Indra Jatra Festival in Nepal
Festival in Nepal – Indra Jatra
22nd August 2021
13th September 2019
Indra is considered the Lord of Rain and the King of heaven. Jatra means procession in Nepali. Indra Jatra is a day to celebrate him. This festival takes place in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. Some say this is a day to thank Lord Indra for the rain during the monsoon. While according to others, this festival is to honour Bhairav, another manifestation of Shiva, in a destructive form.
When is Indra Jatra celebrated?
It is a festival that goes on for eight days. It begins from the day of Bhadra Dwadasi to Ashwin Chaturdasi on the lunar calendar annually.
How is Indra Jatra observed?
The celebration starts with a carnival-like atmosphere. A ceremonial pole is known as the Yasingh Linga, accompanied by the rare presentation of Akash Bhairav, which is depicted with a large mask that spouts Jaar and rakshi (local liquors). Newari and other families display images and figures of Indra and Bhairav.
The Yasingh Linga is a thirty-six-foot high wooden pole chosen carefully from the Nala forest of Kavre district east of Kathmandu. According to the local faith, Indra received this flag for protection from Lord Vishnu.
Eventually, the living goddess – Kumari leaves the sanctity of her temple in a palanquin, leading a procession through the streets of Kathmandu t thank the rain god, Indra. The festival’s main highlight is the parade of masked dancers who represent the deities along with demons and chariots. The Newari name for Indra is Yanya. Another remarkable thing to witness is the local liquor known as jaad flowing from the statue of Bhairav. This occurs at the Hanuman Dhoka, a part of Bansantapur, Nepal’s 10 World Heritage sites.
The procession consists of:
• Ganesh (Chariot)
• Kumar (Chariot)
• Kumari (Chariot)
• Majipa Lakhey
• Sawan Bhaku
Additionally, various dances are held on the open stages called dabu in the city. The statue of Swet Bhairav and other deities of the Basantpur Durbar Square are displayed.
The fable behind Indra Jatra
Indra’s mother needed a type of flower locally known as parijat (night flowering jasmine) for her religious ceremony. Indra disguised himself as a human being and came down to earth to collect it, but he was recognized as he was about to pick the flowers. The people caught him and tied him up with ropes.
When Indra did not return, his mother came down to earth searching for her son. She is known as Dakine Devi. She went around the city looking for her son and found her son tied up in a Tantric’s lasso. She faced tough negotiations with the Tantric and finally freed her son from the Tantric’s control.
Family members of people who have died within a year follow in her footsteps with the hopes of finding the souls of their loved ones. They take a holy dip to prepare for their journey to heaven when they reach Indradaha. A particular caste in the Newar community carries a “Baumata” to light the way for Dakine Devi and the earthly followers on their way to heaven. The ‘baumata’ is made from a long bamboo fixed with clay dishes that hold oil lamps and are carried by two men. This was the Licchavi tradition that is practised even today.
There is a place called Kishi-gaa in the old part of Kathmandu city. Kishi-gaa means an elephant stable. Legend has it that Indra left the elephant he rode down to earth within this area while looking for the flower known as parijat. People paint a white elephant on a mat in which two men go inside it to replicate an elephant going around town dancing to the music of a single bell. This represents the white elephant searching for Indra, and this tradition continues to this day.
There is a statue depicting this at Maru Tole, which is still worshipped today. The image is also displayed along with other deities in various parts of the city during this festival.
This festival is exhilarating because the public enjoys a week of traditional dances and witnesses the Chariot of Kumari, Lord Ganesh, and Lord Bhairav getting hauled through the older parts of the city. An additional day has been added to the original seven days of celebration. The extra day is known as Nanicha yaa. The chariots are hauled through Naradevi, Nhyokha, Ason, Indra Chowk, and Hanuman Dhoka. King Jaya Prakash Malla introduced the extra day in 1708 A.D.
The famous bust of Akash Bhairav is decorated with flowers and displayed at Indra Chowk. Some believe the figure represents the first Kirat King Yalamber, related to the Mahabharata epic. Various groups gather to sing devotional songs at Indra Chowk.
