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Gaijatra: A festival of sorrow and celebration

Panjum Phombo

Panjum Phombo

 |  Kathmandu

Nepal is a country rich in cultures and traditions. We celebrate many festivals like Dashain, Tihar, Maghe Sankranti, Holi, Buddha Jayanti, Udhauli, Ubhauli, Lhosar, Indra Jatra, Teej, Krishna Janmashtami, etc. We usually celebrate these festivals with merriment, eating delicious foods, and worshipping gods and goddesses.

Gaijatra is one of the widely celebrated festivals in Nepal. It is celebrated by the people of the Newari community. This festival falls in the month of August. It is celebrated to commemorate the people who passed away in the past one year. This is one of the most unique festivals of Nepal.

A religious belief has it that cows can help the departed souls to reach Yama, the god of death. Gaijatra is celebrated for about a week. It depends on the location. The time period for celebrating Gaijatra may differ from Patan to Bhaktapur to Kathmandu. This festival is celebrated in the Kathmandu Valley.

History of Gaijatra festival
The Gaijatra festival started to be celebrated since the Malla dynasty. During the reign of Pratap Malla, his son died due to an unknown illness. Of course, the king and the people were grief-stricken due to the prince's death. But, the king's wife wouldn't stop grieving over her beloved son's death. Days passed by, but the queen couldn't find peace.

So in order to calm her down, the king asked his people, who had lost their family members in the past one year, to visit his palace. He also commanded his subjects to wear women's costumes and others to dress up impersonating creatures and gods. The very next day, they came to the palace and presented their costumes. This way, the king managed to calm his wife down. Since the very day, the Newari people have been celebrating the Gaijatra festival to date.

How is Gaijatra celebrated?
Gaijatra is also celebrated the day after Janai Purnima. Tahamacha and Dokosacho are carried along the streets and lanes in the city. Basically, a Tahamacha is a tall chariot with hay attached to it, a portrait of a deceased one, flowers, artwork, flags, and an umbrella on top.

The Dokosacho – a doko made from bamboo - is used for the same purpose but for the death of infants. Its structure is also smaller in size compared to the Tahamacha and has a portrait of the deceased infant on it. The families of the deceased join the procession  and distribute foods and fruits to the other people.

To lessen the sorrow for the departed souls, local people join rallies, and menfolk disguised as women perform Lakhe dance chanting hymns. Religious and historical hymns make this festival even more thrilling and interesting. Ramayan, Khyala, and Gaicha's satirical hymns are played and dramas (Duwanatak) are performed on this particular day.

Various kinds of dishes are prepared and served on this day. People enjoy kwati -- a soup made from nine different sprouted beans, and bara -- a food made from different pulses, beaten rice, fruits, chapatti, sweets, etc. This provides us with the essential nutrients required for our body.

We should celebrate our feasts and festivals. The celebration of festivals including Gaijatra helps us preserve our cultural identity. It helps us assimilate into each other's cultures, thereby maintaining unity in diversity.

(Panjum is a seventh grader studying in Medha Secondary School.)

(Nepalkhabar encourages students to send in their articles on any issues of their interest. The article should be around 500 to 700 words in English and sent via [email protected]. We will select, edit and duly publish them in our blog section.)


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