Indra Jatra is not just a festival; it's a vibrant embodiment of Kathmandu's cultural tapestry and the Newars' proud identity
Indra Jatra, known locally as "Yenya," stands as one of Kathmandu's grandest street festivals. Rooted in tradition and culture, this lively celebration encapsulates the essence of the city itself. Spanning eight days, from Bhadra Dwadasi to Ashwin Krishna Chaturdasi, Indra Jatra is a vibrant spectacle that captivates both locals and visitors alike. In 2018, the festival commenced on September 21 and continued through September 29.
The festival boasts a rich array of attractions, each with its own unique significance.
Majipa Lakhey: This majestic demon dance is a captivating sight on the streets and market squares. The Lakhey dancer, accompanied by a band of musicians, exhibits remarkable agility and plays a crucial role in crowd control before the chariot procession.
Pulukishi: Believed to be the carrier of Lord Indra, Pulukishi traverses the streets in search of his imprisoned master. Residents of Kilagal Tole partake in this tradition, where the creature, mischievous and agile, interacts with the crowd along its path.
Sawa Bhaku: This dance group hails from Halchok and performs throughout the festival, stopping at major street squares to entertain and receive offerings. Dressed as Bhairava and his two attendants, their vibrant performance is a crowd favorite.
Ganesh, Bhairava, and Kumari Chariots: Three ornate chariots carry human representations of the deities Ganesh, Bhairava, and Kumari, accompanied by musical bands. The procession spans three days, taking different routes through Kathmandu and captivating onlookers.
The Festival's Commencement
The festivities commence with Yosin Thanegu, the erection of the Yosin or Linga pole, from which Indra's banner unfurls, at Kathmandu Durbar Square. On the first day, Upaku Wanegu takes place, where participants visit shrines with lighted incense to honor deceased family members, creating a serene atmosphere with hymns and small butter lamps.
Other important processes
Mata Biye: Families honor deceased members by offering small butter lamps along the processional route on the first day of the festival. This heartfelt gesture is a mark of respect for loved ones.
Dagin: This procession re-enacts Indra's mother searching for her son. It features a masked man accompanied by a musical band and typically begins at 8 p.m.
Bau Mata: A holy snake made of reeds with oil lamps is carried on shoulders and taken along the festival route. It begins once the Dagin procession returns to Maru.
Masked Dance Performances
Throughout the festival, various masked dance performances captivate audiences, including:
Devi Pykhan: Dancers wearing masks of gods and goddesses perform this dance, which was historically created to promote peace among those suffering from diarrhea.
Mahakali Pykhan: Dancers dressed as Khyah, a fat, hairy ape-like creature, entertain with antics and tumbling.
Bhairava Exhibition: Masks of Bhairava, a terrifying aspect of Lord Shiva, are displayed at various locations in Kathmandu during the festival. Some of the largest masks include Sweta Bhairava at Durbar Square and Akash Bhairava at Indra Chok.
Origins of the Indra Jatra
The festival's roots can be traced back to the story of Lord Indra, who descended to Earth in disguise to obtain parijat (jasmine) for a ritual. Mistaken for a thief, he was tied to a pole and displayed for eight days until his mother, Basundhara, descended to search for him. Her arrival led to Indra's release, and in gratitude, she promised Kathmandu abundant dew for healthy crops. Lord Indra's return to heaven marked the birth of Indra Jatra, celebrating the city's rich heritage and the unity of its people.
Indra Jatra is not just a festival; it's a vibrant embodiment of Kathmandu's cultural tapestry and the Newars' proud identity. With its diverse attractions, stunning processions, and ancient rituals, it remains a testament to the enduring traditions that make Nepal's capital city truly unique. Each year, Indra Jatra continues to inspire awe and wonder, reminding us of the rich heritage that binds the city and its people.
photo credit: ntb.gov.np, highlightstourism.com