Indra Jatra in Kathmandu

Indra Jatra in Kathmandu

Author: Himalayan Trekkers

Sep 18, 2021

The Indra Jatra, famously known as Yenya (in Nepal Bhasa), kicks off a series of joyful events for the Newar community, especially in the Kathmandu Valley. Being particularly celebrated in Kathmandu Valley, the meaning of Yenya in Nepal Bhasa translates to “Kathmandu Festival”. It also marks the starting of the seasons of festivals i.e. Autumn. This eight-day street event includes everything from installing a wooden flagpole in front of Hanuman Dhoka of Kathmandu Durbar Square to a procession with the Living Goddess, Kumari in a chariot. Kumari Jatra, Indra Jatra, and Bhairava Jatra are the three rites that make up the Indra Jatra celebration.

Indra Jatra was instituted in the 10th century by King Gunakamadeva to commemorate the founding of Kathmandu. Kumari Jatra, which means Kumari's chariot celebration, falls on the same day as Indra Jatra. It began under the reign of King Jaya Prakash Malla of the Malla dynasty in 1756 AD.

The people of the Newari community celebrate this auspicious occasion by inviting their relatives and families for a get-together or ‘Bhoj’ and eating Samaj Baji (authentic traditional Newari dish) together. Each night of Indra Jatra, people surround the ancient palace of Kathmandu Durbar Square with Mata Biye (butter lamps) in the memory of their late relatives and for the peace of the departed soul. This festival is celebrated to honor and pray to the rain deity, Lord Indra for a good harvesting season. The holiday season begins with Indra Jatra, which is preceded by the main festivals of Dashain and Tihar.

The history behind Indra Jatra/Yenya

According to Hindu mythology, Indra, the King of Heaven and Rain God, once came to Kathmandu Valley disguised as a farmer in search of a certain flower named ‘Parijat’ (night-flowering Jasmine) for his mother to utilize in a rite. He was apprehended by the locals while plucking the flower and imprisoned on theft charges. Dakini, Indra's mother, descended from heaven after the celestial elephants sent from heaven failed to find their master. The guards released Indra after his true identity was revealed. As a gesture of thankfulness, Dakini vowed to take the souls of their deceased loved ones to paradise and promised enough dew for a bountiful harvest. Hence, Indra Jatra is celebrated annually up to the date to honor the recently deceased ones and pay homage to Dakini and Lord Indra.

Celebration of Indra Jatra

Indra Jatra is celebrated annually from Bhadra Dwadasi to Ashwin Krishna Chaturdasi. The Indra Jatra celebrations begin with a tall pole-raising ceremony of the Linga (Yashing) outside of Hanuman Dhoka of Basantapur Durbar Square, which is surrounded by hundreds of worshippers. The pole is placed in the palace square and hung from it is a colorful flag that was presented to Lord Indra by Lord Vishnu. At the foot of the pole lies an image of Lord Indra and his celestial golden elephant both confined and enshrined in a small cage. As the pole is placed in its place, music starts playing along with people dancing, and the canon fires.

Buffalo, goats, roosters, and other animals are sacrificed in temples as an offering to the gods and goddesses. Likewise, this festival is no less than a colorful carnival. There's a lot of dances representing the demons Dagini and Lakhe, mortal incarnations of Lord Vishnu, people dressed as deities, and demons reenacting the mythology of Indra and the festival of Yenya, folk dramas, and a dancing elephant made up of bamboo and painted cloths. Similarly, Lord Kumari’s chariot followed by two chariots of Lord Ganesh and Bhairav is flowed by a massive number of devotees including the high profile government officials and the King himself.

The face of white Bhairava, which is only displayed once a year will be exhibited for three days to bystanders. On the particular days and nights of the festival, dances such as Lakhe Aju, Mahakali Naach, Halchowk Bhairab, Phul Khushi, and Devi Kyakhan are performed. The Dash Avatar, ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu is displayed every night for straight eight days which is truly magnificent to watch. Similarly, the Linga is of great significance and spiritual powers and after the completion of the Jatra, it is taken down to the confluence of two holy rivers of Bagmati and Bishnumati river in Teku to burn it with the perpetual flame of the Bhairav temple.

Celebration of Kumari Jatra

Indra Jatra is one 13 times of the year when the Goddess Kumari leaves the seclusion of the Kumari Ghar. The chariot procession of Kumari, the Living Goddess is dragged along with two other golden chariots carrying the human depictions of Lord Ganesh and Lord Bhairava. All three chariots are dragged through the narrow alleys of Kathmandu manually with ten or more individuals.

The chariot procession is accompanied by classical dancers, musicians with loud musical instruments, and masked dancers known as Lakhey, who dress up as deities and demons in traditional costumes and masks. The procession will only stop in front of 12-foot masked white Bhairav for Kumari to greet him. The parade begins around 3 p.m. and people march around with chariots to cherish the soul of their deceased relatives.

Bhairav Mask Display

Another major attraction of Indra Jatra is the valley’s Bhairav masks. This includes the Aakash Bhairav and the most dangerous face of Lord Shiva White Bhairav or Swet Bhairav. The white Bhairav is displayed in front of Goddess Kumari’s Chariot procession. This Bhairav is only shown to the public once a year and it lasts up to three days. The White Bhairav is huge and bejeweled with the gilded mask having a huge crystal. Alongside it, the silver mask that the great king of Nepal Yalambar wore to the war is also displayed. Apart from the huge Bhairav mask of Hanuman Dhoka, all the alleys of Kathmandu Valley are filled with the locally-made Bhairav mask signifying that Goddess Kumari is protected by the Bhairav wherever she goes.

After Goddess Kumari stops to greet and pay respect to the White Bhairav Mask, ‘Jad’, typical Newari beer starts pouring from the mask. It is highly believed by the devotees that taking a sip of the Jad will bring them good luck. Similarly, a goldfish is kept in advance, and also believed that the one that gets the goldfish while sipping the Newari beer will earn good fortune and luck throughout the year.

Yenya is a fusion of the Indra Jatra festival and the Kumari Jatra festival, which honors the Living Goddess. Many people gather around Basantapur Durbar Square to watch this thrilling street festival with masked dancers and classical musicians.

There is a very famous saying that there are more festivals in Nepal than there are days in a year. That being said, several vibrant festivals embracing rich history and culture are celebrated here with music, dances, delicious food, and lots of laughs. A Festival tour is an amazing way to enjoy and learn about these festivals. To get more knowledge about Festivals and Festival Tours in Nepal, please follow the link. 

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