Gai Jatra, a unique festival of Nepal, does not normally make it to the list of unusual festivals round the world. But it has every reason to be one of them! In a simple way we can describe it as a festival to commemorate the dead family members- something not that unusual. But can you think of a funny parade in weird clothes and having all sorts of merry making to memorize the deceased ones? Definitely not! That’s why Gai Jatra is said to be one of its kind!
Life and deaths are the only absolute truths of life. People celebrate life, but same cannot be said about Death. The very idea of death fills everyone with fear and grief. In case of beloved ones, it’s beyond imagination. However, the people of Kathmandu Valley are not only master at accepting death, but also expert at celebrating it in the liveliest way. After all, death is as true as life itself!
Gai Jatra is one of such festivals which is celebrated to commemorate death. Gai Jatra which literally means “Cow Festival”, is celebrated by Newar community of Kathmandu Valley in the month of Bhadra according to Nepal Sambat calendar. This year it falls on 27th of August. Normally, it’s a parade festival in which the family whose member has died during that year takes out the procession in the street. They either decorate a cow or dress themselves as cow and make round in the neighboring vicinity. People also line up and distribute food and drink to the participants of the procession. However, the procession is just one of the main rituals of the whole event. The procession is both preceded and followed by other ritualistic activities.
Before the procession, the participant family observes solemn ritual which strictly needs to be scared. Every item used needs to be clean and participant needs to go through ablution and other sacred rituals prior to the day. The participants are normally pre-pubescent boys or girls who have not gone through Bratabandha and Bel Bibaha rituals. When the procession time gets close, they become ready. They put on red or yellow brocade/silk gown and have a head gear made of a picture of cow and a horn-like paper decoration. The colorful and attractive dressing is complimented by marigold garlands, Elaeocarpus beads or other types of accessories. Some get dressed as different Gods. When the procession time is ready which is an auspicious time fixed by the priest, every participating family gathers in a chowk, from where the procession starts. The procession also includes other people in funny dresses with comedy acts similar to cosplaying in carnivals. The participants are offered different kinds of foods during their walk. After they make round of the town, they conclude at a riverside where they dispose their decorations and return back to their respective homes. Then after, the participant families have a big feast.
This is a just a brief outline of the festival. Different communities have some additions of their own. Like Gai Jatra in Bhaktapur has a chariot parade as well. Youths are also involved in stick dancing hitting each other’s sticks. This street show lasts for a week till Krishna Astami. In Kirtipur, all interested people of the city engage in street dancing wearing weird costumes. Outside the Valley, Newari people celebrate it with their own local uniqueness. Though they have some differences in ways, the overarching theme is to commemorate the dead ones, pray for their peace and honor “Yama”, the God of Death. Another interesting side of Gai Jatra is, it is not just limited to religious celebrations only. It is also considered as the social observation for joke, laughter and public satire. On this particular day, people are free to make outrageous public satire to the authorities and artists, especially comedians have their big day with different kinds of entertaining programs that run for more than a week. The idea of fun and comedy is so deeply connected with the festival that the word “Gai jatra” is also used in local parlance while referring to any chaotic funny situation. The most recent addition to this festival is the pompous parade of LGBTI community with all the fanfare. They take this festival as an opportunity to freely express themselves.
How these two extremely conflicting ideas of commemorating death and making fun come together has an interesting story which also gave birth to this festival. Pratap Malla, a medieval King of Kathmandu had a misfortune once. His son had an untimely death because of which his queen became grief-stricken. Despite the King’s several attempts to comfort her, her grief was not lessened. So, to make her realize the absolute truth of life, he announced a carnival in which the families whose members had died that year should participate. He also declared reward for those who could make the Queen laugh. Naturally, a huge number of people participated as death is a normal thing in any family. This made the queen realize the fact that she was not the only one who had the misfortune. In addition, all the humorous acts and caricatures made her laugh. As the idea worked perfectly, the King established it as an annual festival which is continued as a tradition till date. By now, this festival has passed more than four hundred years. However, with the growing complexities and miseries in people’s life, it is increasingly being more and more relevant year by year.
