For many western LGBTIQ communities this time of the year every year, the months of June/July, is the month of pride and month of showing visibility.
Nepali LGBTIQ communities started celebrating similar yet, philosophically, very different event since 2002. Many ‘Western’ friends asked me: “Why have you started celebrating ‘Gai-Jatra festival’ instead of organizing a ‘Gay Pride March” like we do in the Western Countries?” Back then I tried to explain from the ‘safety and mainstreaming’ point of view, but let me explain from the philosophical point of view for choosing “Gai-Jatra festival” over “Gay Pride March”.
First, Gai-Jatra is an already existing festival that is more than 500 years old. It is continuously celebrated in Nepal during the month of August every year, especially among the Newar Communities in Kathmandu valley, where young men wear lavish, dramatic, extravagant cross-dressing, makeups and masks, with music, dance , color, water and food. This festival is equally celebrated by both the Buddhists and Hindus of Nepal.
Jatra (or Yatra in Sanskrit), literally means a journey, traditionally done by individuals or groups or communities, as a pilgrimage to reach their desired destination. The primary purpose of such Yatra (as pilgrimages) is, according to Buddhist: to discover to your higher self; and according to Hindus: to unite with the supreme God. Along the Yatra, your excitement grows as you get closer and closer to the destination; and once you reach the destination you are aesthetic with the sense of bliss, either feeling united with God or your higher self. So you celebrate….
The concept of Pride March (and not just Gay Pride March but any Pride March) is understood differently in the East then in the West.
Let’s try to understand the words ‘Pride’ and ‘March’ according to Eastern understanding:
The word ‘Pride’, translated as ‘Garva’ in Sanskrit, comes with a trace of arrogance. It is not a bad word but it is not taken positively either when you say, ‘I am proud of myself’. (It may have completely different connotation in the West).
Unlike the ‘Yatra’, where the journey is to discover something (either the higher self or God, according to your beliefs), the word ‘March’ is understood as to takeover or conquer the space that is controlled by others. ‘March’ may become necessary only to reclaim your lost space/land, but if nobody has conquered your space the ‘March’ can cause intimidation to others (Think about a Military Marching or even a political Party Marching with loud speakers!).
As Nepal was never colonized, hence it never criminalized homosexuals and third genders, and the Nepali societies are relatively more tolerant towards our LGBTIQ populations compared to many other countries across the world. Thus the ‘Gay Pride Marching’ is not only unnecessary but can become counterproductive too, if it becomes too much on the face.
So, instead, we choose Gai-Jatra, our own ancient festival, to celebrate and this ‘Jatra/Yatra’ every year helps us to discover who we are, helps us to connect to our higher self and not to feel proud but feel good about ourselves.
Wish you a Happy Gai-Jatra!