Indra Jatra – The Most Happening Festival of Nepal
Indra Jatra also known as Yenya is Indra Jatra most happening street festivals of Nepal, celebrated in the capital city of the country, the Kathmandu valley. The eight-day long exuberant festival of the Newar community of the Kathmandu Valley falls in September each year. And each year, people celebrate it with the same enthusiasm and zeal like never before. Even the tourists who come to watch the festival are magnetized by the thrill it holds.
Origin of Indra Jatra
There are many accepted versions attached to the origin of Indra Jatra, each having its own significance and logic. However, as the name of the festival itself suggests, it is in honor of the lord named “Indra”.
Hence, the most common story is the one in which Lord Indra was searching/hunting down for a particular flower named “Parijat” (a white flower with an enchanting fragrance) for his mother which was found only in Kathmandu Valley. So, he himself came to Nepal Mandala (the old name of Kathmandu Valley). It is believed that his mother needed to perform a puja with the same flower for which she asked her son to bring. So, off he goes in search of the same; disguised in human form. But unfortunately, he got caught picking the flowers as nobody knew his identity, and was accused of stealing the flowers in a garden in Maru tole,Kathmandu leading the locals to arrest and parade him in the center of the town, with his hands tied.
The elephant- “Phulu Kishi” (Vahan of Indra) descended to find his master too; searched through the streets and alleys of Kathmandu. He wandered around here and there in the narrow alleys of the Valley but failed to find his master for hours and hours. It is only once he figures where his lord is, he passes this news to Lord Indra’s mother and she descends to Earth in order to free her son. This can be seen clearly during the festival and it is one of the most joyful sights of the festival.
Lord Indra is known to be the god of rain, which makes him a very important deity in our Hindu community as for a successful harvest. So, when he was tied up by the locals, to smooth out the incident, Dagini, Indra’s mother, was so worried as her son delayed his return from Earth and came down to earth in order to find and rescue her son. After revealing himself to the masses, he was promptly released. So, Dagini in exchange for local’s cooperation, and for releasing her son, made two promises with the locals of the valley – one, to spread enough dew throughout the winter to ensure a good harvest. And secondly, that she would also take up to heaven those who had died in the previous year. This forms the basis for Indra Jatra every year.
Opening of the Indra Jatra
Indra Jatra 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 from different castes and cultures, even tourists, gather at the Kathmandu Durbar Palace Square and on the surrounding temples.
The celebrations of Indra Jatra include the flagpole ceremony, blood sacrifice, displays of Bhairava’s masks, etc. During Kumari Jatra, the living goddess will take the chariot to march through the streets of Kathmandu. And Nepalese carry out the traditional masked dances.
Kumari Jatra/ Kumari Chariot Procession
On the same day, the Chariot of Ganesh and Bhairav, represented by two young boys, follow the chariot of Goddess Kumari. This Chariot procession is carried out for 3 days only
– Route on Day 1: Basantapur, Maru, Chikanmugal, Jaisidewal, Lagan, Hyumat, Bhimsensthan, Maru, Basantapur.
– Route on Day 2: Basantapur, Pyaphal, Yatkha, Nyata, Tengal, Nhyokha, Nhaikan Tol, Asan, Kel Tol, Indra Chok, Makhan, Basantapur.
– Route on Day 3: Basantapur, Pyaphal, Yatkha, Nyata, Kilagal, Bhedasing, Indra Chok, Makhan, Basantapur.
Exhibitions of Bhairava’s Masks
Another Bhairab out of 8 Bhairabs is the lord Akash Bhairava at Indra Chowk. The Akash Bhairab is said to be the Kirati king Yalambar himself, the first king to establish this nation and even extended towards Tista in the east and Trishuli in the west. He is believed to have gained the powers through tantric worship.
Legend has it that worship of the Bhairav is usually a mark of safety and strength. He symbolizes protection and goodwill for the nation and its people. Every night and morning, different groups gather and sing hymns at Indra Chowk during the festival.
The showcase of Bhairav during the jatra’s sole purpose is to display in front of Kumari’s chariot procession. It signifies that wherever Goddess Kumari goes, she will always be under the protection of God Bhairava. When passing by the Swet Bhairava mask, the living goddess Kumari has to stop to greet him. Here at this time,Newari alcohol (made of fermented rice) starts to pour from Bharirava’s mouth. And locals go crazy and wild over it to get a sip of it. Nepalese believe that getting a sip of it will bring them good luck. Same sight repeats in front of Lord Akash Bhairab too but people are not supposed to drink through his mouth, rather a small fish would be put to swim in the alcohol.
One of the most delightful and fascinating dances during this festival has to be the Lakhey Dance. Lakhey, a demon who is worshiped as God; a caretaker and popularly known as Majipa Lakhey has a very special place in the hearts of the locals. Worshiped as Calm and peaceful Bhairab and only comes out during Indra Jatra for the whole of eight days. So the Lakhey wakes up to protect Kumari and the kharga, and sleeps for the rest 357 days.
Story behind Lakhey
According to the legends, Lakhey iwas said to have fallen in love with a girl from Majipa. So, he transforms himself in human form and enters the city to see the girl he loves. Unfortunately, locals when they come to know his true identity, they captivate him and take him directly to the king of the valley. Upon hearing him, the king presents him a choice that the carnivorous demon will be granted a place to stay in the city if he promises to protect the children from other demons and also participate in the annual Jatra, also known as Indra Jatra. Majipa Lakhey instantly agrees to the proposal and since then he has been residing in the city doing what he promised to be doing to the king.
Mata Biye is another part of Indra Jatra. Where newar community people (the locals) offer butter lamps. During the first day of the chariot festival, the Newars honor their deceased family members of the preceding year by offering small butter lamps along the processional route. This marks that the festival not only marks the celebration but it holds emotional attachments/sentiments of various different things put in together to make it even more special especially to the locals of the city.
The Dasavatar are the ten primary avatars of Lord Vishnu. And this is very beautifully staged every night during the festival by younger generation locals of the city.
Hence, Indra jatra has always been the long-awaited, most vibrant festival of the country. Any people, be it Nepalese itself, or tourists wouldn’t want to miss this time of the year without having been to the heart of the city- Basantapur to have a glance at the best festivals the country has to offer and witness the week long happening festival of Kathmandu Valley. The chariot procession, the beautiful cultural dances of deities and demons, the elephant desperately searching his master, representations of Lord Indra tied up by the locals, the big Bhairabs, its music, the traditional instruments across the city and many many more around the world heritage site of Kathmandu Durbar Square and nearby areas is a must-visit before anything else. There will be hundreds of participants to see the festival every year. Yet, the crowd, the vibe there will bring in much more excitement all together.
As unique as the name it is known for, the story behind each thing you see during the festival is even more interesting. It is recommended to understand the story behind and then actually see it live makes it even more thrilling for each detailing can be then lived by the person himself if so.
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