Any snake lover here? Never mind, you can simply be a curious kind and still get insights and enjoy “Naga Panchami”, one of the interesting festivals of Nepal.
Nepali calendar is full of religiosity and festivities. If you are in Nepal, especially in Kathmandu; and stumble into one of the religious celebrations, that’s quite normal. That’s how things work in the Valley especially from August onwards. Out of this myriad festivals in Nepal, Naga Panchami, a unique festival dedicated to the Nagas, is one of them. Naga Panchami, a Hindu festival, falls on the fifth day of bright half of lunar month (Sukla Pakshya) of Shrawan (July/August). This year, it falls on 16th of August. Naga means Snake and Panchami means the fifth day tithi on which the festival falls. Every Nepali household that celebrates the festival pastes a picture of the Nagas at their main door using dubo (scientific name Cynodon dactylon) and cow dung to ward off evil spirits. People also visit Naga temples near to their place. During the puja, they offer milk or a white liquid made from rice paste, barley, black sesame, flowers, vermilion powder, incense etc. and ask blessings from the Nagas for their protection and prosperity.
Like any of the oldest religions of the world, Hinduism also has Snakes as one of the most recurring motifs. According to the Hindu myth, Snakes are the sons of Kasyap (Son of Brahma, the Creator) and Kadroo, one of his thirteen wives, making the Nagas sibling of Gods and Asuras, the demon race. They live in Patal Lok, the underworld, one of the seven worlds; protecting gems, gold and other treasures which Patal Lok is full of. Not only in Patal, they also live in water bodies like river, lake, spring etc. Lord Vishnu often reclines on serpent coils while resting in Cosmic Ocean, and Shiva wears Vashuki, the King of Nagas, around his neck. In a way, Hindu myths and iconography are incomplete without the reference of Nagas either in abstract or concrete form.
So, they have a special honorary order in Hindu pantheon, and are especially remembered as the giver of rain, wealth and protection from illnesses, which is why there is a special festival in their honor. There are many myths on the origin of this festival however. One of the popular tales relates the story from Mahabharat, one of the important epics of the Hindus. Once Janamejaya, the valiant Kuru king (the great grandson of Arjun, the epic warrior hero of Mahabharat), performed Sarpa Satra Yagya to wipe out all snakes as a revenge of his father Parikshit’s death caused by the bite of Takshaha, the King of Nagas. However, the Yagya was stopped in middle due to the intervention and convincing of Astik, a young Brahmin, whose mother was a Naga. After that, Janamageya had a peaceful accord with them and all the snakes were let free. It was the same day, the fifth day of Sukla Pakshya, which is marked as the day for worshipping the Nagas. Another story from Mahabharat says that the festival has been started after Lord Krishna defeated Kalia Naag, who was terrorizing people.
There are some local stories popular in the Valley as well. As per a myth, Kathmandu Valley was once a big lake and the abode of many Nagas. After the water was drained out for human habitation by Manjushree, one of the Boddhisatwas, the Nagas became angry because of their displacement. Then, humans offered them certain areas and started to worship to appease them, which continued as a tradition till date. There are many stories behind the celebration of this unique festival. Whatever the beliefs are, one truth is singular that Nagas are revered as a respectable companion and guardian in Hinduism, which actually makes a complete sense if we are talking about the harmony of our beautiful Earth with every species.
This year also we have come up with some fresh updates on Sidhure Jatra, a unique cultural spectacle observed in Nuwakot. Sindhure Jatra, which literally means “vermillion powder festival”, is celebrated annually at Nuwakot Durbar Square vicinity in Nuwakot district. Nuwakot Durbar Square, an iconic landmark with Seven Story Palace, Bhairabi Temple, Taleju Bhawani, Narayan Temple and Bishnu Temple, is 75 km north of Kathmandu valley. Situated at a hilltop, overlooking the valley, the Durbar Square and its town is historically and culturally an important place having a significant connection to King Prithivi Narayan Shah, the founder of modern Nepal.
