Black Hill Journals - 12
Outside Nepal Gai Jâtrâ is only here
Remembering those who departed
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
~ ~ ~
The day after is Sa Paru dedicated to the cow when the departed family members are remembered taking out a Jâtrâ/procession with a cow and/or boy dressed as a cow and some with mask to symbolize the sacred animal and signify the occasion. Such solemn gatherings to remember our family members whom we lost are turned into a procession of merriment with fun and amusement to take a great extent so as to forget sad part of it and lead remaining days taking life is but so rather than feeling bad drowned in sorrow for what we lost. Dhiraj Pradhan from the Tintalle family of Aritar was tracing out the history when the King Pratap Malla of Nepal saw his wife so drowned when they lost their son but was amused to see something funny passing through the street. This made the King to ask his citizens to observe the day as such for those so missed in a religious way to signify their heavenly abode. Prof. Diwakar Pradhan from the Banaras Hindu University joined us to write as a Comment to the post we shared on Facebook with pictures taken that day - "It's nice to know about Rhenock's initiative for Gâî Jâtrâ to commemorate the death of the members of family. This Jâtrâ console the people and make them smile even by ridiculing and be-fooling the important people of the society." Though in Nepal people make it a fun-filled days with special edition of periodicals, episodes and programmes held on the day to comment, criticize and pass satires on the current events and people in the high posts for their lapses and otherwise but within the parameters society permit/limit. Outside Nepal it is here only in the Black Hill at Rhenock when the Gai Jatra was first introduced by Taksari Chandrabir Newar making Sikkim their new found home bringing in not only the people from the mainland Nepal but also bringing home our rich customs and traditions along with some of the inseparable rituals and good practices followed there so that his family members and tenants did not feel home-sick missing something while their life dedicated to the society and the crown here. Here in Sikkim it was always a religious-cultural affair to take out the procession with a idol of cow taken to offer in Sri 3 Dhaneshwar Shivalaya Mahadev Mandir at Rhenock Bazar. While many of such items made of precious metals silver and copper missing a visitors can still find some of the marble cows inside lined decorating the sanctum-sanctorum of the temple.
With the onslaught of modern day busy life and niceties or oddities accompanying it like many things that include Jankwa i.e. about celebrating the old age this age old practice of remembering the departed was in the wane on the verge of extinction. It was, therefore, long felt the need to revive the age old tradition here and what could be the best reason and season to remember the person who was my creator, mentor and Guru to make me see this world and whatever I could be. He had left for his heavenly abode just a few months back on 22nd June that year 2003. Keeping with the tradition, we the family members had organized Gai Jâtrâ in fond memory of our Buba Jai Shanker Lall Shresta, Head Sir to many of his students, colleagues and well-wishers till this day. It was a big support from all especially Mama Hukum Chand Pradhan of Tintalle, Aritar to make the solemn ceremony a grand success. He did not forget to tell us that on the day people try to make fun full of jest like, by beating the cow that a young boy (his own son) was made with a paper mask hand-crafted /painted for the day. It was his turn along with his cousin Binod Kumar Pradhan who were remembered similarly on Gai Jâtrâ this year. Another family member lost during the year was their cousin Nirlata married to Shiv Narayan Pradhan* of Rongli whom the family did not forget to mention while Dhiraj Bhai spoke on the significance of the day. To fill up the lack of such a mask, a live cow was brought along in his Gai Jâtrâ with Aritar Bhajan Mandali singing to join the other procession that went to Sri3 Dhaneshwar Shivalaya Mahadev Mandir before going around Rhenock bazar. This confluence was made at the Aritar Mahadev Mandir, where an elaborate programme was held with singing of bhajans continued with our old man Pithakote Kancha dancing his best making the function live and hearty. In his younger days he was a good mason who has some dry stone-walls made for us around our house. He used to live in a cottage doing farming in our land just below the road. So, we have seen him raising his family with all his children Bikash (taxi driver), Sita (daily wager deaf and dumb proudly flaunts her smart phone with live chatting) and Arjun (water fitter) born and brought up here. His wife stays with her eldest daughter at Gorubathan, children visit often. Similarly, Prem Bahadur Chettri* used to stay in that place earlier and to raise his family with sons Kumar, Gopi and Subhash. Later they have moved to the Kothi. Another person to stay and raise the family there was Shyam Tamang married to Manu Rai, daughter of Ramko Babu*, whose children are still continuing in the land on other side of the jhora near our house. Youngest son Mahendra is an ex-serviceman working in a nationalized bank at Gangtok. I do not know if the people around here in the Kingston know all but these people must be remembering how they started their life here. Prem Bahadur used to entertain us with his slang/songs in English when drunk, while Pithay Kancha is well known for his this habit, who has of late developed a habit - often seen going out early morning for a walk. Shyam has turned teetotaller after a bout of sickness to get converted. He loves to talk making fun of his saala Saila converted back to practice jokhana and jhar-phuk turning his house into a temple. It is nice to see his twin sons Lav and Kush working at Jodhpur and Udaipur in Rajasthan, while his youngest son works in Big Bazar at Gangtok while the eldest of them a daughter works in some company there. Gai Jâtrâ held in 2013 memory of Anup Bhai had brought the Sikkim Newar Guthi officials from Gangtok to participate in the procession. Keeping with the tradition, another Gai Jâtrâ held in recent past that I well remember was taken out by R. K. Pradhan and family in memory of his mother in 2014.
