Indra Jatra – Festival of Nepal
The Festival for thanksgiving to Rain God
There are numerous festivals celebrated in Nepal. When it comes to Indra Jatra, it is a unique one. It is celebrated with a huge procession in Kathmandu Valley, especially by Newar communities in order to please and thank Lord Indra for the rain in the earth. The other reason is to honor Lord Bhairab, who destroyed the evil and is one of the forms of Lord Shiva. Indra Jatra is celebrated for eight days starting from the day of Bhadra dwadasi to Ashwin Krishna chaturthi. It is mainly celebrated in three districts of Nepal: Kathmandu, Kavrepalanchowk and Dolakha.
About Indra Jatra
Indra Jatra literally means the procession for pleasing Lord Indra for rain. Indra is the King of Heaven as well as Lord of Rain while Jatra means procession or parade. It is a way of thanksgiving to Lord Indra for making rain on time. This festival also marks the welcoming of Autumn season.
In the early times, the Kantipur (now Kathmandu) was called as "Yenya Dey" by Newar community and Jatra as "Yenya". So it was actually called as "Yenya Punhi" instead of Indra Jatra. During this festival, they used to light up the diyo (clay lamp) called as "Dalucha" and offer Samya Baji as Prasad. The main devotees are the farmers as they pray for the rain on time for the good harvest. Indra Jatra starts with the erection of wooden pole i.e. Lingo at Basantapur Durbar Square, just in front of the Hanuman Dhoka Palace. It is then followed by the procession along with the Chariot of Goddess Kumari, through the main roads of Kathmandu valley.
Myth, Stories, Legend behind Indra Jatra
Lord Indra is the King of Heaven and God of Rain. He once came to earth to get Parijat flower (Night Jasmine) for hist mother, Basundhara as she was performing a ritual. So, he disguised as a farmer. He was plucking the Parijat flower at Maruhiti, the people caught him as a thief. He was bound and put on a display in the Maru square of Kathmandu. As he didn’t return for long time, mother Basundhara also came to Kathmandu and disclosed his identity. The people apologized and released him immediately. For this gratefulness, Mother Basundhara promised to provide enough dew during the winter for a rich harvest. That's why after celebration of Indra Jatra, the foggy morning starts.
Another story is about a war between gods and demons where the gods achieved the victory and the Indra Dhwaja was worshipped as a victory banner. The Indra Dhwaja was installed and since then it is worshipped with all the rituals in a traditional manner for bringing happiness and prosperity throughout the country. Historically, the significance of Indra Jatra is the Unification day of Nepal as King Prithivi Narayan Shah acquired the triumph over King Jaya Prakash Malla of Kantipur.
On this day, a chariot procession takes place where the Living Goddess, Kumari, Bhairav and Ganesh will stay. This chariot will be taken to the main streets of the Kathmandu. At the evening, the Manandhar community worship and utter Nanicha Yan, and announce the end of Indra Jatra festival. The Lingo is taken down and floated away in the holy Bagmati river.
Lingo-the wooden pole is one of the important and main part of this festival. This erection of pole also called Yosin Thanegu in Newari language and "Indradhwajotthan" in Nepali language. The wooden pole is usually brought from the forest near to Nala of Kavre district, 29km east of Kathmandu. Then the pole is dragged to Durbar Square where it is erected and the ceremony is called Yosin Kwathalegu. It is then accompanied by the display of Akash Bhairav.
On the first day of Indra Jatra, known as Upaku Wngeu, the participants or devotees march around the different parts of the city by holding incense sticks and butter lamp to honor the deceased family members. The procession begins around 5 o'clock in the evening followed by different sub-celebrations or dances as follows:
- Majipa Lakhey
- Pulu Kishi (Elephant Dance)
- Sawan Bhaku
- Devi Pykhan
- Mahakali Pykhan
Majipa Lakhey is the Peaceful Bhairava form who is the protector of the children. This dance is performed on the main streets. Majipa Lakhey with Pulu Kishi control the crowd ahead of chariot procession. Actually, the word "Majipa" is derived from the word "Manjupattan" meaning "the city formed by MAnjushree" and "Lakhey" represents a carnivorous demon. Newar community members participate in this dance.
Pulu Kishi (Elephant Dance)
"Pulu Kishi" means elephant in Newari language. It is the belief that elephant is the transport or carried of Lord Indra. The residents from Kilagal tole prepare a white elephant and carry along the streets displaying the elephant. During the procession, the Elephant does some naughty and mischievous things and swing the tail to create the funny moments. The masked dancer performs with his musical band and has a torch carrier.
