folder Filed in Festivals
Gai Jatra Festival Nepal: Honoring the Past and Laughing at the Present
Hawrry Bhattarai comment 24 Comments access_time 9 min read

Gai Jatra(गाईजात्रा), a major festival in Nepal, is particularly prominent in the Kathmandu Valley. Translated as the “Festival of Cows,” it is deeply significant in Nepalese culture. Initially, the festival was primarily celebrated by the Newar and Tharu community in Kathmandu. However, its popularity has grown over time, and today, Gai Jatra is observed nationwide and is recognized as a public holiday.

 The festival is a unique blend of ancient rituals and modern practices, combining solemnity with comedy and satire. It originated as a way for people to honor Yamaraj, the Hindu god of death, and has evolved over the centuries into a time for families to remember their departed loved ones. At the same time, it is a celebration of life, marked by humor and revelry, reflecting the resilience and spirit of the Nepalese people. 

Gai Jatra Festival Nepal: Origins, Rituals, and Modern Celebrations

child costumed as god krishna

The Origins of Gai Jatra

According to legend, the origins of the modern Gai Jatra festival trace back to the medieval Malla dynasty. When King Pratap Malla’s son died prematurely, his wife, the queen, was consumed by grief. To help alleviate her sadness, the king announced a proclamation urging the people to make her laugh and smile again. He asked the residents of the kingdom to participate in a cow procession, dressing up in costumes and performing humorous acts to amuse her. While the queen’s melancholy could not be completely cured, seeing the parade brought her temporary joy and relief. From then on, the practice of holding a cow procession to commemorate the dead and bring cheer to the bereaved became an annual tradition.

 The festival’s name, Gai Jatra, stems from the Nepali words “gai”, meaning cow, and “jatra” meaning procession or festival – ‘cow festival’. The cow holds special significance in Hinduism as a sacred animal revered for its life-sustaining milk and importance in agriculture. According to some accounts, the tradition of parading cows through the city also relates to the ancient practice of appeasing the god of death, Yamaraj, who was said to claim human souls upon a cow. Alongside Gai Jatra, the festival is known as ” Sa Paru”(Nepal Bhasa: सापारु) in the native Newari language.

The Dates of Gai Jatra

Held on the 5th month of Hindu calendar, Bhadra (August-September), this Nepalese festival is observed with joy, along with relishing the monsoon rain. This year it falls on Aug 31.

The Rituals and Celebrations

gai jatra at bhaktapur
People of Bhaktapur celebrating Gai Jatra festival | PC: krishna Mali

Gai Jatra is more than just a lively festival bursting with color and laughter. At its heart, it carries profound meaning as a tribute to departed loved ones. During the festivities, children dressed up as cows are paraded around temples and sacred sites. Along the route, people offer the costumed kids food, juice, and money.

Groups of Newars liven up the streets with traditional music and dance in their ethnic finery. The sounds of authentic Newari instruments fill the air as dancers move to the groove. The revelry takes on a carnival-like atmosphere.

 Over time, the celebrations have progressed with the times. In past eras of monarchy, citizens could not openly voice political opinions or dissent in public. But nowadays, satire and commentary on public figures is common during Gai Jatra.

In recent years, comedians and actors have organized special Gai Jatra programs featuring political and social satire called ‘देउसी भैलो कार्यक्रम – SisnuPani Deusi Bhailo Program They boldly yet humorously share views on issues and leaders. Even politicians and celebrities join in, taking the mockery lightly and laughing along. These shows are now broadcast on TV too, with skits, mimicry, and parody songs that are highly entertaining.

 The LGBTQIA+ community also joyfully celebrates Gai Jatra, holding Nepali gay pride parades to spread awareness. For all who participate, the festival represents a time to honor both the departed and the spirit of life.

The Significance of the Cow

festival of cows gai jatra
Man Dragging cow on Gai jatra festival | PC: Kamal Raj Joshi

 The cow holds a central role in the Gai Jatra festivities. People dress up children as cows, decorating them beautifully and adorning them with garlands. The cow disguises relate to the legend of the first cow procession held to cheer up the grieving queen. The cow is revered as a holy animal in Hinduism, cherished for its nurturing role providing milk. Having children dressed as cows symbolizes the circle of life, death, and rebirth.

The Procession

 On the day of Gai Jatra, colorful, lively processions wind through the streets of Kathmandu led by the costumed cows. People from all walks of life join the parade, dressed up in fanciful costumes and masks. The procession provides a chance for revelry and amusement through dancing, comedy, and satire. Participants often mock social norms and poke fun at figures of authority, a practice temporarily allowed during the festival. The humorous atmosphere gives people a chance to laugh, providing temporary escape from life’s sorrows. 

The Rituals for the Departed

 At its core, Gai Jatra serves as an important day to remember and honor deceased loved ones. Many observe fasts, offer prayers, and make offerings at temples and shrines in memory of those who have passed away over the last year. According to Hindu belief, performing these rituals helps ensure the departed soul finds its way safely to heaven and achieves peaceful afterlife. The festivities and humor act as a counterbalance to the solemn remembrance, representing the affirmation of life.

Gai Jatra Across Cities

People with masks gai jatra
People donning masks duing Gai Jatra | Krishna Mali


As the vibrant capital city, Kathmandu is the center of Gai Jatra celebrations. Locals perform traditional dances, songs, and plays to honor the dead. A key highlight is the procession of cows decorated ornately with flowers, leaves, and paint. People in costumes perform slapstick comedy and satirical acts mocking society. The festivities foster community spirit and strengthen bonds.