“Sindhure Jatra” is celebrated on Chaitra Purnima (March/April) for 10-12 days mainly by Newar community. This year, it falls from 30th March to 10th April. The festival marks the Nepali New Year and arrival of spring season. During the festival, people worship Goddess Bhairabi, observe various rituals and feast with family members. The major highlight of the festival is the chariot procession of Goddess Bhairabi to Devighat, where the Goddess meets her sister Jalpa Devi. The special meeting takes place only once a year, in which the Dhami (the Priest) is believed to gain the power by the grace of the Goddesses to foretell the future of the country. As per the tradition, the Dhami, then, tells the prophesy to the State representative in secret. During the procession, people smear Sindur (orange vermillion powder), and sing and dance to the tune of traditional music. Not only the locals, the State army and people from the neighboring region also come to participate and observe the festival. The festival, which is also considered as having the longest chariot procession in Nepal, is one of liveliest festivals offering some of the lesser known but fascinating cultural display of Nepal.
Let’s have a look at the daily activities of the festival:
Day 01: 30th March/16th Chaitra: The first day ritual starts from the evening time. Living Goddess Kumari and Dhami perform a special ritual bath in which the priest receives the ablution ritual by Goddess Kumari symbolizing the purification process. Then after the priest performs special puja in the temple. In the premises of the temple, two wooden poles are erected, which will be pulled down at the end of the day.
Day 02: 31st March/17thChaitra: On this day, devotes carry the chariot of Goddess Bhairabi to Devighat (Riverbank), where the Goddess meets her sister. The procession takes about 4-5 hours. They stay overnight there and perform puja. Day 03: 01st April/18thChaitra: Early morning, puja ritual includes the sacrifices of 108 he-goats (which are not castrated yet), which the Dhami offers to the Goddesses. The Dhami, by the power of the Goddesses, gets the insight to foresee the country’s future, which he tells to the State representative in secret. After the whole ritual finishes, at about mid-night the Chariot is brought back to her own Temple to Nuwakot Durbar Square. However, they dont go to the temple directly but rest at Dharampani. Later on, the procession continues to the temple from the same place accompanied by State Army with great honor and elaborate music.
Day 04: 02nd April/19thChaitra: Sindure Jatra (vermillion powder) festival, after which the whole festival is named, is observed on this day. The festival starts, after “Dware”, a State representative, scatter Sindur to the Dhamini, Dhami and the devotees. Then after, everyone smear the powder to each other. The ritual symbolizes the celebration of victory.
Day 05: 03rd April/20th Chaitra: On this day, the Dhami performs another ritual following the sacrifice of the goats and buffaloes in the premises of Bhairabi Temple. He sucks the blood for three times as a part of ritual.
Day 06-10: 04th – 08th April/ 21st -25th Chaitra: During these days, devotees and locals gather and have feast.
Day 11: 09th April/ 26th Chaitra: A special puja is performed to the Wooden Pole which was raised on the first day. Locals gather around Bhairabi Temple to pull down one wooden pole, and the other one is left for the next day’s ritual.
Day 12: 10th April/ 27th Chaitra: Today is the final day. The second wooden pole is brought down following the same ritual as the previous day and the festival comes to an end.
This year’s Himalayan Travel Mart http://htmnepal.com/overview/ was a huge success in many ways. Apart from promoting Nepal as an elite adventure destination in global context, it also brought together a group of professional International Travel Bloggers, International Media and Travel Photographers who did not just share their expertise on Blogging and Media but also spread some words to the world about their travelling experience in Nepal. Swati Jain, a loved Travel blogger cum freelance Travel writer from India is one of them. She has recently published two articles titled Celebrating Indra Jatra and Kumari Jatra of Nepal and Understanding the Evolution of Indra Jatra in Depth in her widely read travel blog Bouyant Feet https://buoyantfeet.com/
In her first article “Celebrating Indra Jatra and Kumari Jatra of Nepal”, Swati Jain has taken us through her 4 day-experience of action packed Indra Jatra festival held at Kathmandu Durbar Square and its vicinity. As much as she is surprised by the festival itself and some perks of her unpreparedness, readers will also be equally amazed by the way she presented the energy and liveliness of the festival. Needless to say, the colorful images have added life to her sensuous details. In the meantime, she hasn’t missed the opportunity to give us some meaningful details about the festival, which is undoubtedly an added advantage as many readers still have some blurred ideas about the festival. Swati is actually bold enough to accept her prior ignorance!
