A ritual funeral puppet of the Newars of Nepal paraded in the annual Gai Jatra or Cow Festival. The effigy is made with four bamboo poles about 6 metres, which are assembled on a staff. Then comes the straw, a photo of the deceased affixed to the face and two paper fans placed atop the head. Straw “horns” represent a cow (supposed to lead the soul to freedom) and an umbrella tops the giant figure. The figure may also be called tahasa (cow). Two carrying sticks are placed at a height of 90 centimetres permitting four men to carry the puppet through the streets of the town. Dressed according to the sex of the deceased, this large puppet is made in the street facing the house of the dead person. The family pays respect to the figure prior to parading it. Two people on each side of the puppet bear the actual weight. Two long bands of cloth are attached to the top of the figure and held by two men, one standing in front and the other behind the figure to balance it when moving. The sons of the dead are dressed entirely in white, carrying incense, followed by other members of the family. Music accompanies many figures and some people dance at the end of the procession.
The horns, carrier, bamboo, and cloth are saved and the face portrait of the dead is sometimes taken home and displayed there after the event. The fans and straw body are thrown in the river.
The Newars of Nepal incinerate the body to free the soul of the dead and the tahamaca puppet is a body substitute or effigy. But the event is also an opportunity for general clowning and celebration. The procession in the early 21st century has moved toward the carnivalesque and Uncle Sam or Kurt Cobain may appear. Gay rights or political images may be contemporary parade figure themes.
- “Gai Jatra: Festival of Nepal”. http://www.cafedenepal.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=5156&p=5299. Accessed 27 August 2012.
- Toffin, Gérard. Societé et religion chez les Néwar du Népal [Society and Religion among the Newar of Nepal]. Paris: Editions du Centre national de la recherche scientifique, 1984, [esp. 523-524].
- Widdess, Richard. “Musical Structure, Performance and Meaning: The Case of a Stick Dance from Nepal”. Ethnomusicology Forum, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Nov. 2006), pp. 179-213. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20184558