Food and Festivals

Gai Jatra Festival in Nepal

Gai Jatra festival in Nepal is one of the most celebrated festivals among Hindus. Here is everything you want to know about Gai Jatra in Nepal.

The Gai Jatra Festival is an annual event celebrated in Nepal. It is also known as the Cow Festival and is celebrated in honor of those who have died in the past year. The festival is a time for family and friends to come together and remember their loved ones.

It is a centuries-old festival celebrated every year in remembrance of deceased people. The literal meaning of ‘Gai’ is ‘cow’ and ‘Jatra’ means ‘procession’.

Celebrated particularly in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Lalitpur locality by the Newar community, Gai Jatra falls in the month of Bhadra (August/ September). 

Gai Jatra is always preceded by Janai Purnima. On Janai Purnima, there is a tradition of wearing Janai. Janai is a colorful thread worn on the wrist.

The next day, some people tie the same thread on the tail of a cow with a belief that the cow will take us to heaven afterlife.

Gai Jatra Festival in Nepal

Though the festival is dedicated to the departed souls, Gai Jatra turns out to be a joyful event due to the tradition attached to it.

The Gai Jatra festival is perceived as a comedic and fun festival that brings smiles to people’s faces, who are grieving, though for a day. 

During Gai Jatra, small kids wear funny makeup and clothes to appear funny. They are then guided by their guardian to take a tour of certain areas.

An interesting myth is attached to the commencement of this unique festival. Let’s find out what it is. 

History of Gai Jatra Festival in Nepal

It is believed that the Gai Jatra festival started during the Malla rule in Nepal. One of the renowned Kings of the Medieval period of Nepal is Pratap Malla. 

Back in 1698 BS, King Pratap Malla became the King of Nepal. He had five children Bhupendra, Chakrabartendra, Nirupendra, Mahipendra, and Partipendra. 

Though the elder son should be the next King who succeeds his father to the throne, Pratap Malla wanted each of his sons to rule as King in their lifetime. 

As a result, King Pratap Malla decided to let all the five princes become the King for a year while he was alive. When it was prince Chakyabartendra’s turn to be the King, a festival was organized in celebration.

King Chakrabartendra arrived on an elephant, but unfortunately, the elephant lost its control and accidentally killed Chakrabartendra. 

The tragic incident made the mother of Chakrabartendra, wife of King Pratap Malla, depressed. Though King Pratap could get over the remorse, the queen was not able to handle the misery. 

Seeing the queen depressed, King Pratap Malla decided to bring a smile to her face. For that, he asked people who have lost their loved ones to dress funnily and bring a cow in a procession to make the queen laugh. 

It was a success. The queen laughed and what she also realized was that she was not alone in this world who has lost someone dear to them.

Death is an unavoidable truth and we should accept it and move on. From then on, the tradition was preserved and the festival of Gai Jatra is celebrated every year. 

Why do we celebrate Gai Jatra? 

As the cow is the national animal of Nepal, you can somewhat guess how important cows are in Nepalese culture.

The cow is worshipped in Nepalese culture, and killing and eating cow meat is strictly prohibited in Nepal. Nepalese believe they cannot eat the flesh of something they worship as a god. 

Similarly, there are several festivals and occasions in Nepal, in which, Nepalese worship the cow. Just like Gai Jatra, one of the popular festivals during which the cow is worshipped is Tihar. But, the belief is different in these festivals.

Gai Tihar

In Tihar, the cow is worshipped as goddess Laxmi who brings wealth. Similarly, in Gai Jatra, the cow is worshipped as the carrier of souls to heaven. 

It is believed that on this day, the cow guides the departed soul to heaven. So, for the peaceful and easy journey of the soul to heaven, Gai Jatra is celebrated by people. 

How is Gai Jatra celebrated?

Gai Jatra is not just a fun festival filled with colors and laughs. The festival carries a deeper meaning. Gai Jatra is celebrated as a homage to departed souls.

Children in cow masks are taken in the procession around some temples and sacred places. During the parade, people offer food, juice, and money to the children. 

A group of Newars, dressed in ethnic dresses, play authentic Newari tunes. Some of them dance too. The festival becomes no less than a carnival. 

Similarly, the way how Gai Jatra is celebrated has significantly improved with time. In the past, during the monarchy, no one could say anything about or put forward political views or opinions in the public. But now, people have started to openly make fun of various things publicly. 

In recent times, some comedians and actors have started conducting Gai Jatra programs, which are basically satire programs. Comedians sarcastically put their views about politics and celebrities in the program. 

While the politicians and celebrities themselves participate in such programs, they sportingly take the joke and laugh it out.

These programs are broadcasted on television as well. Comedians are seen performing satirical dramas, doing mimicry, and singing sarcastic songs, which is too fun to watch. 

Similarly, the LGBTQIA+ community also celebrates Gai Jatra with utmost joy. They held a Nepali gay pride parade across the cities and spread awareness about the LGBTQIA+ community. 


Where is Gai Jatra celebrated?

Gai Jatra is mainly celebrated in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Lalitpur city of Nepal. 

When is Gai Jatra celebrated?

Gai Jatra is celebrated in the month of Shrawan/Bhadra (August/ September).

Who introduced Gai Jatra Festival in Nepal?

King Pratap Malla introduced Gai Jatra in the 17th Century to comfort mourning queen Bhuwan Laxmi.

Why do people wear funny clothes and masks during Gai Jatra?

Gai Jatra is a festival of humor and joy. So, to appear funny, people wear funny clothes and masks during Gai Jatra.

What are some traditions associated with the Gai Jatra Festival?

Some traditions associated with the festival include dressing up in cow costumes, singing and dancing in the procession, and sharing jokes and satire.

At the End

Gai Jatra festival in Nepal is one of the traditional festivals, which is celebrated with joy and laughter. Though it is celebrated in memory of dead persons, the festival is meant to spread smiles on people’s faces.

It is a gentle reminder that we are not alone who are grieving the loss of our loved ones. Our life is meant to be full of laughter as life goes on.

If you have never experienced a Gai Jatra procession, then you are highly recommended to watch it. Such festivals make our country rich in culture and tradition. You can interact with the locals and learn more about the festival in-depth. 

If you wish to witness this amazing festival of Nepal, then visit Nepal during August- September.

If you have any queries, please leave them in the comment box below. Feel free to learn more about festivals in Nepal.

Suraj Katwal

Suraj is a travel enthusiast who believes in finding solace in the heart of nature. He enjoys exploring new destinations, different culture, and encouraging people to travel.

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