Influence Of Gaijatra Festival In Nepali Society

Prapanna Maskey

In everyday hustle and bustle, people have no time to think about the inevitability of death, deceased family members and the predecessors. Nevertheless, the yearly event of death rituals such as shraddha, death anniversary of predecessors, friends, neighbours, family members and renowned people remind us of the darker aspect of life that is death. Moreover, Gaijatra festival is an occasion to disseminate the message regarding temporary life, uncertainty and certainty of death. Death is a serious issue and no one can remain immune of it but no one thinks about death until the last moment. In this regard, Gaijatra festival gives emphasis to spread awareness regarding death. Gaijatra symbolically makes people aware about facts related to death. First and foremost, the official holiday provides adequate time to people to reflect about death. Similarly, week-long celebration, Gaijatra comedy programme, Gaijatra procession and parade let people confirm about death. People share their pain through deviant behaviour, disguising as Lord Shiva or Krishna or breaking social norms and values. Gaijatra procession brings together different people in the street with commonality. In such a way, painful memories are also erased through Gaijatra festival.
The procession during the Gaijatra affects the sensory system through music, procession and burning of fragrant stick. Notably, after witnessing the Gaijatra procession people record death-related fact in the memory and act to make every day the best through proper utilisation of time. Eventually, people will engage themselves in good deeds instead of harmful ones. Donation system is prevalent in the Nepali society. Nepali people directly and indirectly donate cash and kind on various occasions like Purnima, Sankranti, etc. including the Gaijatra festival. Family members donate nominal amount of cash and kind during the Gaijatra festival. May be donation giving pattern is an outcome of death-related awareness. In the contemporary Nepali society, underprivileged people also partake in Gaijatra festival seeking donation.
Gaijatra is in existence since the announcement of King Pratap Malla to celebrate the festival to commemorate the deceased individuals. Furthermore, Gaijatra festival contributed to the emotional stability of the Queen suffering the loss of her son. Michael Foucault rightly mentioned that the policy of a nation is shaped by power. Then after Gaijatra festival was observed in subsequent years throughout Nepal. Gaijatra festival shows the universal aspect and non-discriminative system of death. Historical death of the royal family members showed that death does not discriminate between the powerful and powerless, ruled and ruler and rich and poor. People commemorate birth every year through the celebration. However, death anniversary is observed only of renowned persons with social contribution. In Nepal, Nepali people realize the truth of death while celebrating the Gaijatra festival. Citizens of Nepal can express their political, economic and social grievances to the state on the day of Gaijatra festival. Such a pattern of expression has existed during the monarchial, democratic and republican political system. Freedom to express allows people to heavily criticize the prevalent political, social, cultural and economic ills of the country.
Gaijatra festival is a cultural heritage which is transferred from one generation to another generation. According to Pierre Bourdieu culture becomes habitus after experiencing similar cultural pattern and social practice for a long period of time. Due to implanted habitus Gaijatra festival is celebrated in nooks and corners of Nepal. Celebration of Gaijatra is different even in Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur districts which is determined by the regional habitus.
Gaijatra provides tentative data of the dead people. Increase and decrease of participants is determined by the death rate and willingness of the deceased family members. Independent variable is death and dependent variable is Gaijatra festival. However, other intervening variables are also available to determine Gaijatra festival. Family is an integral aspect while celebrating the Gaijatra festival. Minor members of the family join the Gaijatra festival being disguised as cow or opposing gender, Lord Krishna and Lord Shiva. Thus, in the Nepali context if something unusual happens people call it Gaijatra.
Death brings changes in the social life of the people. Death of family member compels individuals to face prejudice, discrimination and social exclusion and though Gaijatra festival family relationship is strengthened to a certain extent. Gaijatra festival builds closer ties with family members. Gaijatra festival even holds together the people facing the same circumstances. Thus this festival allows the family members to work together and strengthen family relationships.
Death affects overall social life of the people including social security, physical and mental health. Death is an unexpected event in the family and death of a family member drastically changes the social life of the family. Social stratification is seen in Gaijatra festival in terms of caste, class, gender and space though people irrespective of social differences participate with hesitation. Differences among caste, class and gender is seen in procession, presentation and donation pattern.
Historically, only natural products, cash and kind were distributed but these days people have started distributing junk food, artificial products and plastic items which is not environmentally good. Such circumstances produce garbage, the agent of pollution. Nowadays people are saying Sanskriti should not be Bikriti. These external interventions should be stopped to maintain the originality and sanctity of Gaijatra festival.
Policies of rulers come, go and fail, but Gaijatra festival is still in existence. This circumstance shows if any policies and programmes of the government involve general public with sentimental attachment without mandatory obligations then success is achievable even without financial contribution of the government.

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