Indra Jatra, the joyous festival in Kathmandu
- Table of Contents
- Indra Jatra festival
- Overview of Indra Jatra
- Reason Behind The Celebration
- Living God Kumari Procession
- First day
- Final day
Indra Jatra is a significant festival in Nepal. Nepal is a multiethnic and multicultural country. Every Nepalese citizen celebrates different festivals on various occasions. They celebrate many festivals that differ regionally or according to ethnicity, religion, and traditions. Different festivals celebrated by Nepal carry specific significance behind their celebrations.
From Jatras in the capital of the country to the Chhat in the Terai or national festivals like Dashain, the celebrations are the intrinsic part of Nepalese culture. The Jatras are especially popular in the Kathmandu valley, the capital city of Nepal, and are celebrated by the Newar community with great joy, enthusiasm, and belief.
However, the people from another city such as Bhaktapur, Banepa, and Patan celebrate different types of Jatra with great joy. “Indra Jatra” is a major annual festival celebrated in Nepal, especially in the capital city of Kathmandu. Indra refers to the god of Heaven, while Jatra refers to Procession. Thus “Indra Jatra” is the joyous festival and a procession held in honor of the Hindu god Indra.
Indra Jatra is the celebration to offer thanks to Lord Indra as Indra means the king of heaven and the god of the rain whereas jatra means procession. As the jatra honor Lord Indra, who is the lord of rain, the devotees especially thank god for the shower. Many other devotees worship ‘bhairab,’ ‘lord Ganesh’, and kumari (the living goddess). ‘bhairab’ is the destroyer of the evil, lord Ganesh. During the ancient times, the Kantipur valley was known in the name of ‘Yenya Day,’ and the Newars celebrated the Jatra as ‘Yenya.’ The term ‘Indra Jatra’ was given later.
We can still observe some Newars also celebrating the Jatra as ‘Yenya’ or ‘Yenya Punhi’ instead of Indra jatra. They celebrate the festival by lighting up a Diyo called Dalucha and worshipping the very same Diyo by offering Samya Baji. During the 10th century, the king Gunakamadeva the tradition of Indra Jatra to honor the establishment of the Kathmandu city. Since 1756AD, the Kumari Jatra is also observed on the same day. Kumari Jatra is also regarded as the procession of the living goddess of Nepal.
Main attractions of the Jatra:
• Majipa Lakhey
• Sawa Bhaku
• Ganesh (Chariot)
• Bhairava (Chariot)
• Kumari (Chariot
There are various dances performed by many people held in the open stages of the city called Dabu. Besides this, there is a display of sweet bhairav as well as other deities of the town.
During the Jatra period, the erection of a wooden pole made of pine can be observed at Basantapur Durbar Square in front of the old Hanuman Dhoka Palace.
It is also called a pole raising ceremony. Hundreds of spectators gather at the Palace Square and on the surrounding temples for celebrating this pole raising ceremony. After that, the chariot of Kumari (the living Goddess), is taken out in a procession and walk through the main streets of Kathmandu.
When Do We Celebrate Indra Jatra?
An annual festival Indra jatra is celebrated for eight long days in September. The festival commences from the day of the Bhadra Dwadashi to Krishna Chaturdashi, every year.
This takes place on the twelfth day of the waxing moon in September. This festival was celebrated on 24th September in 2018, and it falls on 12th September, Thursday in 2019.
Indra Jatra Celebration
The erection of the Yasin or Linga in Kathmandu Durbar Square (Basantapur) is the starting of the festival.
The pole is believed to represent a similar flag pole given to Lord Indra by the God, Vishnu, at Indra Chowk, the Akash Bhairav mash is brought out of the Bhairav temple and placed in front of the temple. The Akash Bhairav is worshipped and covered in beautiful flowers, along with these sweets, and other offerings are placed on it. This event is called ‘Yosin Thanegu.’
The Linga is a pole made from pine wood, which is specially brought from the forest near Nala (a small town which is 29 km east of Kathmandu). People mainly the Newars gather wearing the mask, sharing the local liquors, and perform dances that represent gods and demons during the rising of the Lingo (Pole). Besides these, the images of other deities are also displayed, such as Lord Indra, Bhairab, and many others.
The devotees also visit various shrines holding the light in the remembrance of their passed members of the family. This event is called ‘Pakuranga.’
There is an exciting myth behind the evolution of Indra Jatra. Indra’s mother needed Parijat, a type of white flower, to perform a religious ritual. So, Lord Indra disguised as a human being descended to the earth in search of the herb for his mother. He was accused of the flower theft by the owner of the meadow while he was trying to pick the flower. Then the owner of the field kept him in captivity, blaming that he stole the flowers. Lord Indra was imprisoned in Kathmandu, and he was not allowed to go back from there.