“So if you are one those like me, who think that this prestigious festival is limited to the living goddess of Nepal and expects to read the same in this blog, hang on till I share its long history and significance. My myths were shattered.”
Finally, she has some wise tips that are sure to help you if you are the next one to enjoy this vibrant festival. For full story, https://buoyantfeet.com/2017/10/06/celebrating-indra-jatra-kumari-jatra-of-nepal/
As promised in her earlier blog, Swati Jain has given a full detail on both Indra Jatra and Kumari Jatra in this article. The festival is not enlisted as an off beat cultural interest in travelers’ bucket list and neither is the festival a virgin area for the writers. However, Swati stands out in this particular writing! She has traced the festival right from the myth making day and has brought down the cumulative history to the present day by associating the evolution with the major historical epochs of Nepal. Quite a feat! So, if you are a myth hunter, or want to have an in depth insight into the festival, or just interested in some unexplained facts about the festival, the article is a right answer for you. For full story,
If you want to enjoy the festival more intimately, you can also visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFNg-kwtS-g&t=3s
HAPPY READING and HAPPY WATCHING!!!
Sometime preparation is more exciting than the festival itself. Tihar, Nepali’s second biggest festival is probably one of them. The festival, that immediately follows Dashain, the biggest festival, is one of the highlights of autumn season in Nepal. Nepal’s autumn is normally not considered to be as colourful as the one in the west. To be honest, we don’t have the second spring with all those colourful maple leaves, mellow pumpkins and scary stories! However, autumn is not less exciting as we have Tihar, the festival of lights and flowers!
Preparation of Tihar is all about buying, buying and buying! So, as the days draw closer, you will come across an unmistakable crowd in almost every chowk of Kathmandu. The streets of main bazar get thronged with people from early morning. They get so full that if you can save yourself some space to behold the spectacle or can make it to the other end of the street without squeezing yourself, you are lucky!
As the festival is all about rituals, flowers, lights and delicacies, the shopping list goes really long. And equally long is the row of different stalls on the either side of the streets. The stalls are laden with flowers, jhilimili (electric lights, paper decoration etc), bhai masala (a concoction of nuts and dry fruits for brothers) and an exhausting array of ritual items. Every item is weaved with myths and is equally important. So people don’t miss any of them, which is why the shopping spree seems to be never ending. Evenings are really beautiful as the shops are lighted with all those colourful lights. If you are around New Road, you won’t want to miss the extravagant decoration of jewellery shops there.
So walking down the streets during Tihar can be a rewarding experience as it offers you not just the fun of a festival, but also the chance to witness a different dimension of Nepali culture! Just be a bit prepared for the impatient crowd and unruly traffic, and the fun is all yours!
Flowers are the foremost prerequisite for Tihar. The flowers used in the festival are exclusively sayapatri (marigold), godawari (chrysanthemum) and makhamali (globe amaranth). Sayapatri (literally hundred petalled), with its golden hue is the flower that matches the mellowness of the season. Sayapatri is used for both garlands and house decoration. Whereas, makhamali and godawari are used just for garlands only. It is believed that makhamali never gets withered. So, sisters offer makhamali garland to brothers on bhai tika, the fifth day of the festival, with a wish that their brothers would remain immortal like the flower.
Another thing people don’t miss in Tihar is lights. Lights are used for both ritualistic and decorative purpose. People light their houses with colorful lights from Laxmi Puja, the third day of the festival. People use diyo (a small clay lamp with a cotton wick), candles and electric lights that come in different shape and size.
One of the main delicacies of Tihar is bhai masala. It is the concoction of nuts (cashew nuts, almond, raisin, walnut etc) and dried fruits, offered by sisters to brothers on bhai tika. A stall or shop without bhai masala is a rare sight.
The shops and stalls are heaped with different ritual items ranging from walnut to seven colored tika. Some of the items that include the seemingly endless list are rato mato (red mato), amala (Indian Gooseberry), citrus fruits, coconut etc. Though it seems like a herculean task to know the name of all items at once, you would enjoy the neat arrangement displayed in all its glory!