Thousands flock in anticipation at Basantpur Durbar Square for the colourful Indra Jatra celebrations
Indra Jatra, the honouring and commemoration of God Devendra (the God of the Heavens), is one of the most significant religious festivals in Nepal, celebrated by both Hindus and Buddhists. Indra Jatra is an eight-day long festival marked by dramatic masked dancers known as Lakhey — which represent gods and demons— the striking of drums, and a devoted, exuberant crowd gathered in Kathmandu’s Basantapur Durbar Square.
Alongside Indra Jatra is a festival called Kumari Jatra; this festival is in honour of the living Goddess, Kumari, believed to be the incarnation of Goddess Taleju, a wrathful manifestation of the Goddess Durga. Kumari Jatra is marked by the pulling of intricate, ornamental chariots, known as Rath in Nepali, carrying three versions of the living Goddess Kumari, through thousands of ardent devotees also gathered in Basantapur Durbar Square.
If you are ever caught in the celebration and teeming crowd of worshippers on this late September day, prepare for excitement and chaos. Prepare to be crushed in a massive sea of bodies, a slow but surely moving crowd; from the narrow alleys leading up to the square to the jam-packed main temples within the square, and even in the windows peeking out of traditional Newari buildings surrounding the square.
You might be tempted to escape the sweltering mass of humanity. But then, you’ll hear the tumultuous sounds of echoed cheering, of the startling firing of celebratory gunshots, and the pounding of drums, even before catching a glimpse of the vibrantly coloured, intricately carved, ornate chariots carrying the Kumaris. If you are lucky enough to be standing in the perfect spot, without getting pushed and pulled by the crowd, you may even be able to spot the Goddess Kumari perched high on her multi-tiered chariot, her top knot bun embellished with flowers, her third eye painted on her forehead with tika, and her crimson red outfit. The performance and presentation of the Kumari on Indra Jatra is a magnificent and also strangely humbling sight, worth the heat of the day and the hype of the hectic crowd.
Text: Elisa Gurung
Photos: Shubam Parajuli