To commemorate the death of loved ones and honor the start of a new harvest season, as well as Nepali’s most sacred domestic animal, the cow, the streets of the Kathmandu Valley come to life during the month of August to celebrate Gai Jatra.

Gai Jatra established its roots during the medieval era in Nepal when King Pratap Malla wished to bring joy to his grief-stricken wife after the passing of their son. The King encouraged family members who had lost loved ones to come together and dress in costume to honor the lives of those who have passed. Today, the festival has become one of the most popular and beloved festivals in Nepal and the day is full of laughter, comedy shows, satire, and traditional Nepali dances.

Celebrated as a happy carnival, the Gai Jatra is filled with vibrant colors, traditional Nepali singing and stick dancing. Cows guide souls of the deceased to heaven and anyone that has had a family member pass away in the past year is lead by a calf during the procession. Since many families cannot afford a calf, most children dress up in a cow mask and walk in the procession instead. The children who are participating are encouraged to dress in colorful costume and cows are decorated with red tika and extravagant garlands as community members parade around the whole Kathmandu Valley.

Featured image: Frances Ellen, Flickr CC

Photo credit: @idomahesh