Nepal, I think, has more festivals than any other place on the planet. Yesterday was Janai Purnima, which is a Hindu holiday that doesn't make any sense to me. All I know about it is that it has something to do with a string that gets tied around you and on this day it is replaced. Somehow this is also associated with the feeding of frogs (yes even frogs get holidays in Nepal) and a very tasty nine bean soup. The soup seems to be the thing that most people actually take part in. It is also the holiday that attracts many people to the pilgrimage site up to Gosainkund lake that I was trekking through recently. Supposedly a dip in the high altitude lakes during this holiday cleanses a person of their sins. A hotel owner up on the trail told me that usually some people get sick from exposure to the cold water and cold conditions up at that altitude. The presence of thousands of pilgrims at a site that normally supports around a hundred people or so can't help the sanitary conditions either.
Procession for the Deceased over the Last Year
One festival just isn't enough, so today was another festival known as Gaijatra, which is a festival to help lead the spirits of those who have died over the last year to the God that judges the dead. Or at least that is what I was told. Now in the past it use to be that families bought a cow and donated it to a priest and that cow pulled a chariot for that person, and it was believed that by the spirit grabbing on to the cows tail that the cow could help him find his way through the challenges of the after life. Personally I'm not sure I'd trust a cow to be my spirit guide, I'd be worried about just hanging out in a field with grass or something, but then again I'm not Hindu.
Now despite the historical use of cows I didn't actually see any cows being used today. Instead cows were represented on many of the float like things that were carried through the city of Bhaktapur, the city we went to in order to observe the festival. Also on the floats were a picture of the deceased and lots of other ornamentation including an umbrella on the top of the floats.
Young People Dance and Bang Sticks
All around the city the processions were lead by bands and many children and young adults that were dancing and banging sticks together. Supposedly the meaning of this ritual was to ward off the evil spirits. That may, or may have been the case, but very clearly today it was an excuse to have a good time. Many western tourists also had joined in some of the processions and along with some of the locals had put on body paint and danced and banged sticks together to the rhythm of the music.
Drums and Costumed Youths
Th squares of Bhaktapur were packed with onlookers, mostly locals. The parades on this day seem to be a big event and lots of people gather to watch the processions. Like parades back home bands are mixed in, again with the purpose given that the music wards off the evil spirits. Young boys are occasionally dressed up as Shiva or cows and young girls are dressed in some traditional attire, that if it was supposed to represent something, was lost on me.
Boy Dressed as Shiva and a Costumed Girl
Onlookers watch the Processions in front of the Old Palace
We mingled with a multitude of people in Bhaktapur's Durbar Square for a while, just watching the processions go by. Really a great place to watch and experience the festival if you happen to be in Nepal during this time period. Nepal seems to have a festival or holiday for everything, and hardly a week goes by where you can't see some kind of event somewhere in the country. This one was really a lot of fun to witness first hand though and stands out above many of the others I have watched while I was here. It was also nice to watch a festival that took an event that can be as sad for people as death and turned it into something that was a celebration.