The word Indra refers to the king of Heaven and the god of rain, while Jatra refers to procession. INDRAJATRA is undoubtedly one of the most popular and joyous festivals celebrated in Kathmandu in honor of the Hindu god Lord Indra. This biggest street festival takes place for eight days long and falls in the month of September every year. As per the Nepali Calendar, this festival commences from the day of the Bhadra Dwadashi to Krishna Chaturdashi, every year. The festival is believed to be started by King Gunakamadeva to commemorate the establishment of the city of Kathmandu in the 10th century.
Story Behind INDRAJATRA Festival
One can find many myths and stories behind the evolution of this festival. One of the most popular and exciting myth is that once Indra’s mother Dakini needed a special white flower called Parijat to perform a religious ritual. So, Lord Indra disguised as a human being descend to the earth in search of Parijat flower for his mother. While he was trying to pick the flower from one of the garden, he was caught by the owner and was accused of the flower theft. Then as the punishment, Lord Indra was tied and was not allowed to go back home.
Later, his mother Dakini came to earth in search for Indra and found him tied by the villagers. She then requested the villagers to set her son free. Then villagers recognized Lord Indra and put the condition that he should come to the earth every year during that very time of the year, and he will be displayed as a prisoner for seven days. Also, the farmers made Dakini promise to provide them with enough dew during the winter for better productivity and also take the deceased members of their family to heaven with her.
This is why this festival is celebrated every year to express gratitude towards Lord Indra and Dakini for the decent harvest as well as commemorate the deceased members of the family in the past year.
How is this festival celebrated?
Indrajatra festival starts with the erection of wooden pole (locally known as Linga or Yasingha) that is made up of pine at the premises of Basantapur Durbar Square in front of the old Hanuman Dhoka Palace. This wooden pole is specially brought for the festival from the forest near Nala that is about 29 km east of Kathmandu.
The Indra Jatra festival is celebrated by taking out the chariots of living Goddess Kumari in procession to thank Indra along with chariot of Lord Ganesh and Lord Bhairab.
On the first day , the chariots are pulled from Basantapur and through Maru, Chikanmugal, Jaisidewal, Lagan, Brahma Marga, Wonde, Hyumata, Kohity, Bhimsensthan, and back to Basantapur.
On the second day, the chariots are pulled from Basantapur, through Pyaphal, Yatkha, Nyata, Tengal, Nhyokha, Nhaikan Tol, Asan, Kel Tole, Indra Chowk, Makhan and back to Basantapur.
On the third and last day of the procession, the chariots are pulled from Basantapur through Pyaphal, Yatkha, Nyata, Kilagal, Bhedasing, Indra Chowk, Makhan, back to Basantapur. It is interesting to know that the chariot of Kumari has been pulled by an all-women team on the third day of the procession.
The procession of Indrajatra Festival consists of:
• Majipa Lakhey
• Sawan Bhaku
• Ganesh (Chariot)
• Bhairab (Chariot)
• Kumari (Chariot)
Thus for eight days, there is a display of Swet Bhairab and various deities in the town and various dances as well as many musical activities are performed in the street of Kathmandu with abudance of joy and enthusiam.
In the end of the festival, the Linga (Yasingh) is pulled down and taken to the confluence of Bagmati and Bishnumati in Teku to be put to rest.
What is special in Newars community during this festival?
Newars of Kathmandu are very rich in their culture and tradition. Likewise, this Indrajatra festival is one of the most important and special festival for Newars community of Nepal. In Nepal Bhasa Ye means “Kathmandu” and Nya means “celebration”, together it means “celebration in Kathmandu”. During the festival, we can observe various decorated Samaybaji(traditional dish) placed at various parts of the town by local Newars community. This Samya Baji is eaten as holy food (Prasad) in Newar community. Thus, Newars of Kathmandu valley celebrate this festival as Yenya Punhi with great enthusiasm, special family gathering functions, different cultural dances, delicious cuisines, local wines and music.
Major Highlights of the festival
- Chariots procession of Living Goddess Kumari, Lord Ganesh and Lord Bhairab.
- A variety of special deities dance performances around the Hanuman Dhoka area such as Sawa Bhakku Bhairav from Halchowk, Majipa Lakhey from Majipat. Devi Nach, and Yeravat Jhathi (Pulukisi) from Naradevi, Mahakali, and Kathi Maka Nach from Bhaktapur.
- Display of decorated Samaybaji consisting of different food items at various locations of town in Kathmandu.
- Presense of President of Nepal, His Excellency the President, to observe the Kumari Jatra(mandatory festival custom).
- Dasavatar Naach, a performance depicting ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu is put on display at Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple, near Kumari Ghar for all eight days of the Festival.
- Display of Swet Bhairava and other deities at various parts of town.
The end of the Indra Jatra festival marks the beginning of Dashain and Tihar celebrated with great enthusiasm not only in the Kathmandu Valley but throughout the country.
This Year’s Indrajatra Festival 2020
Indra Jatra is one of the much awaited annual festival of Kathmandu. It is the grand celebration that carries great historical as well as cultural significance and requires a lot of preparations. That is why there is a special committee, Indra Jatra Bewasthapan Samiti appointed to take care of only this festival. Indrajatra Bewasthapan Samiti is responsible for all kinds of arrangements required of the festival and it looks after all the necessary preparation for the Jatra from the erection of the lingo to safe procession of the chariots around the city and all other festival dances and events carried out during eight day long festival.
However, the current situation due to the Covid-19 pandemic has put all the religious activities in dilemma as the effects of this deadly virus have been felt gravely all across Nepal. The pandemic has already put halt to many important cultural events like Bisket Jatra, Seto Machindranath Jatra, Sindoor Jatra etc which are either cancelled or postponed.
This year, Indrajatra Festival falls on 1 September 2020. The chairman of Indra Jatra Bayastapan Samiti, Gautam Shakya, says that even though the festival is a closeby, preparations have started and talks are ongoing with the state regarding how to conduct the festival and looking into different, safer way to do it. While this biggest festival event is already around the corner, we will need to wait and see how this new crisis plans out before the festival starts.
While the Indrajatra festival holds many attractions, what is your favorite part that makes you wait for this amazing festival every year? Would love to hear from you in the comment section below.