Indra Jatra: A Tribute to the King of Heaven
Indra Jatra is a festival that commemorates Indra who is the god of rain, who can insure a good harvest and prosperity in the valley.
Indra Jatra, also known as Yenya in the Newari language, is the biggest religious street festival in Kathmandu, Nepal. The celebrations consist of two events, Indra Jatra and Kumari Jatra. Indra Jātrā is marked by masked dances of deities and demons, displays of sacred images, and tableaus in honor of the deity Indra, the king of heaven.
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History of Indra Jatra:
According to legend, Indra disguised himself as a farmer and descended to earth in search of parijat (Night jasmine), a white flower his mother Basundhara needed to perform a ritual. As he was plucking the flowers at Maruhiti, the people of Kathmandu caught him and bound him like a common thief. He was then put on display in the town square of Maru in Kathmandu.
His mother Basundhara, worried about his extended absence, came to Kathmandu and wandered around looking for him.
When the city folk realized that they had captured Indra himself, they were appalled and immediately released him. Out of appreciation for his release, his mother Basundhara promised to provide enough dew throughout the winter to ensure a rich crop. It is said that Kathmandu starts to experience foggy mornings from this festival onwards because of this boon.
Who started Indra Jatra?
Despite all the myths and legends associated with it, Indra Jatra in Kathmandu has earthly origins and it dates back to the 10th century. Indra Jatra was started by King Gunakamadeva a Lichhavi King then ruling Nepal to commemorate the founding of Kathmandu city in the 10th century. It was to worship Lord Indra who is considered the god of rain which ensures the prosperity and wealth in the valley.
When is Indra Jatra celebrated?
In 2022 Indra Jatra is going to be observed on Friday 9th September with the festivities starting almost a week earlier.
How long is Indra Jatra celebrated and How is it started?
The Indra Jatra festival is celebrated for 8 whole days and is one of the most exciting and revered festivals of the Newar community of the Kathmandu Valley. This also marks the beginning of a month-long festival season of autumn. It begins with the erection of a wooden pole made of pine at Basantapur Square in front of the old Hanuman Dhoka Palace.
For the pole-raising ceremony, hundreds of spectators gather at the Palace Square and in the surrounding temples. The chariot of Kumari, the Living Goddess, is taken out in a procession through the main streets of Kathmandu.
What are the processions in Indra Jatra?
In 8 days long festival of Indra Jatra, there are several processions included in it commemorating many things related to this Jatra and in remembrance to many incidents and events of the past. The processions included in Indra Jatra are:
Kumari is the tradition of worshipping a chosen virgin as a manifestation of the divine female energy or devi in Dharmic religious traditions. Kumari Jatra, which means the chariot festival of Kumari, coincides with Indra Jatra. It was started in 1756 AD during the reign of Jaya Prakash Malla.
During this festival, three chariots carrying human representations of the deities Ganesh, Bhairava, and Kumari accompanied by musical bands are pulled along the festival route through Kathmandu for three days. The procession starts at around 3 pm.
Mata Biye means to offer butter lamps. On the first day of the chariot festival, Newars honor family members deceased during the past year by offering small butter lamps along the processional route. They also present butter lamps to relatives and friends on the way as a mark of respect. The procession starts at around 6 pm.
The procession of the goddess Dagin re-enacts Indra’s mother’s going around town in search of her son. The procession consists of a man wearing a mask accompanied by a musical band. It starts at around 8 pm when the chariot of Kumari returns to Maru after journeying around the southern part of town. Dagin is followed by many people who have lost their family members in that specific year. It occurs on the first day.
Bau Mata includes a long representation of a holy snake made of reeds on which a row of oil lamps are placed. The effigy is suspended from poles carried on the shoulders and taken along the festival route. The procession starts from the southern side of Kasthamandap at Maru. When the Dagin procession returns from the upper part of town and reaches Maru, that is the cue for the Bau Mata procession to set off. It starts at around 9 pm and is organized by the Manandhar caste group.
