More festivals in (better) film photography: Gai Jatra

The festival of Gai Jatra is a day in which people mourn relatives who have died in the past year. It is similar to Halloween, in that it is a day for the dead and children dress up in costume. Specifically, they dress as cows, or paint on mustaches: “Gai Jatra” means “cow festival,” and it originated in the 17th century as the king’s attempt to console and amuse the queen after their son died. (In Hinduism, the cow is the symbol of motherhood.) The tradition caught on, and every year, children and their families parade through the streets carrying memorials of their loved ones while dressed in fun outfits.

In Kathmandu, Gai Jatra includes an additional Halloween-like tradition, in that the children receive gifts of food from festival attendees, presumably because a mourning family isn’t going to cook for itself. For some families, marching bands are also part of the cortege.

In Bhaktapur, it’s a whole different story. Instead of cows and kids, families build enormous towers bearing the portrait of the deceased, and young people parade through the city performing a dance, called ghintang ghisi, in which they arrange themselves in two long queues and hit sticks together. By the end of the day, the processions attract an enormous crowd.

Some festivals in film photography

Here are a few shots from two festivals that took place earlier this year: Bata-Savitri and Ropain.

During the Bata-Savitri festival, married women fast and pray for the health of their husbands. They also tie colored threads around trees and make offerings to the goddess Savitri Devi.

Some of the wives who were sitting around the tree looked very young; the older ones, on the other hand, clearly had had enough of Bata-Savitri over the years.

Ropain is the rice planting festival. We missed the main festival day, but still were able to see some farmers at work.

I’m starting to wonder about the color fidelity of the film I’m using, but we’ll have to see how it goes.