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Festivals of Cows and Comedy
Video footage from the Gai Jatra festival in Nepal
Umesh Shrestha (salokya)     Print Article 
Published 2006-08-11 17:46 (KST)   

A teenage boy dressed as a cow.
©2006 Umesh Shrestha
Gai Jatra, known in English as the festival of cows, is celebrated across Nepal but particularly in the Kathmandu valley. This year the festivities began on Aug 10.

In this festival teenage boys dress up as cows and parade the streets of the town. This costume springs from the belief that cows help the members of the family who died within that year to travel to heaven smoothly. In Hinduism cows are the most venerated of all domestic animals and it is believed that they will help the deceased relative's journey to heaven.

According to tradition, every family who has lost one relative during the past year must participate in a procession through the streets of Kathmandu.

I was one of the participants of the festival this year as our grandfather died last October. The families of those deceased must participate in this festival. We called upon a distant relative to dress as a cow.

A painted crown with two funny horns was made sacred by mantras from the priest and put on his head. Then we, along with thousands of others, marched the streets of city center.

The deceased's family also offers various things to these "cows" including malpuwa and swari, which are both nepali sweets, biscuits, juices, and milk.

What is most enjoyable about this festival is the open street comedy. The clowns and comedians who perform the street shows wear funny looking masks or have their faces heavily painted. They take full liberty to play pranks.

The main goal of these activities is to entertain but they are also aimed at satirizing the ills of the political, social and economical systems prevalent in the society.

During the direct rule of King Birendra, when newspapers came under heavy censorship, this day was considered as free speech day. Newspapers could publish whatever they want this day.

This year now that freedom of expression is guaranteed by the constitution itself, newspapers used this day to publish obscene materials.

The thirsty "cow" drinks some milk.
©2006 Umesh Shrestha
There is a long tradition of including jokes, satires, mockery and lampoons in the Gai Jatra festival. In the 17th century when King Pratap Malla lost his son, his wife remained grief stricken. During Gai Jatra the Queen saw the cow procession and the satirical attacks on the high and mighty, and she was so amused that she could not stop smiling. After that Pratap Malla made sure that the festival always included comedians.

The festivities last for a week with dance and drama performances held in different parts of Kathmandu.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Umesh Shrestha

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