Psychologists and psychiatrics would surely approve of Gai Jatra as being an excellent way to get rid of the bile in society’s soul, even if it’s only for a day. This day, as it happens, falls on the 11th August 2014 this year. “As it happens” because it’s not unusual for this festival, like most other Hindu festivals, to fall on different dates every year since they are timed according to the different phases of the moon—in other words, they follow the lunar calendar. So, to cut a long story short, Gai Jatra or, the “Festival of Cows”, is celebrated on the day after the full moon day in the Bikram Sambat (Bikram Era) month of Bhadra (August/September). Got it? Doesn’t matter, just remember it’s sometime in August.
Now, you must be itching to know about why it’s so psychotherapeutic in nature, so let’s begin by saying that, on this day, you can get away lampooning whomsoever you like, generally the most powerful folks in the country (meaning, of course, mostly politicians, whether they are in power or in ‘in-waiting’ mode). Why, in the heydays of royal rule, periodicals and dailies had a terrific time making robust and dirty jokes of all the “king’s men” if not of their majesties themselves. No understatement this—those was much looked-forward-to and guaranteed “sell-out” issues!
That is why the term Gai Jatra is often used scornfully as a metaphor when describing activities that are haphazardly executed. Now, it can be assumed that the therapeutics of the festival has become clearer; it allows society to sound out its disdain for those perceived to be lousy leaders, and in the process, remove some toxins suppressed throughout the year which probably had been causing much acidity and bad nights. Okay, so how else is Gai Jatra psychotherapeutic? Well, to answer this, you must first be told of its origins and then you’ll be able to decipher it yourselves.
One of the best known kings of the Malla Dynasty (12th to18th century) was King Pratap Malla who ruled over Kantipur (later, Kathmandu) from 1641 to 1674 A.D. His rule was a prosperous one not only economically but also architecturally. He managed to set up a virtual monopoly in business with Tibet and it was during his time that most of the structures in and around Kathmandu Durbar Square were built. The king also had the famous Rani Pokhari (Queen’s Pond) built in central Kathmandu, this to commemorate the death of his eldest son, who apparently was trampled on by an elephant. It was also to console his dear wife, the queen. However, it was not enough, for she remained inconsolable and grief-stricken. Then, the king had an idea. He called upon his subjects to come forward and entertain her; the one who could make her laugh would be immensely rewarded.
His loyal citizens promptly responded by organizing a festival in which one member of every family that had lost someone that year, would participate. They would bring a cow along with them and those who couldn’t, would instead dress up a young lad as a cow. The colourful procession thus formed would then make a mockery of important public figures and would jeer and ridicule them without fear. They would do the same thing with prevailing social practices that weren’t too popular with the people as a whole. In this way, the procession reached the palace gates, where the queen, on witnessing such a rumbustious spectacle, and realizing that it was not only she but so many others who too had lost someone dear, finally shed her grief and started to laugh.There, now you can understand for yourself why the Festival of Cows is so good for relieving pain and grief. Now you know why Gai Jatra gets full marks from the shrinks!
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