The most enthralling and loved festival of the Newar community in the Kathmandu Valley falls in the month of September which is celebrated for eight days.
“As the name suggests Indra Jatra being the festival of the rain god and also the king of heaven. It is also believed to be the day for thanking the Lord Indra for the rain.”
The festival takes off every year from the day of the Bhadra Dwadasi to Ashwin Krishna Chaturdasi. It begins with the erection of a wooden(Linga) pole made of pine at Basantapur Square in front of the Old Hanuman Dhoka Palace. The very first day of the festival is also noted by the Newars as a day to remember the family members who passed away during the past year by offering small oil lamps placed along a traditional route canvasing all the parts of the old city. It is presumed to have been commenced during the reign of Mahendra Malla. Accompanied by the rare display of the deity Akash Bhairav, represented by a massive mask spouting Jaad and Raksi(Nepali Local Liquor). Kumari, the Living Goddess, along with Ganesh and Bhairav is taken out in a procession through the main streets of Kathmandu in their chariots. Masked Dancers, known as Lakhay also take to the streets almost every evening accompanied by loud drums. And also with the Lakhay, a wooden construct of the Lords Elephant takes to the street known as Pulunkisi or Tana-kisi. Each night on the platform of the temple of the Living Goddess, there is an enactment depicting the ten early incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Besides these, various dances are held on the open stages of the city called dabu. There is a display of Swet Bhairava as well as various deities of the city.
The procession consists of:
The story behind the Jatra:
Indra’s mother needed parijat, a type of flower, for some religious ritual so Indra disguised as a human being came to the earth to fetch them. But, he was immediately identified when he was to steal the flowers so the people caught him and tied him with ropes. As the statue of the great deity himself is still worshipped in Maru Tole in Kathmandu. This image is also put on display with others in different parts of the city during the Indra Jatra festival.
Indra Jatra being an interesting festival is celebrated for the whole week as people enjoy various traditional dances and witness the chariot of Goddess Kumari, Lord Ganesh and Lord Bhairav being pulled through the older parts of the Kathmandu city. A day has been added to the original seven days of celebration and on that day known as Nanicha yaa, the chariots are pulled through Naradevi, Nhyokha, Ason, Indrachwok and Hanuman Dhoka. This extra day of chariot pulling was introduced by King Jaya Prakash Malla in 1765 B.S.
The famous Akash Bhairava bust is displayed and it is decorated with flowers in the valleys most famous Indra Chwok. This Akash Bhairava’s head is related to the Mahabharata story. Some believe it to be the head of the first Kirat King Yalamber. In Indra Chowk, every night different groups gather and sing bhajans and hymns.
One most important activity of the Indrajatra is to offer wick lamps on clay dishes in the name of family members who died in a year, on the way to going around the town of that time. This is called Upaku-wonegu. People observe this tradition even today. Therefore, some people believe that the main purpose of celebrating Indrajatra at the time of Licchavi was to make special offerings to the souls of deceased loved ones before observing a big festival called Dasain.
During Indra Jatra, there are a variety of performances including the dances of Sawa Bhakku Bhairav from Halchowk, Majipa Lakhey from Majipat, Devi Nach and Yeravat Hatti (Pulukisi) from Naradevi, Mahakali and Kathi Maka Nach from Bhaktapur. All the dances take place around the Hanuman Dhoka area. The Dasavatar or the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu is also staged every night.
A legend has it that the first Malla king brought with him the Goddess “Taleju” – a Hindu Goddess. The Malla kings used to have direct talks with the Goddess “Taleju”. Due to the misdeed of one of the Malla kings, the Goddess refused to have one-on-one talks with the king. However, several years of penance, the Malla king succeeded to persuade the Goddess to appear in person. The Goddess agreed to appear as the Living Goddess Kumari. So, both “Taleju” and “Kumari” are the same Goddess, only a different name for a different faith.
The Linga (Yasingh) is pulled down signaling the end of the Indra Jatra festival. It is taken to the confluence of Bagmati and Bishnumati in Teku to be put to rest.
The end of the Indra Jatra festival heralds the beginning of Dashain and Tihar celebrated with great enthusiasm not only in the Kathmandu Valley but throughout the country.