Where: – Kathmandu, Nepal
The Indra Jatra Festival, which is also called as ‘Yenya’ (‘Kathmandu Festival’) in Nepali, is the biggest street festival celebrated in the capital city of Nepal. The festival is comprised of many religious activities adorned with the vibrant folkloric masked dances & zestful processions of deities. All the city roads get flanked by the holy images & montages of Hindu deity- Lord Indra, the god of rain & the king of heaven.
This colorful festival lasts for 8 days & includes many other rituals, including the ceremony in the memories of the deceased forefathers & a spectacular event called ‘Kumari Jatra’, which is the chariot procession of the living goddess called ‘Kumari’. For the eight days of the celebration, the adorable city of Kathmandu gets overflowed with the joy & energy. Like most of the festivals in Nepal, both Hindus & Buddhists participate in this fete with equal joy & intensity.
Why They Celebrate? The festival of ‘Indra Jatra’ was started by the King ‘Gunakamdeva’ to celebrate the founding of the Kathmandu in the 10th century, whereas, ‘Kumari Jatra’ celebration began in the mid-18th century. ‘Indra Jatra’ is celebrated to commemorate a Hindu mythological legend related to the Lord Indra who is considered as the god of rain & the king of heaven.
As per the legend, Indra descended down to the earth in search of a white flower named ‘Parijat’ (Night Jasmine) required by his mother for performing rituals. While plucking the flowers at ‘Maruhiti’, Indra was caught by locals. As people were not able to identify Indra as he had dressed himself as a farmer, the captured Indra was brought to Maru & was put on a podium near the town square in tied condition with hands stretched outwards.
His mother then descended to earth looking for her lost son; she roamed through the city & soon discovered that he was captured for stealing flowers. His mother then readily revealed his identity & the locals then released him very gladly. Appeased mother then promised the locals to supply ample dew throughout the winter required for enriched growth of crops.
How They Celebrate?
The festival begins with the erection of ‘Yosin’ or ‘Linga’ which is a holy pole that represents Indra’s flag that he received from Lord Vishnu for protection. The pole is erected in the courtyard of the ancient Royal Palace at ‘Hanuman Dhoka’ in a ceremony called ‘Yosin Thanegu’. On the same day, another event called ‘Upaku Wanegu’ is also observed wherein, the people offer homage to their recently deceased by flanking the roads with butter lamps while marching along a circular route around the historic parts of the city. This ritual was supposedly started in the reign of the King Mahendra Malla.
Throughout the eight days of the festival, all the houses in Kathmandu display the images & montages of the Lord Indra & ‘Bhairva’ which is the frightening appearance of another Hindu deity, Lord Shiva. The masks of ‘Shwet Bhiarava’ erected in ‘Darbar Square’ & the famous ‘Akash Bhairava’ erected at ‘Indra Chowk’, are the largest masks of ‘Bhairava’ which keep their horrified vigil over the processions as well as on the celebrations till the end of the festival. The massive mask of ‘Akash Bhairava’ spouts ‘Jaad’ & ‘Raksi’ (local Nepali liquor made up of rice) & sipping this liquor is considered to bring good fortune in the coming year!
On every night, the crowd witness delightful performances of various masked folk dancers who perform on the streets as well as near ‘Hanuman Dhoka’ presenting the finest display of traditional Nepal culture. The masks of the dancers represent Hindu mythological deities & demons whereas their dances are the enactment of various important events described in the mythology. ‘Majipa Lakhey’, ‘Sawa Bhakku’, ‘Devi Pykhan’ & ‘Mahakali Pykhan’ are few of the most famous masked dances which thoroughly entertain the spectators. A tableau named ‘Dashavtar’ that represents the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu is also performed in front of the ‘Kumari Temple’ on every night.
During the celebration of Indra Jatra, another folkloric chariot festival called ‘Kumari Jatra’ is also celebrated for three days. ‘Kumari Jatra’ is celebrated for three consecutive days, which consists of carnival-like procession of three highly decorated chariots carrying human illustrations of the deities Ganesh, Bhairava & Kumari. The chariots are accompanied by various musical bands & folk artists as the procession roams through different parts of Kathmandu.
The festival also boasts vibrant enactment of the legend of Lord Indra in the form of a tradition named- ‘Baumata’. The wooden effigy of the holy snake on which row of oil lamps are placed, is carried on the shoulders & taken along the festive route. This activity represents the act of Indra’s mother who roamed around the city in search of her son. Montages of Indra with outstretched hands are mounted on tall podiums to represent the bounded Indra. The whole activity is performed near ‘Maru’ & is held on the first day of ‘Kumari Jatra’.
Several other processions also take place throughout the city for the entire duration of the festival. This spectacular jamboree comes to an end on the final day when the great pole (Yosin) is lowered, which is later carried down to the river. Thus, Nepal’s most astonishing vibrant street festival comes to an end & the Nepalis return back to their work from the next day onward reviving the great time they had for the whole last week!