Gaijatra Festival in Nepal: Unveiling Traditional, Religious, and Cultural Riches

Gaijatra Festival in Nepal

The Gaijatra festival, celebrated by Nepal’s Newar community, intertwines tradition, religion, and culture. Rooted in history, it honors the deceased through cow processions and unique rituals. Historical references date back to the Lichchavik period, highlighting the enduring importance of cows. The festival’s agricultural essence, diverse celebrations, and COVID-19 challenges are also explored.

Introduction:

The Gaijatra festival, celebrated by the vibrant Newar community in the Kathmandu Valley and various parts of Nepal, is a mesmerizing blend of tradition, religion, and culture. Rooted in history, this festival carries deep significance and has evolved over the centuries. In this comprehensive exploration, we delve into the origins, cultural practices, and unique aspects of Gaijatra, shedding light on its profound connection with agriculture and nature.

Understanding Gaijatra:

Tejeshwar Babu Gwang, a distinguished culture expert, emphasizes that Gaijatra extends beyond its modern association with humor. The festival pays homage to the sacred status of cows in Hinduism, symbolizing a spiritual journey for the departed souls. Known as ‘Saparu’ in the Newari language, Gaijatra involves adorning cows with yellow cloth and parading them through the streets, offering prayers for the peace of the deceased. Gwang details the Newar tradition of creating tombs to memorialize loved ones lost throughout the year, showcasing the festival’s poignant connection to grief and remembrance.

Historical Significance:

Purushottamalochan Shrestha, another cultural expert, traces the roots of Gaijatra back to the Lichchavik period, highlighting the enduring importance of cows in Nepal’s religious and cultural landscape. The festival gained prominence as supernatural beliefs permeated medieval life, with records mentioning Jatra celebrations featuring bulls. Shrestha asserts that the term ‘Gaijatra’ itself has historical references, citing inscriptions from Jitamitra Malla and Bhupatindra Malla Raja in the Bhaktapur Palace area. While King Pratap Malla may have added certain rules, the core belief in crossing the Vaitarani River with a cow’s tail for heavenly ascent remains integral.

Gaijatra and Death Census:

During Gaijatra, a unique tradition involves crafting earthen bulls, known as tahasan, to commemorate those who passed away. These tahasans are paraded through the city, symbolizing a symbolic count of the deceased. Shrestha underlines the significance of this practice, noting that traditional cities provide authentic statistics on the year’s death toll based on the cow procession route. The festival concludes with the tahasa ceremony, a poignant ritual involving straw Bhairav, Bhadrakali, and remembrance for the departed souls.

Cultural Practices:

Sulochana Chhwaju, an insightful scholar, reveals the agricultural essence of Gaijatra. Farmers partake in ‘banchayat ja nakegu,’ feeding frogs as an apology for insects unintentionally killed during fieldwork. The festival spans eight days, commencing from the full moon of July to Ashtami, celebrating the completion of planting and harvesting seasons. Frogs, considered allies of farmers for their insect-eating habits, receive offerings as a gesture of gratitude.

Diverse Celebrations:

Gaijatra is not a uniform celebration across Nepal; each city within the Kathmandu Valley adds unique flavours to the festivities. Bhaktapur’s Ghintanghisi dance, highlighted by Gwang, distinguishes itself with its spontaneity and lack of rehearsal. Traditional and 18th-century dances also grace the festival, preserving cultural heritage. However, concerns are raised about the diminishing presence of farces, dramas, and traditional performances during the eight-day celebration.

Final Thaughts

Gaijatra is a testament to Nepal’s rich cultural tapestry, weaving together traditions, spirituality, and agricultural practices. As the festival continues to evolve, efforts to preserve its diverse elements become crucial, ensuring that future generations can partake in the vibrant celebration that is Gaijatra.

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