Indra Jatra one of the most celebrated festivals in Kathmandu. The eight-day long festival this year started from September 21st and will continue till September 28th. Among all the attractions, the chariot (rath) procession with the living embodiment of Goddess Kumari, Lord Ganesh and Lord Bhairab is, perhaps, the most integral part of the festival. The procession (also known as Kumari Jatra) starts on the fourth day, which is today.
Story behind Indra Jatra
It is believed that Indra Jatra started being celebrated from the 10th century during the reign of King Gunakamadeva to commemorate the establishment of Kathmandu City.
Indra Jatra is a festival dedicated to Lord Indra, the god of rain or king of heaven. According to mythology, Lord Indra had descended to the Earth from the heaven in search of Parijat (night jasmine) for his mother, Dangi. Indra, who had disguised himself as a farmer, was caught red-handed plucking flowers at Maruhiti. The locals then tied him with ropes, as punishment, like a common thief at Maru Chowk.
Worried, his mother wandered around Kathmandu in search of her son. When the locals realized they had captured Lord Indra, they immediately released him. Grateful for the gesture, Goddess Daagin promised the locals to provide them with enough dew throughout the winter to ensure a rich crop. She also promised to take the deceased souls to heaven.
To reenact the myth, a bust of Lord Indra is displayed and worshiped at Maru Chowk during the Festival. And following the chariot procession, a masked man (dressed as Daagin searching for her son) walks around the city. Also, on the first day of the festival, members of the Newar community remember the deceased by going around the city. They walk around with lighted incense sticks in their hands and place butter lamps in memory of the lost souls.
Indra Jatra this year
On 21st September, 2018, at 08:21 am, the lingo (ceremonial pole) was erected at Kathmandu Durbar Square where a cloth/flag bearing Lord Indra’s name is unfurled. The erection of the lingo signals official commencement of the Festival. The ceremonial pole is brought every year from a forest in Nala (a village in Kavrepalanchowk) to Hanuman Dhoka.
From day one of the Festival, different masks of Lord Bhairab are displayed (Aakash Bhairab in Indrachowk, Swet Bhairab in Hanuman Dhoka). The festival is accompanied by the dance of the Lakhe (a masked demon), Pulukisi (Lord Indra’s ride/vehicle), Devi Pyakhan (dance of the dieties) and Sawa Bhakku (also known as Jhhin Tali Sintan) among others performed in different parts of the city.
Another attraction of the Festival is Dasavatar Naach, a performance depicting ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. The performance is put on display at Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple, near Kumari Ghar all eight days of the Festival. Unfortunately this year, the performance has been cancelled citing lack of budget.
The Kumari Jatra
Kumari Jatra is the successive procession of three chariots around the city. The three chariots are of Goddess Kumari, Lord Ganesh and Lord Bhairab; the three living Gods of Kathmandu.
Though celebrated at the same time, the chariot procession first started only in the 18th century. The then King of Kathmandu Jaya Prakash Malla had started the Festival.
On the first day of Kumari Jatra, 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.
For the third and last day of the procession, the chariots are pulled from Basantapur through Pyaphal, Yetkha, Nyata, Kilagal, Bhedasing, Indra Chowk, Makhan, back to Basantapur. For the last six years, the chariot of Kumari has been pulled by an all-women team on the third day of the procession.
Who is responsible for the preparations?
Indra Jatra is a grand celebration and takes a lot of preparation. It is a historical festival that carries religious as well as cultural significance. In the olden days, the Kathmandu Durbar was directly involved in the preparations. Currently, Indra Jatra Bewasthapan Samiti looks after all the necessary preparation for the Jatra.
So, from the erection of the lingo at Hanuman Dhoka to manage safe procession of the chariots around the city, is all looked after by the Samiti. It is also responsible of organizing all the different dances and events carried out during the eight-day festival.
The current Chairman of the Samiti is Gautam Shakya and is also the main caretaker of the Kumari Ghar. He ever so generously gave me his time to finish this article.