It was interesting to know about some aspect of Gai Jatra observed from a different perspective as learnt from setopati.com this week that I thought of sharing here some portions translated. Speaking recently in Martin Chautari at Thapathali in Kathmandu, US Based historian and culture expert Gautam Bajracharya, who worked for 30 years in the Wiskinson University said that Gai Jâtrâ was not introduced by King Pratap Malla as generally believed. Presently a Guest Curator in the Rubin Museum of Art at New York, to release recently a book titled Nepalese Seasons : Rains and Rituals along with display of 50 documents of artistic value from Nepal. This trend he attributes to the practice of praising the King as was common those days. It was much before this King. He was in Nepal to share and tell about the book which showcased the natural environment and cultural heritage of the Kathmandu valley. He was of the view that had Gai Jatra been introduced by King Pratap Malla, it would not have been observed by the Newars settled outside the valley. Such a belief could be possible only by those who were ignorant of the in-fighting between the Malla rulers during the period. According to him, the seeds of this festival were sown much before the Hindu and Buddhist traditions came into practice as a remnant of the culture cow farmers followed that we continue celebrating the Govardhan Puja - Go means cow and vardhan is raising it. Its another aspect that Bajracharya narrate is about Vrishav Sarg and Vrishav sarg falan labhet. It is around Goverdhan Puja that there is tradition to get the cow mixed with the bull. This is in view of the fact that during Sawan-Bhadau (corresponding to August-September) with plenty of fodder grass growing, it seems appropriate to get the cow thus impregnated around this time as it takes nine months to have a calf borne thereafter. Thus cow impregnated during Tihar gives birth exactly when we celebrate Gai Jâtrâ . He further mentions that procession taken out remembering our forefathers on Gai Jâtrâ is second layer development in the process of evolution and here too Pratap Malla has no role to play. In view of this bringing a source of positive influence towards the society it must have been started at the public level. There is nothing to link it with the Malla King, he opined. Our ancestors were very wise in fabricating/creating such stories, he continues, and this reference on Gai Jâtrâ and Pratap Malla could be one of the similarly concocted stories.
From this column and my book The Newars World-wide ~ Connecting the Dots : Sikkim readers might be familiar with the name Nepa Pasa Puchah Amerikaye (NPPA) and knowing that this social organization of the Newars in America would be celebrating its 25th Anniversary on November 5 this year on the Nhu Dan 1137 coinciding with the said Govardhan Puja observed a day after the Laxmi Puja or Gai Puja. They have organized and celebrated the SaParu/Gai Jâtrâ for the first time ever this year. NPPA along with NOA (Newah Organization of America) with its five Chapters in the US have been doing a commendable job for the preservation, promotion, popularization and practice of the Newar culture and tradition besides language and heritage. Here what I would like to mention the details followed as being done in Nepal with paper-mask and all whereas in Sikkim something was lacking though the procession had children dressed as Ram-Sita-Laxman-Hanuman besides Mahadev and Radha-Krishna. It was nice to have such a presentation in the procession though in some way a deviation from the tradition as most of the Newars in Sikkim do not even have an idea what Gai Jatra is all about. It was, however, nice to have most of the family members gathered here on the occasion that brought Bidhan Mama, Bijoy, and Manil with family also here to be with them in fond memory of those who left for the heavenly abode during this year. It was nice meeting friends from Rhenock Newar Guthi as the procession reached bazar. Hari Prasad Bhansari was recollecting from his childhood memoirs when such a procession used to have Lakhey dancing with beating of Dhimay and cymbals. It was till 1950s that on Janmashtami Rath Yatra was taken out from the Mandir taken to both the Kothis as well. A Facebook posting show this being celebrated at the bazar but details not available to share here about. It reminds me of the Chandra Dramatic Club in 1940s that had a remarkable role to play in the society for decades in this part of the Himalayas in promoting culture and tradition thus uniting the people together in the Black Hill. No wonder we find Gai Jâtrâ still a culture followed traditionally for generations that we need to support it for the cause to continue forever thus reviving and restrengthening the rich heritage that is unique to this place. It has been more than a century and here only at Rhenock outside the Kathmandu Valley in the whole world that Gai Jâtrâ is solemnly observed each year in fond memory of those departed. It has been, as if, the sole prerogative of the Newars here at Rhenock only to be proud of being thus associated with the age-old tradition. There are so many places with the Newars settlement to prominently occupy the important place in the society, it is but here only we have been observing Gai Jâtrâ all these years. This only feature would make the Black Hill outstanding to find a place written in the pages of history that went long in preserving and promoting the Newar Heritage after Taksari Chandrabir Newar introduced it after making Sikkim his new found home 150 years ago that made me to dedicate my book The Newars World~Wide Connecting the Dots Sikkim last March celebrating the historic occasion for their advent with its launch at Gangtok, Kathmandu and Washington DC within a brief span of five days. It is a proud moment indeed to be writing all these about the Gai Jâtrâ from the Black Hill this day when I complete three months stretch of my continued stay sharing on such wonderful legacy we have!
Disclaimer: This is author’s personal account of memories updated to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route to share the joy of the journey called life. Some names (asterisk for those no more), quotes, places and events mentioned are just to connect with and no malice whatsoever intended. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Newars World~Wide Connecting the Dots Sikkim is available at the Rachna Books.