The Newar community of Kathmandu valley observed Gai Jatra on Aug 12. It is a festival held every year in the Nepali month of Bhadra to honor (and in memory of) the loved ones who passed away in the past year.
On this day, families of the deceased send cows or family members dressed as cows to take part in a procession around town. The procession is accompanied by Newari traditional music, and locals offer milk, fruits, curd, beaten rice and money to the participants. By doing so, it is believed, the dead will find a passage to heaven.
This week, I visited Basantapur Durbar Square and Bhaktapur Durbar Square to capture the ‘festival of the dead’. Gai Jatra celebrations in the two cities are starkly different.
In Kathmandu, where the festival is said to have been started by King Pratap Malla to console his queen following their son’s death, the participants of the procession largely comprised of children, many of them dressed up, their faces painted and donning a headgear symbolizing a Gai (cow), a sacred animal for Hindus. Some of the participants were dressed as Lord Krishna, who grew up as a cow herder in the Hindu mythology, while others were carrying the pictures of their loved ones.
In Bhaktapur, though, there were no children dressed as cows. Here, the festival participants were dragging bamboo chariots (Taha-macha) around the town with the pictures of their loved ones. The chariot procession ended after encircling the Bhairav temple. But the celebrations continued with music, dance and costume parades.
All the pomp and ceremony for the departed ones, not to mourn their death but to celebrate the rich life they lived.