Fearing the outbreak of Covid-19 in local communities, Bhaktapur municipality has barred hosting the iconic ‘Ghintang Ghishi’ dance organized in the area every Gai Jatra. Also, the municipality will not allow the burning of effigies during the ‘Gatha Muga:’ festival. A meeting held at the municipality office on July 14 decided to celebrate Gai Jatra only as a formality this year, and to not organize any cultural event that would draw a big crowd, says Sunil Prajapati, the mayor of Bhaktapur.
Gai Jatra is celebrated in all three districts of Kathmandu Valley but compared to Kathmandu and Lalitpur’s one-day celebrations, Bhaktapur’s nine-day Gai Jatra is a grand affair of carnivals, cultural processions, and native ethnic dances. As it is celebrated for nine days, it is also called “Gunhi Punhi” in Nepal Bhasha.
In the first day, people who have died in the year are mourned and remembered. Family members of the deceased parade the town with the photographs of their loved ones and effigies of cows. Other spectacles include men cross-dressing as women and children dressed as Gods. Following the procession is usually a group of dancers moving to a unique rhythm, sticks in their hands, in what is the ‘Ghintang Ghishi’ dance.
While the first day starts with paying homage to the deceased, the third day of Bhakatapur’s Gai Jatra kicks off the week-long celebrations of comedy, jesting, satirical performances as well as cultural dances including the Devi Naach, Bhairab Naach, Faankdali Naach, Okhal Naach, Maak Pyaaka Naach, Gaincha, Mhekha Pyakha, Khya Pyaakha, and Khicha Pyakha.
Apart from the first day, most dances in the festival are exhibited at night. “But Bhaktapur municipality has decided not to allow any of these dances to happen this year,” Prajapati informs. Similarly, the ban extends to celebrating the Gatha Muga:/Ghantakarna festivals. The fear is that these festivals too could draw hundreds, or even thousands, at the same time. As the number of those infected with Covid-19 in Kathmandu valley keeps increasing, these festivals could otherwise turn into hotspots for the virus. “We are thus barring all traditional and modern celebrations that involve gathering of many people,” Prajapati says.
The municipality had consulted culture experts and historians before deciding to celebrate Gai Jatra as a formality, Prajapati informs. This year, the Gatha Muga: festival falls on July 19 while Gai Jatra will be celebrated starting August 4.