What is a Yenya Punhi?
Yenya Punhi, more commonly known as Indra Jatra is a festival in Nepal primarily celebrated by the people of the Kathmandu Valley. Even among the people of Kathmandu Valley, this festival is more popular in Kathmandu district when compared to the other two districts in the valley. This festival is celebrated for 8 days. The Yenya is celebrated in the lunar calendar. The date varies every month as a result but it starts Bhadra Dwadashi and ends in Ashwin Chaturdashi.
This festival lasts for eight days and consist of two events. In the first event, Indra Jatra the highlights have consisted of the masked dances of deities and demons. The demons are in general commonly known as Lakhey. Despite commonly being called Lakheys it consists of a few different dances. They are Lakhey Naach, Mahakali Naach, Lusiki Naach, and Dash Avatar. The dances it displays sacred images to thank the Hindu God Indra for the rain.
Indra is the god of rain as well as the king of heaven and due to this festival following monsoon, it is a common belief that the first half is to thank God.
The second event is the Kumari Jatra. In this part, the chariot living Goddess Kumari is presented in a Chariot in the streets of Kathmandu. In this procession event, three chariots are pulled along the old and specified route in the Kathmandu streets. They are the human representations of Goddess Kumari, Lord Ganesh, and Lord Bhairava. As with any Jatras that follow any hint of consisting Lakheys, this too includes dances done by Lakheys and other classical dances.
Legend behind the Yenya Punhi
Since this festival has two events which seemingly are not related at all, there are two legends surrounding this festival as well. The reason why this is called one event is most likely because they fall back to back and overlap a bit and it would be inconvenient to call them separate.
There are many legends surrounding the start of the Indra Jatra. One of the legends says that one day young Indra came to earth. He was disguised as a farmer to search for Parijat. The reason for this was that his mother, Dakini needed it to perform a ritual. Legend says that he was caught while trying to take the flower by the owner of the Garden.
Not knowing that he was the god, he was bound and imprisoned in Kathmandu. Soon Daikini (Mother) became worried and came looking for him. They soon realized that the kid was the God Indra and agree to release Indra. Yet they put a condition that he would return to the earth every year during that time and be displayed as a prisoner for 7 days. Along with that they also made them promise that he would provide enough rain (dew during winter) for the crops. These festivals basically show the Captured Indra. The mother agrees and took his sin back. So each year, Indra is presented to humans as a captive in order to ensure harvest in winter all year round.
There are a lot of legends surrounding the Kumari Jatra. Most of them surround King Jayaprakash Malla. He was the last Nepalese king of the Malla Dynasty (12th–17th century CE).
So back in the days the king and his friend, the goddess Taleju, approached his chambers late one night. He was playing tripasa, a dice game when the arrived. The goddess used to come along every night to play the game. The only condition was that the king should not tell anyone about their meetings
One night, the king’s wife followed him to his chamber in order to find out who the king was meeting so often. The wife was being wife here so it was not her fault. But the thing here is she saw Taleju and due to this the goddess was angered. The angered goddess told the king that if he wanted to see her again he would have to search for her among the Newari (Shakya) community of Ratnawali. The goddess said that she would be reincarnated among them. It basically found her or let the people of his country die. So make amends with her, King Jayaprakash Malla left the palace in search of the young girl who was possessed by Taleju’s spirit.
The end result was that each year, a virgin girl from the Shakya community would be chosen as Goddess Kumari. Another myth is that the girl has to be virgin her entire life or harm will befall on the entire family of the guy who broke her virginity.