Gai Jatra!!

By Sangita Shrestha (The author is a feature writer at The Himalayan Times, Nepali national daily newspaper)

Photo Courtesy: Shristi Rajbhandari


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s