Celebrate the unique Cow Festival in Nepal

Gai Jatra, or , is one of the most popular festivals in Nepal, with roots tracing back to the ancient history of the country. During this time period, locals expressed their fear and love for Yamaraj, the Hindu god of death. However, the modern tradition really began to take form during the medieval era, when it evolved into a multi-dimensional holiday that takes place a day that typically falls between late August to early September. Today, visitors who attend this one-of-a-kind celebration can expect to be touched with humor, remembrance and a sliver of sadness.

The event begins when families who lost a relative during the past year participate in a procession through the streets of Kathmandu with a decorated cow, a holy animal in the Hindu religion. Many locals believe that by taking a cow with them they will help the deceased make it to the afterlife. However, those families who do not have a cow to take along usually dress up a young boy as the animal instead. As people parade by, onlookers feed them milk, rice, fruit and other foods as music plays in the background. Many marchers carry bamboo sticks so that they can hit the makeshift instruments to the beat. During this procession, individuals who have lost a relative are consoled by the support of the community, as the large number of participants shows that they are not alone. This is done to teach locals that death is a part of life and should be accepted as such.

During the medieval days of the festival, King Pratap Malla marched in the procession after losing his son. Noticing that the queen was still upset about their loss, locals say that the king announced that anyone who made his wife laugh would be rewarded. As the celebration developed over the years, it became a tradition to integrate jokes, mockery and satire into the festival in order to help people grieve. This is mainly done when the procession ends in the late afternoon. At this time, people dress up in masks and costumes and engage in singing and a variety of jokes, particularly those involving people of power, such as political figures. For this reason, many individuals refer to the holiday as a type of Napali April Fool’s Day.