Gai Jatra

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Gai Jatra
Children dressed up for Gai Jatra
Children dressed up for Gai Jatra
Observed byHindu Newars
TypeReligious, Nepal
ObservancesCarnival, dance, rallies
DateFirst day of Pratipada of the month of Bhadra month of the Lunar calendar
First time17th century
Started byPratap Malla

Gai Jatra (Nepali: गाईजात्रा), also known by its endonym Sa Paru (Nepal Bhasa: सा पारु), is a Nepalese festival celebrated mainly in the Kathmandu valley by the Newar people.[1][2] The festival is celebrated in honour of their immediate relatives who have died during the previous year. Various groups of children dressed up as cows and in other religious drags are organized throughout various cities.

It is generally celebrated in the month of Bhadra (August/September).[3] The date is set according to the lunar Nepal Samabat calendar and falls on the first day of the dark fortnight of the month of Gunla.


Gai Jatra was started by King Pratap Malla during his reign from 1641 to 1671 AD.[4] His teenage son Chakravartendra Malla died an untimely death and the queen grieved the loss of her son. King Pratap Malla started this tradition to help ascend his son to the next life and cheer the grieving queen and families of those whose loved ones had died.[5][6]


The festival is Sa Paru in Nepal Bhasa. In Nepal Bhasa, Sa translates to cow and Paru translate to Pratipada tithi (the first day of the fortnight, according to Hindu calendar system). The festival is called this because it is celebrated on Bhadra māsa śukla pakṣa pratipada tithi and the children dress as cows. It is popularly known as Gai Jatra (lit. cow carnival) in the Nepali language and across other parts of Nepal and the world.[7]


In the Hindu religion, Gai (Cow) is sacred like a Lakshmi and viewed as a mother. The children of those whose families had died would come out to Hanuman Dhoka Palace and the Newar priest performs the prayers for those passed. The children usually wear long skirts and must have a tulle belt around their waist with the ends hanging on both their right and left sides that drag on the ground while walking. It is necessary that they drag because it touches the ground (Earth) for the loved ones who died to ascend from Earth to heaven. This is a festival of dragging clothes while walking. The children also wear headdresses that have a cow drawn on them which is important, and they wear a moustache drawn on their faces. The Jatra is supposed to be religious for the Newar community to help loved ones pass from Earth to heaven and cheer those left behind. The parade of drag is done in the morning by children and in the evening with caricature and stand-up comedy by Hanuman Dhoka Dabali for the grieving Queen and others.

Since the 1600s, the caricatures and jokes have evolved and also include political satires to make it more interesting on TV shows, usually the male standup comedians wear female clothes and perform both male and female parts of the play, this is a fun event for the Newar community as well as for all other Nepalese communities.[8]

Gai Jatra in different cities[edit]

Gai Jatra is mainly celebrated in the cities of Kathmandu valley—Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur.[9] The celebrataion of the festival has also spread to other parts of the country which have a significant Newar community.


Kathmandu is considered the main source of this festival because the king who started this festival was from this city. After the show presented to the queen was a success, it became an annual program to present the queen with this festival. As time passed and the king and queen died, the festival was passed on from generation to generation. In Kathmandu, people celebrate it with much happiness and many more programs than those in Patan. The procession goes around the city to different parts of the suburbs and the inner urban areas to present their devotion to their loved ones. The people involved in this profession get small packets with fruits, sweets, oats, and other food items to help them on their tour around the city by many people watching the festival and by their loved ones.


Patan has a similar kind of following for this festival like that with Kathmandu, but has less involvement of people than that in Kathmandu. People in Lalitpur have another festival similar to Gaijatra called Matiyaa followed by Hindus with much more devotion and involvement by the people. Thousands of people can be involved in this Matiya. Thus, for people in Lalitpur, the procession of Gaijatra is less entertaining.


