Indra Jatra: witness Nepal’s greatest street festival
More than a mere celebration, festivals are the windows that let’s you peek into the greatness of a country’s culture. And the array of exclusive festive celebration goes almost throughout the year. With the bearing of over 120 ethnic groups, no wonder the festivals are unique and abundance. As quirky as it may seem, they are the identity of Nepali culture that speaks of our belief and practices rooted since centuries and here we are, in a quest to know one of such exclusive festival of Nepal.
Indra Jatra is such a unique festival that celebrates living, death, and God; not an everyday thing to witness, is it? What more exciting is, it is the greatest street festival in Nepal, where even an audience can be a participant.
INDRA JATRA – WHAT FESTIVAL IS IT ACTUALLY?
One of the greatest celebration it might be, but Indra Jatra is mainly observed by Newar Community in Kathmandu. Indra meaning Lord Indra (King of Heaven) and Jatra meaning celebration, the very name of the festival cues what the celebration is about.
Also, known as Yenya, the meaning implies “celebration inside Kathmandu.”
Kathmandu Durbar Square is the main venue for the celebration, where the two main chariot procession takes place; Indra Jatra and Kumari Jatra. The exuberant festival is further marked by masked dances of deities and demons and display of sacred images of deities including Indra’s.
Along with the vibrant celebration, the festival is also the occasion when deceased family members are remembered. The eight-day long festival of Indra Jatra is one of the unique celebrations to witness in Nepal.
WHY IS INDRA JATRA CELEBRATED?
The legend on a celebration of Indra Jatra dates back to the times of Gods; a rather interesting story.
It is said that Indra (Hindu Aryan God of Heaven) descended to earth in search of parijat (Night jasmine) for her mother to perform a ritual. However, he was caught in the act and inducted as a thief.
While in heaven, his mother got worried about his delay and came to Kathmandu wandering around the street looking for his son.
Upon the realization of what they have done, the people were appalled and released Indra immediately. Although there is no astute data, it is believed Indra Jatra is being celebrated since then.
HOW IS INDRA JATRA CELEBRATED?
Indra Jatra is the very celebration by the people of Kathmandu of the whole legend through various ceremonies and events.
When villager released Indra, Basundhara (Indra’s mother) promised enough dews in coming months for good crops and take back all those who have died in the past year with her in heaven. That’s why people honor deceased family member in the past during Indra Jatra.
The beginning of the festival is marked with Yosin Thanegu, a huge and specifically selected linga (pole), which is carried via Tundikhel and is erected outside Hanuman Dhoka at Kathmandu Durbar Square.
As chariot procession is one of the main events of Indra Jatra, three chariots carrying a human representation of Kumari, Ganesh, and Bhairb takes place.
In the meantime, images and representation of Indra as a captive are displayed and sacrifices of animals like goats and roosters are made. While at the same time, the horrific face of Seto Bahirab are put on display and for the next three days, his gruesome visage stares the whole proceeding.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN EVENTS OF INDRA JATRA?
Kumari Jatra coincides with Indra Jatra, and for its celebration, three golden temple chariots are assembled in Durbar Square outside Kumari Bahal. Then around afternoon, as the audience grows larger, two boys depicting Ganesh and Bhairb comes out of Kumari Bahal and ride each chariot as an attendant to Goddess Kumari.
Then appears Kumari, either walking on a rolled-out carpet or being attendants so that her feet don’t touch the ground.
As the chariot moves, Kumari is greeted by president form the balcony of an old palace. Then the chariot moves out of Durbar Square towards Hanuman Dokha, where it stops in front of Seto Bhairb, and Kumari greets the image.
During that moment, beer starts to pour from Bhairb mouth and getting a sip of it is believed to bring good fortune.
On the first day of chariot procession, Newar honors their deceased family members in the past year offering small butter lamps along the processional route, as the event, Mata Biye itself means “offer butter lamps.”
With the start of the procession around 6 pm, people also present butter lamps to relatives and friends on the way as a sign of respect.
Adhering to the legend of Indra Jatra, the procession of goddess Dagin re-enacts Indra’s mother wandering around the town searching her son. Accompanied by the musical band as well, it takes places when the chariot of Kumari returns to Maru.
Another interesting event in Indra Jatra is Bau Mata, a long representation of a holy snake made of reeds on which a row of oil lamps are placed. Then, that effigy is suspended from poles carried on shoulders and taken along the festival route.
Indra Jatra showcases a large display of images of different deities as an honor to them. Dasavatar meaning “ten incarnations” of Vishnu is also shown on the temple steps in front of Kumari house every night.
Likewise, giant masks of Bhairab (a terrifying aspect of Shiva) are kept in display in various places in Kathmandu throughout the eight days. Seto Bahirab at Durbar Sware and Akash Bairab at Indra Chowk are the largest ones.
Another popular one is Indraraj Dyah with outstretched hands bound with rope on a tall platform at Maru near Durbar Square and Indra Chowk, Kathmandu.
Sawa Bhakku dance comprises Bhairb (in blue attire) holding a sword and his two attendants (in red attire). It is performed by a dance group from Hal Chowk that goes around the street while making an occasional stop in major street square to perform and receive offerings from devotees.
The dance is performed wearing masks of various gods and goddesses including Kumari, Bhairab, Chandi, Daitya, Kawan, Beta and Khya through the streets of Kilagal, Bangemuda, Hanuman Dhoka, Indrachowk, and Jaisidewal.
Pulu Kisi Dance
Pulu Kisi is an elephant carrier of Indra, who, through the dance, goes through the street searching his imprisoned master.
The dance is quite exciting when Pulu Kisi goes naughty and mischievous from time to time, and people watch it admiringly. It is performed by residents of Kilagal tole accompanied by a team of the musical band.
Majipa Lakhey is alongside Pulu Kisi, who helps control the crowd before chariot procession. It is a demon dance performed on the streets and market squares of Kathmandu Durbar Square.
Mahakali Pykhan features dancers dressed in costume representing Khyah, a fat, hairy ape-like creature, which involves antics and a lot of tumbling.
WHEN IS INDRA JATRA 2019?
Indra Jatra is celebrated according to the lunar calendar on its eleventh month so that the date can vary. And Indra Jatra 2019 officiates from 10th to 17th of September, in which 13th is a major celebration. So, do visit the Kathmandu Durbar Square and have a little know of Nepal’s unique culture.
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