The festival of Indra Jatra is dedicated to the ‘Lord of Heaven’ Indra. Legend has it that Indra was captured by the people of Kathmandu while fetching night jasmine for his mother. Once the people realized that their prisoner was no other than Lord Indra, they released him immediately. Lord Indra’s mother blessed the city for releasing her son and because of the blessing it is said that Kathmandu receives enough dew even in winters for cultivation. Held in the Basantapur Durbar Square, Indra Jatra begins with the erection of a single pole called ‘Yosin’, which is obtained from a single tree. Lasting for eight long days, masked dances and tableaus are held. During the festival, the fearsome mask of Akash Bhairav is put on display and the chariot of Kumari, the Living Goddess, is pulled around the old city of Kathmandu. Experience the rich culture of the valley’s Newari community by being a part of this wonderful chariot pulling festival. The festival falls in September. Book our Kathmandu Heritage Sites Tour!
Yenya’ or commonly known as Indra Jatra, is one of the biggest festivals of Kathmandu, Nepal. The eight day long festival falls in the month of September just before the biggest festival of Nepal- DASHAI. This exciting festival is celebrated by both Hindu and Newari communities of Nepal with much pomp and show. The celebrations consist of two events, Indra Jatra and Kumari Jatra and most of the ceremonies take place at Basantapur Square in front of the old Hanuman Dhoka Palace.
According to Hindu Mythology, Indra is the king of heaven and he is also considered as the ‘God of rain’. Indra Jatra is a celebration of the king of heaven which begins every year from the day of Bhadra Dwadasi to Ashwin Krishna Chaturdasi as per the Nepali Bikram Sambat calendar. This year, 2019 the festival begins from 12th September. Kumari Jatra which is the chariot festival of the Kumari (Living Goddess) coincides with Indra Jatra.
Indra Jatra was first started by king Gunakamadeva to commemorate the founding of Kathmandu city in the late 10th century. Kumari Jatra began much later in the 18th century. Indra Jatra begins with the erection of a long wooden pole from which unfurls the banner of Indra at Kathmandu Durbar Square. An interesting fact about this wooden pole is that people go to great lengths and hardship to carefully obtain this piece of wood from the forests of ‘NALA’, a small town 29 km east of Kathmandu city. Men drag the long wooden pole in stages until it reaches the venue where it will be displayed. Another important event that happens on the first day is ‘Upaku Wanegu’. In this event people honour their deceased family members by visiting shrines holding incense sticks. They make a procession on the streets singing hymns and celebrating the lives of their ancestors.
‘KUMARI’ or the Living Goddess also leaves the sanctity of her temple home in a palanquin and leads a procession through the streets of Basantapur to thank the God of Rain. The chariot of Kumari is followed by two more chariots, that of ‘Ganesh’ and ‘Bhairav’ and a group of masked dancers representing various deities and demons. The magnificent statue of ‘AKASH BHAIRAVA’ is displayed at Indra Chowk and Jaad(Nepali local Liquor) is offered by devotees to the Bhairav statue. It is a remarkable sight to behold as the liquor flows through the statue of Bhairav. This statue is believed to be the head of the first Kirati king- YALAMBER.
Why do we celebrate ‘ Indra Jatra’? There is a very interesting story behind it and it goes something like this. Once Indra’s mother ‘Goddess Dagin’ needed ‘Parijat’( a kind of flower) for some religious ritual. Indra disguised as a human being came down to earth to fetch them for his mother. When he tried to steal the flowers, the people caught him and tied him with ropes (the image of which is still displayed in Maru Tole, Kathmandu even today). When he did not return, his mother worried, came down to earth looking for him on the streets of Kathmandu (re-enacts of Indra’s mother going around town searching for her son is done during the festival). The people recognized who they were and immediately freed Indra. Goddess Dagin was very happy with the immediate release of her son and promised to provide enough dew even during the winters in the valley.
The festival comes to an end when the ‘Linga’ or the pole ispulled down and taken to the confluence of Bagmati and Bishnumati River to be put to rest. The end of the festival also ushers the beginning of the most important festival of Nepal- ‘DAISHAI’ and ‘TIHAR’.