Saparu also known as Gai Jatra is the most revered and celebrated festival in the Kathmandu valley. This festival aims to commemorate the demise of people for a year. The name translates to ‘Sa Paru’ in the Nepal Bhasa (Newa Language) where Sa stands for cow and Paru stands for the first day of the dark fortnight. It is of utmost importance to the people of the Newa community and generally falls in the month of Bhadra (Nepali calendar) and August/September (English calendar). This year, Saparu (Gaijatra) was on 16th August 2019. The festival lasts for a week but the major festivities take place on the first day. Now, let’s take a look into the myths and facts of Saparu.
Where it all started
As per religious beliefs, people began to celebrate Saparu as a means to please ‘Yamaraj’ (God of death). Although this was the tradition, modern-day Saparu traces its origin to King Pratap Malla. The king had 5 sons and wanted each of them to be adept with administration skills. He allowed each of them to rule the country for a year. Unfortunately, Chakrabartendra Malla, his second eldest son, died on the second day while he was ruling. The queen was in serious depression and no amount of humor and condolence could make the queen happy. The king later organized a parade where people, whose family members had deceased would participate. People wore funny dresses and made jokes. This led to the queen realizing that there are others too whose family members have deceased. Finally, the queen came back to her old self.
How is Gai Jatra celebrated?
This festival is hugely celebrated inside the Kathmandu valley. The family members of the deceased family send the cow to take part in a religious ceremony. A tika is placed on the cow and as it roams, people worship it. In the cities, where cows are not common, people dress young boys as cows. People distribute food and other edibles to the cow. Different cultural programs are also held to complete the ceremony. In recent years, there has been a trend to make jokes and songs about the shortcomings of the government and the prevailing social injustice issues.
The religious belief of Gai Jatra
A cow is an important animal in the Hindu religion. As per Hindu mythology, it is believed that a cow leads wandering spirits of the deceased towards heaven. As per the myths, the dead would hold onto the tail of the cow and move towards heaven. There is a belief that unless Saparu is done, the deceased body will not go to heaven.
There is a popular belief in the Hindu community which states that a man will be reincarnated in the future as per his past deeds. This festival motivates people to do the correct deed in this life. The methods of celebrating this festival are different in Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, and Kirtipur, but one thing is common. It is done to commemorate the deceased.