Gaijatra is celebrated widely, and particularly in Kirtipur's ancient historical towns: Kipu, Naga and Panga. The people in who celebrate in Kirtipur have many reasons to celebrate this festival and have a unique way of celebrating this festival. Among the people of Kirtipur, it is said that the gates of heaven for the dead are opened on this day, and the procession of Gaijatra will help their beloved to reach the gates of heaven if they march around the city for them. They march around the city of Kirtipur not by dressing up like cows but rather by dressing up in different forms of gods and goddesses. People celebrate this festival for their dead relatives and for peace and harmony among family members and the city itself.

People dressed as different deities dancing in procession of Gai Jatra.

During this month, the city's farmers finish their work in the fields and return home to celebrate the end of the hard and tedious work in the fields. They gather family members and have a feast to their success. This culture is replicated in this festival in Kirtipur. Men dress up like women and travel around the city. They go from house to house, calling up the house's owners and asking them to come down and join in the feast with them. This helps to create harmony among the neighbors and the city members. Kirtipur performs many dances with different imitating artists that provide much awe and happiness among the people. Kirtipur is enriched with many more beliefs and stories relating to Gaijatra than any other cities of the valley, and it has a more diverse celebration of this festival.


Bhaktapur is said to have the most enjoyable and exciting Gai Jatra, as it has its own peculiarities in how the festival is celebrated compared to Lalitpur and Kathmandu. A chariot (known as Taha-Macha) made of bamboo wrapped in cloth, with a photo of the deceased person hung at the center, is navigated through a predefined street by the family along with localities. So a long parade of chariots is seen.

The Taha-Macha symbolizes dead people and is decorated with their possessions and photographs. The chariot has a framework of bamboo which is wrapped with cotton cloth, usually Hakupatasi (a black traditional sari type female cloth) for women and simple sari type cloth for men. The Taha-Machas are brought out from different toles of Bhaktapur. Still, peculiarly, the Taha-Machas of Lakolachhen are guided by one large one that has the bamboo framework but is covered in straws. This is known as Bhailya Dya: (Bhairab) and is succeeded by Ajima (Bhadrakali) made at Khala (Ajima Dyo:Chhen)

Many local musicians, and a cultural dance called Ghintang Ghisi follow in the wake of a chariot.. Men are also seen wearing women's dress, Hakupatasi. People dress up in many ways. There is face painting and masks are common. Children even dress up as gods and join the parade.

The Ghintang Ghisi dance is celebrated for almost a week, from the day of Gaijatra to Krishna Janmashtami. The dance is done in a long queue with two persons in a row hitting each other's sticks. Many cultural shows are performed, and many nearby villages even participate in the festival.


  1. ^ Chettri, Prabhakar. "Festivals of Nepal: Gai Jatra". Archived from the original on 2008-05-09.
  2. ^ Setopati, सेतोपाटी. "गाईजात्रा सुरु". Setopati. Retrieved 2022-09-01.
  3. ^ Setopati, सेतोपाटी. "गाईजात्रा सुरु". Setopati. Retrieved 2022-09-01.
  4. ^ "गाईजात्रा कहाँ, किन र कसरी मनाइन्छ?". BBC News नेपाली (in Nepali). 2021-07-19. Retrieved 2022-09-01.
  5. ^ "Devotees celebrate Gai Jatra in Kathmandu for the salvation of departed souls". ANI News. 2021-08-23. Archived from the original on 2021-08-23. Retrieved 2022-08-07.
  6. ^ "Gaijatra being observed in Kathmandu Valley". Retrieved 2022-09-01.
  7. ^ "'सा पारु' अर्थात् गाईजात्रा". 'सा पारु' अर्थात् गाईजात्रा. Retrieved 2022-09-01.
  8. ^ "गाईजात्रा : मृत्यु शोकको अनौठो उत्सव". Online Khabar. Retrieved 2022-09-01.
  9. ^ Khaiju, Ishwor Kaji (2020-07-19). "Gai Jatra in Bhaktapur to be marked without iconic dances". The Annapurna Express. Archived from the original on 2020-07-20. Retrieved 2022-08-07.