A group of performers from Halchowk consisting of Bhairav in blue outfit carrying a sword and his two attendants in red suit perform this dance. Likewise other dances, this dance also goes round the same route, stops by at major street squares and junctions, perform and receive the offerings from the devotees.
This dance mainly aims to provide ailments and peace to those people who are suffering from diarrhea. The performers wear masks of different gods and goddesses namely Kumari, Bhairav, Chandi, Kawan, Daitya, Beta and Khya. This dance is performed at several junctions like Kilagal, Indra Chowk, Bangemuda, Jaisi dewal and Hanuman Dhoka.
The main highlight of this Mahakali Pykhan dance is the Khyah, who dresses like a fat, hairy ape-like humanoid creature. The dance is performed in the Bhakatapur Durbar Square and major streets of Kathmandu valley. During this dance, there are lots of tumbling and falling to fill the dance with fun and humor.
Highlights of the procession:
The living Goddess of Nepal, Kumari is one of the main highlights of Indra Jatra festival. This tradition of Kumari chariot was initiated during the reign of King Jaya Prakash Malla. Three chariots are being pulled on this special day, consisting of Goddess Kumari, God Bhairav and God Ganesh in separate chariots accompanied by the musical bands, in different places of Kathmandu for regular three days.
On the very first day, the chariots start from the southern part of the town. This day is known as Kwaneya. The second is the full moon day (Yenya Punhi) and the chariots are pulled through the northern part of the town till Asan chowk. On the last day called Nanichaya, the chariots along with the procession will pass through the central Kilagal.
The routes of the chariot are as follows:
First Day (Kwaneya): Basantapur, Maru, Chikanmugal, Jaisidewal, Legan, Hyumat, Bhimsensthan, Maru, Basantapur
Second Day (Yenya Punhi): Basantapur, Pyaphal, Nyata, Tengal, Nhyokha, Nhaikan Tol, Asan, Kel Tol, Indra Chowk, Makhan, Basantapur.
Third Day (Nanichaya): Basantapur, Pyaphal, Yatkha, Nyata, Kilagal, Bhedasing, Indra Chowk, Makhan, Basantapur.
Mata Biye means offering butter lamps in the honors of the deceased members of the family. Newar community follows all the customs and traditions. This procession also has a specific route starting at around 6 o'clock in the evening.
Route: Maru, Pyaphal, Yatkha, Nyata, Tengal, Nhyokha, Nhaikan Tol, Asan, Kel Tol, Indra Chowk, Makhan, Hanuman Dhoka, Maru, Chikanmugal, Jaisidewal, Lagan, Hyumata, Bhimsensthan, Maru.
In this Dagin procession, one performer acts as Lord Indra's mother wandering around in the search of her son, Lord Indra. This procession begins at around 8 o'clock in the night after the Kumari Jatra ends.
Route:Maru, Pyaphal, Yatkha, Nyata, Tengal, Nhyokha, Nhaikan Tol, Asan, Kel Tol, Indra Chowk, Makhan, Hanuman Dhoka, Maru, Chikanmugal, Jaisidewal, Lagan, Hyumata, Bhimsensthan, Maru.
This Bau Mata procession is organized by the Manandhars of Newar community. Long reeds are used to make a structure representing the holy snake. Then it is carried out on the shoulder of the participants after making an effigy. A row of oil lamps are placed on the snake. The procession of Bau Mata commences at around 9 o'clock in the night from the southern side of the Kasthamandap.
Route: Maru, Pyaphal, Yatkha, Nyata, Tengal, Nhyokha, Nhaikan Tol, Kel Tol, Indra Chowk, Makhan, Hanuman Dhoka, Maru, Chikanmugal, Jaisidewal, Lagan, Hyumata, Bhimsensthan, and Maru.
Finally, Indra Jatra is an eight-day long festival celebrated since the Lichhavi period. The masked dancers dance, drink local alcohol (Raksi) and perform as per their masks of deities and demons. The display of Bhairav attracts the devotees and enjoy the procession more. Every night, people gather and sing bhajans and hymns in the honor of Lord Indra to make Rain and help to keep the land fertile. The celebration of eight consecutive days are tiring but full of fun, humor, togetherness and everyone pray for the welfare of everyone.
Author: Step On Himalaya
Date: 13th September, 2019