Home Features Indra Jatra: Showcasing Nepal’s Indigenous Festivals
September 6, 2022

Indra Jatra: Showcasing Nepal’s Indigenous Festivals

Special Features:

  • Festival of chariot processions
  • Masked dances (Lakhe dance)
  • Religious enactments
  • Living Goddess Kumari becomes the center of celebrations
  • Lights and colors
  • Huge mass participation in dragging the wooden chariot in the procession
  • Involvement of the Newar community
  • Chariot procession passes through various parts of Kathmandu
  • Eight day-long festival

Indra Jatra is one of the most exciting indigenous cultural festivals celebrated among the Indigenous Newar community in Kathmandu valley that usually falls in the month of September each year.

The festival time for Indra Jatra

This year, September 9 is set aside for this festival which is one of the most exciting as well as revered festivals of the Newar community of Kathmandu valley. The festival also marks the beginning of a month-long festival season of autumn. It begins with the erection of a wooden pole made of pine at Basantapur Square in front of the old Hanuman Dhoka Palace.

For the pole-raising ceremony, hundreds of spectators gather at the Palace Square and in the surrounding temples. The chariot of Kumari, the Living Goddess, is taken out in a procession through the main streets of Kathmandu.

Lankhey dancers (masked dancers) dance on the streets to the tunes of drums almost every evening. Indra Jatra is celebrated as a festival to commemorate the time when Indra came down from heaven in human form to look for an herb. Kathmandu Durbar Square and ancient palace buildings are aglow with oil wicks on each night of Indra Jatra.

Each night on the platform in front of the temple of the Living Goddess, there is an enactment depicting the ten earthly incarnations of Lord Vishnu. The large image of Akash Bhairab’s head is put on display out in the open directly facing his temple at Indra Chowk.

In the afternoon of the day before the full moon, ecstatic mobs gather near Hanuman Dhoka Palace for the long-awaited Living Goddess’ chariot procession to have a glimpse of the revered little Newar girl who has been deified as Kumari representing Goddess Taleju.

The chariot of the Kumari followed by two other smaller chariots carrying a representative of Ganesh and Bhairav is taken to different parts of the old Kathmandu in procession through the narrow alleys where people gather to watch and pay homage.

The festival of Indra Jatra ends with the lowering of the (lingam) pole bearing Indra’s flag amidst religious ceremonies.

Indra Jatra is also an exuberant festival to honor the recently deceased one in the family and to pay homage to the Hindu god Indra and his mother Dagini, to ensure they bless the coming harvest.

The legend behind this festival:

There is a legend behind this festival according to which once upon a time Indra the God of heaven came down to Kathmandu valley to pick up a flower that his mother Dagini wanted to use in a religious ritual. Indra picked up the flower and as he was about to go to heaven he was caught and taken into custody by the people of Kathmandu valley.

On hearing about this, his mother Dagini came down in Kathmandu valley and asked for his son to be released. When the people came to know that their captive was none other than Indra himself, they immediately released him.

Upon his release, his mother Dagini blessed the people with a good harvest and also assured them that she would take them to heaven who died in the previous years. Since then people started celebrating this commemorative festival. Hence it got its name Indra Jatra.

Celebration of Indra Jatra also involves living goddess Kumari taking part in this festival by being allowed to be out of their houses. When they do participate, their feet are not allowed to touch the earth, so they must be carried or walk on special carpets.

When the Kumari reach puberty, they return to normal life – the bleeding shows their human nature. That means that if they bleed at all from even an accidental cut, they stop being Kumari.

Two boys playing the roles of the gods Ganesh and Bhairab (the most fearsome form of Shiva) accompany the  Kumari in a procession to the royal palace, where it stops in front of the 12-foot mask of the Bhairab.

This day also marks the day of 1768 when Prithwi Narayan Shah conquered the Kathmandu Valley during this festival.

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