The city of Patan, south of Kathmandu, has its own unique Gai Jatra traditions. Locals perform traditional dances like the Lakhe Dance, featuring a dancer wearing a demon mask. The festival coincides with other Patan celebrations like the Red Machindranath Festival, making it a major event. The revelry serves as an outlet for amusement and entertainment during monsoon season.


The small town of Kirtipur upholds its own Gai Jatra customs. Residents celebrate with traditional dances and performances. A torch rally known as “Bhailo” winds through the streets at night. Locals celebrate the festival fervently as an expression of Newari identity and heritage.


In the ancient city of Bhaktapur, Gai Jatra involves colorful processions of cows decorated with garlands and vermillion. Locals perform traditional dances in masks and costumes with bands playing festive music. The festivities foster a lighthearted atmosphere and community spirit. 

Gai Jatra in Modern Times

making joggi gai jatra
Kid with mustache making joggi on gai jatra | Krishna Mali

Over the centuries, Gai Jatra has evolved with the times while retaining its core spirit and traditions. In contemporary Nepal, the festival is celebrated as a national holiday across the country. While cows are no longer paraded through all cities, their symbolism remains by having children dress up. The use of comedy and parody has expanded as a medium for social commentary and protest about politics and rights. People of all backgrounds join the festivities in a spirit of egalitarianism. The event promotes cultural heritage and brings communities together.

End Note

Gai Jatra holds deep cultural and spiritual importance for Nepalese society. The festival symbolizes the intimate relationship between life and death in Hindu philosophy. While commemorating the deceased, it also affirms the living through laughter, satire, and community bonding. The lighthearted traditions reflect the resilience of the human spirit in the face of loss. Through its evolution over centuries, Gai Jatra remains a beloved celebration that upholds Nepal’s traditions and strengthens social ties. For locals and tourists alike, the festival provides a vibrant glimpse into enduring Nepalese customs and beliefs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does Gai Jatra commemorate and celebrate?

Gai Jatra allows us Nepalis to honor those we lost over the past year through rituals while also celebrating life and laughter. It reflects the spirit of our people.

What unique events and activities are part of Gai Jatra festivities?

Gai Jatra is vibrant with parades, costumed dancing, ancient music, comedy shows, feasting, and more. Satire and humor distinguish the modern celebrations.

How has Gai Jatra evolved over time into modern day celebrations?

Ancient traditions blend with new practices like political satire and advocacy for marginalized groups, showing Gai Jatra’s adaptability over centuries.

How do other cities like Patan and Bhaktapur celebrate Gai Jatra differently?

Each city adds its own local flair with iconic dances, processions, and music. But the essence of honoring the dead and celebrating life remains.

When did Gai Jatra expand from a regional festival to a national public holiday?

With the unification of Nepal, Gai Jatra grew beyond its Kathmandu Valley roots to become celebrated by all Nepalis nationwide.

How has political satire become incorporated into modern Gai Jatra events?

Comedy and parody of figures and events are now hallmarks during Gai Jatra. Laughter relieves societal tensions.

Further Readings

Krishna Janmashtami-celebrating the Birth of Lord Krishna
Raksha Bandhan in Nepal: Celebrating Bonds Beyond Borders
Nag Panchami Nepal: Celebrating the Festival of Snakes
Shrawan Sankranti: Celebration of Harvest and Devotion in Nepal
Everything you need to know about Gaura, the festival of the far west




gai jatra gai jatra nepal

Leave a Reply

  1. Thank you for every one of your labor on this web page. Debby delights in managing investigation and it is obvious why. We all learn all of the lively medium you offer effective steps via this web site and as well strongly encourage response from others on that area plus my girl is without a doubt discovering a lot of things. Have fun with the remaining portion of the new year. Your carrying out a fabulous job.

  2. Sweet blog! I found it while browsing on Yahoo News. Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Yahoo News? I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Thank you

  3. Hey, you used to write excellent, but the last several posts have been kinda boringK I miss your super writings. Past several posts are just a little out of track! come on!

  4. What’s Happening i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve discovered It absolutely helpful and it has helped me out loads. I am hoping to contribute & help other users like its helped me. Great job.

  5. I’ll right away snatch your rss feed as I can not to find your e-mail subscription hyperlink or newsletter service. Do you’ve any? Please allow me understand so that I could subscribe. Thanks.

  6. I would like to thnkx for the efforts you have put in writing this blog. I am hoping the same high-grade blog post from you in the upcoming as well. In fact your creative writing skills has encouraged me to get my own web site now. Actually the blogging is spreading its wings quickly. Your write up is a great example of it.

  7. It is really a nice and useful piece of info. I’m satisfied that you simply shared this useful information with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  8. I spent over three hours browsing the internet today, and I haven’t come across any article as intriguing as yours. It seems worthwhile enough to me. If more web owners and bloggers produced stuff as excellent as yours, the internet would be far more helpful than it was previously.

  9. You are my aspiration, I possess few web logs and very sporadically run out from brand :). “Truth springs from argument amongst friends.” by David Hume.

  10. Fantastic site A lot of helpful info here Im sending it to some buddies ans additionally sharing in delicious And naturally thanks on your sweat

  11. Hello i think that i saw you visited my weblog so i came to Return the favore Im trying to find things to improve my web siteI suppose its ok to use some of your ideas

  12. I was suggested this web site by my cousin Im not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my trouble You are incredible Thanks

  13. Hi Neat post There is a problem along with your website in internet explorer would test this IE still is the market chief and a good section of other folks will pass over your magnificent writing due to this problem

  14. Fantastic site A lot of helpful info here Im sending it to some buddies ans additionally sharing in delicious And naturally thanks on your sweat

  15. Wow! This can be one particular of the most helpful blogs We have ever arrive across on this subject. Basically Great. I am also a specialist in this topic so I can understand your effort.