Various performances occur during this festival; these include Devi nach and Yeravat Hathi’s dances from Naradevi, Sawa Bhakku Bhairav from MajipatMahakali, and Kathi Maka nach from Bhaktapur. All the performances take place around the Hanuman Dhoka area. In addition, the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu (Dasavatar) are staged every night.
The Newar community observes the first day in memory of their deceased family members by lighting small oil lamps on a traditional route covering ancient parts of the city. This practice is believed to have started during the rule of King Mahendra Malla. The Linga (Yasingh) is pulled down to signal the end of this festival. It is taken to Teku at the Bagmati and Bishnumati rivers’ confluence to rest. The purpose of this festival indicates the beginning of the Dashain and Tihar festivals. These two festivals are celebrated with great enthusiasm throughout the nation.
The festival’s Development and Description.
This festival has evolved from its original structure to its current form in at least three historical development stages, namely during the Licchavi, Malla, and Shah dynasties. However, Nepal’s history was only recorded from the Licchavi period; therefore, it is assumed that Indra Jatra’s traditions began.
During the Licchavi period: Indra Jatra held
1. The display of a life-sized Indra with outstretched hands on a wooden platform at Maru Tole. This tradition is still practised.
2. Dakine Devi went around town searching for Indra, her son.
3. Oil lamp offerings in memory of deceased family members along the streets of Kathmandu.
4. A replica of a white elephant going around searching for its master.
The Malla period:
The Malla dynasty added the hauling of the chariot of the Living Goddess and lakhe (demon) dance to this festival. As a result, the population of Kathmandu had grown quite considerably. So King Jaya Pratap Malla started the tradition of pulling the chariots to Kumari, the living goddess, the Living god Batuk Bhairav, and the live god Ganesh to both the south and north parts of Kathmandu. He also started giving Shamayha-baji blessings to Goddess Kumari on the first day of the chariot pulling festival and at Hanuman Dhoka the next day.
The chariot pulling festival is also known as Kumari jatra, fulfilling his promise to the goddess he would do if she returned to earth. Jaya Prakash went to Goddess Guheswori (another form of Kumari), offering to please her when his son overthrew him. She blessed him with Khadga-Siddhi, which empowered him. As a result, he regained his throne, and since then, he has set the tradition of celebrating and honouring Goddess Kumari during the jatra. Another rule of receiving ‘Tika,’ symbolizing power, began at the end of the festival.
The real reason behind the worship f Kumari is to empower ourselves by summoning Kumari within us. The devout followers believe that it is necessary to make offerings to Goddess Kumari at the end of any auspicious offerings made to other deities. They think if they neglect to offer to Kumari, other gods will not accept their offering.
The Goddess Kumari symbolizes religious harmony in Nepal. She comes from the Shakya clan of the Newari Buddhist community. The Shakyas are responsible for taking care of the Kumari, while a Hindu Tantric priest called Karmacharya performs daily offerings to the Living Goddess. This has harmonized the Hindus and Buddhists of Nepal.
The Shah period:
The Shah period prolonged the four-day event into an eight-day festival. The Gorkha King, Pirthvi Narayan Shah, overthrew Jaya Prakash, the last of the Malla ruler. However, he was not accepted by the people as their King. Pirthvi was not allowed to receive the blessing from the Living Goddess, which was mandatory for any ruler. They negotiated for four days, and finally, on the fourth day, Pirthvi Narayan Shah obtained the “Tika” from Kumari, the Living Goddess, and became the lawful King.
The Shah dynasty added another piece of the practice of their own to Indra Jatra. It made the present form of the festival that is currently observed for eight days every year. In addition, the Shah dynasty added the tradition of hoisting a flag known as Indra Dhoj on a tall wooden shaft on the first day of the festival. After that, it is left fluttering for eight days until the end of the festival. The common belief is that flying the flag annually will prevent all evil spirits from entering the nation and stops any external powers from taking over the country.
The tantric has developed a novel way of picking a tree to be used as a pole to fly Indra’s flag. People of a particular clan from the Newar community pull up the pole with an Indra Dhoj on the first day and let it flutter for the next eight days. The Indra Dhoj is to save and protect the people and country from attacks from other rulers. The belief is that if such a flag stands, nothing can harm the ruler and his subjects.