After a long-time missing of Son Indra, his mother Dakini was worried and came to earth for searching him. Luckily, she finally found him and requested the owner of the meadow to let him go. Only after the villagers realized who they were, they agreed to free Lord Indra but put forward a condition for them.
Based on their condition, Lord Indra should come to the earth every year during that very time of the year, and he will be displayed as a prisoner for seven days. Also, the farmers made Dakini promise to provide them with enough dew during the winter for better productivity. The villagers also ensured that Dakini would take the deceased members of their family to heaven with her.
This is why the festival of Indra Jatra is celebrated to express gratitude towards Lord Indra and Dakini for the decent harvest in the coming year and timely rainfall.
Similarly, the festival also celebrated in the name of the deceased members of the family.
Description of Kumari Procession
The Indra Jatra festival is celebrated by taking out the chariot of Goddess Kumari in procession to thank Indra. During this time, the street of Kathmandu is full of the devotees who are performing dances, singing songs, and playing various musical instruments like drums and flute.
Along with this, we can see the crowd of a street vendor selling different products. To display the prisoned condition of Lord Indra, the local people in Maru tole construct a stage made of wood and view the statue of Indra with stretched arms and covered by fiber thread. This is a long old tradition being carried out since the Lichhavi Period.
Kumari Jatra was started later in the 18th century.
The chariot of Goddess Kumari is taken out, and the procession goes all around Kathmandu following different routes.
Moreover, the other two smaller chariots carrying a representative of Ganesh and Bhairav are taken to different parts of the old Kathmandu.
The famous Akash Bhairav is displayed and is decorated with beautiful flowers in Indra Chowk. According to legend, this Akash Bhairav’s head is related to the Mahabharat story, whereas some others believe it to be the head of the first Kirat King Yalamber.
Different types of people gather in Indra Chowk and sing bhajans and hymns. A variety of dance performances can be observed during Indra Jatra, such as Sawa Bhakku Bhairav from Halchowk, Majipa Lakhey from Majipat, Devi Nach, and Yeravat Jhathi (Pulukisi) from Naradevi, Mahakali and Kathi Maka Nach from Bhaktapur. These types of dances take place around the Hanuman Dhoka area. Every night the Dasavatar or the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu are staged. Here is the brief description of the major day of this festival:
The Newars community celebrates the first day of the festival for the remembrances of the family members who died during the past year by offering small oil lamps. It was started during the reign of Mahendra Malla.
Second Day (Yenya Punhi):
On the second day, the Linga (Yasingha) is pulled down, which signals the end of the Indra Jatra. It is then taken to the converging point of Bagmati and Bishnumati in Teku to be put to rest.
The festival of Indra Jatra concludes with the lowering of the (lingam) pole bearing Indra’s flag amidst religious ceremonies.
The end of the Indra Jatra indicates the beginning of the main festival called Dashain and Tihar. The major festival celebrated with great enthusiasm throughout the country.
The major highlights of the Indra Jatra festival include street dance popularly known as Lakhey, and pulu is performed by participants wearing the mask of the deities.
Various ritual dances are performed — featuring masked demons, gods, and goddesses in different parts of the Valley. Along with this, most popular Lakhey dances are also part of the chariot procession and is performed along the old street of Kathmandu.
Different participants wear masks and danced during this festival. Lakhani (masked dancers) are taken to the streets almost every evening accompanied by loud drums. The festival recalls the time when Lord Indra was descended to the earth seeking for the herb.
The Mahakali Pykhan is especially performed at Bhaktapur Durbar square, as well as the streets of Kathmandu. The major highlights of the Mahakali Pykhan Dance are that it represents the Kyyah, a large, hairy ape-like creature. The dance performed is full of fun and humor, with a lot of falling.
Sawa Bakhhu Dance
Sawa Bakhhu Dance is another popular dance performance performed by a dance group in Halchowk. The dance starts from the Hanuman Dhoka and continues along the festival route, stops at particular junctions, and finally receives an offering from the devotees. The dance depicts the Bhairab (in Blue) with a sword and the other two attendants (in Red).
The shrines and ancient palace buildings that lie around Kathmandu Durbar Square glow with oil wicks in each night of Indra Jatra. The whole city looks very delightful and colorful. The large image of Akash Bhairab’s head is put on display out in the open, directly facing his temple at Indra Chowk.
We can observe the enactment portraying the ten earthy incarnations of Lord Vishnu in each night on the platform of the temple of the Living Goddess. Many Nepali families will also put idols of Indra or Bahirab on display this time of year. This exciting festival is celebrated by both the Hindu and Newari communities of Nepal.
Thus, Indra Jatra marks the special place in Nepali Calendar as the largest street festival of Nepal celebrated with mystic mask dancing and pulling the chariot of living goddess ‘Kumari.’ Hence the festival of Indra Jatra is celebrated in honor of ‘Lord of Heaven’ Indra.