Exhibition and Programs shown during Indra Jatra:
No holy program in Nepal is complete without some sort of exhibitions and programs which not only preserve history and cultural heritage but also encourages the current generation to pick up the things of their ancestors and carry them on forward from generation to generation.
Exhibitions shown during the Indra Jatra are:
Masks of Bhairava are displayed at various places in Kathmandu throughout the eight days of the festival. Bhairava is the terrifying aspect of Shiva. The largest ones are Sweta Bhairava (White Bhairava) at Durbar Square and Akash Bhairava (Sky Bhairava) at Indra Chok. A pipe sticking out of the mouth of Sweta Bhairava dispenses alcohol and rice beer on different days. An image of Bākā Bhairava is exhibited at Wotu, next to Indra Chowk.
Pictures of Indraraj Dyah with his outstretched hands bound with rope are exhibited on a tall platform at Maru near Durbar Square and at Indra Chowk, Kathmandu.
Dasavatar refers to 10 incarnations of Vishnu and it is shown on the temple steps in front of Kumari House every night during the festival.
Programs Conducted during Indra Jatra are:
Pulu Kisi Dance:
Pulu Kisi means elephant here it means Airavata elephant and is believed to be the carrier of Indra himself. Pulu Kisi goes through the streets of the ancient city of Kathmandu in search of his imprisoned master. People view the masked creature with the roar of excitement and laughter. From time to time It does naughty and mischievous things by running through the street knocking anyone that comes in its path and swinging its tail in an amazing manner. Like other dancers, he also has a team of a musical band and a torch carrier in front.
Majipa Lakhey is the demon who dances in the crowd during the festival. The demon dance of Majipa Lakhey is performed on the streets and market squares. The Majipa Lakhey dancer and his retinue of musicians move with much agility. He alongside Pulukisi helps in crowd control before the chariot procession through the streets and crowds spreading the festive mood.
The Sawa Bhakku is a dance group from Halchok, which is at the western edge of the Kathmandu Valley. It makes its rounds along the festival route, stopping at major street squares to perform and receive offerings from devotees. The dancers consist of Bhairava (in blue) holding a sword and his two attendants (in red). The ensemble is also known informally as Dhin Nāli Sintān after the sound of their music.
Devi Pyakhan is from Kilagal, Kathmandu and it is performed at Kilagal, Hanuman Dhoka, Jaisidewal, Bangemuda and Indrachowk. Dancers wearing masks of various gods & goddesses and the name of them Bhairav, Kumari, Chandi, Daitya, Kawan, Beta, & Khya.
Mahakali Pyakhan is from Bhaktapur and it performs at Durbar Square and major street squares around Kathmandu. Khyāh Pyākhan features dancers dressed in a costume representing the Khyah, a fat, hairy ape-like creature. Their dance is marked by antics and a lot of tumbling.
Impact of Unification of Nepal:
Indra Jatra is also a reminder of one of the most important moments in Nepalese history. It was during the festival of Indra Jatra and its ongoing celebrations that Prithvi Narayan Shah the unifier of whole Nepal attacked the Kathmandu valley forcing the then King Jaya Prakash Malla to flee to the neighboring kingdom of Lalitpur. Immediately afterward King Prithvi Narayan Shah sat on the throne of Kathmandu and allowed the procession of festivities and celebration to continue. He even touched the feet of Kumari the living goddess and accepted the prasad from her winning hearts and minds of the local population.
On the last day, the yosin pole erected at Durbar Square is taken down in a ceremony known as Yosin Kwathalegu. It marks the end of the festivities.
Indra Jatra is also the season of open-air theatre productions. Performances depicting social themes, satire, and comedy are held on dance platforms or makeshift stages at market squares all over the Kathmandu Valley on the sidelines of the sacred festival. The plays, known as Dabu Pyākhan, have a history going back centuries. It is in these plays many talents for dance and acting are discovered as well. The most famous example is Maha Jodi (Madan Krishna Shrestha and Haribansha Acharya) who started in Dabu Pyakhan as well.
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