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.