Gaijatra: A Unique Celebration Of Death Mourning


Gaijatra Cultural expert Purushottam Lochan Shrestha really took the cow around the city in the year 2052 BS on the day of Gaijatra in memory of his late father. Shrestha says that the journey was completed by bringing cows from Duwakot to maintain the originality of the culture as the custom of using cows is disappearing in the Gaijatra celebrated in Kathmandu Valley.

According to him, the past and present Gaijatra tradition is very different. According to Shrestha, the practice of celebrating Gaijatra with the symbol of a cow has increased. He says, “In the last three decades, a lot of Gaijatra culture seems to have changed.” According to him, Gaijatra is now understood as a festival in the name of a deceased relative. “But, Gaijatra is not just happening,” says Shrestha.

600 year old journey

Cultural experts consider Gaijatra to be a confluence of mourning and rejoicing. This festival is called ‘Saparu’ * in Newari language. It is said to have been introduced by King Pratap Malla. According to the records, he instructed the family of the deceased relatives to visit the palace within a year to offer condolences to the bereaved queen.

Gaijatra
Gaijatra

There are also scholars who say that Gaijatra started before the time of Pratap Malla. The scholars argue that Pratap Malla did not mention that he started this festival in any of the records and that it was not mentioned in the Gopal Raj genealogy at least 600 years ago. Dhaubhadel is of the opinion that the Newars started celebrating this festival believing that the deceased would cross the Vaitarani river by grabbing the tail of a cow while performing Gaijatra on the day of Bhadra Krishna Pratipada.

In the Gopal Raj genealogy (letter 61) of the time of Jayasthiti Malla 600 years ago, ‘Saa Yat’ is mentioned. This is the ‘journey of the cow’. Shrestha and Om Dhaubhadel are of the opinion that this confirms that the Gaijatra started even before the time of Jayastithi Malla.
In the Lichhavi period, bullfighting was also practiced for recreation. Anantalingeshwar’s inscription mentions ‘Go War’. According to culturologist Shrestha, the custom of having fun by fighting the bulls and traveling the cows in the death rites started in the pre-medieval period.

He is of the opinion that the development of Gai Yatra as a pilgrimage took place during the reigns of King Pratap Malla of Kathmandu, King Jagat Prakash Malla of Bhaktapur and King Siddhinar Singh Malla of Lalitpur. Shrestha says that the rites of Bajagaja were added to Gaijatra at that time.

Why Gaijatra only in Newari community?

Gaijatra is a festival associated with the funeral. According to culturologist Dhaubhadel, death rites remain the same despite changes in other cultures. However, he says that the culture of Gaijatra has also changed recently. According to Dhaubhadel, Taurus is mentioned on the 11th day of a person’s death in the Garuda Purana. On that day, the deceased soul will find peace only if the family donates a live bull and the necessary land for it. “But it cost a lot of money,” says Dhaubhadel.

Gaijatra
Gaijatra

Dhaubhadel is of the opinion that the Newars started celebrating this festival believing that the deceased would cross the Vaitarani river by grabbing the tail of a cow while performing Gaijatra on the day of Bhadra Krishna Pratipada.

Cow journey or journey?

Initially known as ‘Gai Yatra’, this festival has been celebrated as ‘Gai Jatra’ since the Middle Ages. Earlier, the death rites were performed from the city circuit of the cow, later Bajagaja was also added to it. According to Dhaubhadel, this festival has changed from ‘Yatra’ to ‘Jatra’ since the Middle Ages.

Bhaktapur was the capital of Nepal for 367 years from Ananda Dev to Yaksha Malla. After the time of Yaksha Malla, Kathmandu Valley was divided and different cultures developed in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur. Even today, there is a general difference in the Newari language and culture of these three places.

According to culturologist Shrestha, from Gaijatra to Krishna Janmashtami in Bhaktapur, it is customary to show songs, plays, khyals, etc. in dubli and tols. Shrestha says that Jagat Prakash Malla, the fifth generation king after Yaksha Malla, started dancing and singing at the suggestion of Brahmin Chandra Shekhar. “Since then, the procession has been celebrated with pomp,” he says.

During the Shah’s reign, another change took place in this culture. According to cultural expert Shrestha, Ran Bahadur Shah has ordered to expel all the children of the three cities from the Nepal Mandal so that their son would not die in the Civil War after the death of Rani Kantivati ​​due to the epidemic of Bifar.

According to him, the evictees moved to Banepa, Panauti, Pokhara and other places. From that time onwards, Gaijatra was celebrated outside the valley. According to cultural expert Shrestha, after Ran Bahadur Shah made a plan to get all the children out, a song like ‘Kachi Macha Wai Ya Kegu Ya Yakhu – What a ruthless king to throw away even a newborn baby?’

Symbolic journey of the deceased

On the day of Gaijatra, lip-pot was done in the morning at the house of the deceased. As the practice of building cement houses flourishes, the focus is on purity instead of lip-smacking. Some start making bamboo symbol cows the day before. Some people make it in the morning on the day of Gaijatra.

On the day of Gaijatra, red soil and dung are piled up in front of the main door of the house as much as possible. The method of shraddha karma is completed by calling a Pandit. Godan is then performed in the name of the deceased. At that time, the woman of the house should go inside and cry. When the cow is taken around the city

Gaijatra
Gaijatra

You have to walk with incense in your hand and cry. Crying means respect for the dead. In Bhaktapur and Lalitpur, it is customary to take a symbolic cow made of four bamboos around the city. In Kathmandu, some children are seen disguised as Krishna-Radha and Shiva-Parvati. Such a trend is also seen in Bhaktapur, which is not the original culture of Bhaktapur, says culturologist Dhaubhadel.

However, there are also professional differences in this culture. It is customary for a farming family to make bamboo cows. In the Shrestha family, it is customary to decorate the child.

Who is the deceased man, woman or child?

The sign was used to indicate that. If there was a dead child, a cow of Doko was made and circumambulated around the city. If the deceased was a woman, red and blue cloth was used. If the deceased had two livestock, a small cow would be kept with the cow. Nowadays, a picture of the deceased is placed on a symbolic cow in the city.

Humor in mourning

How did satire start in this rite of passage related to mourning and death? Cultural expert Shrestha says, “This is a festival that has a symbolic meaning that Nepali culture accompanies grief as well as laughter.”

He is of the opinion that the beginning of laughter and satire in Gaijatra was in the Middle Ages. According to him, there is a story that Pratap Malla used humor even when he showed that death is an eternal truth by performing Gaijatra. Shrestha says that the Gaijatra festival has been a confluence of laughter and tears no matter how and when it started. ‘Saparu’ should have been corrected as it was erroneous otherwise.

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