The festival of Indra Jatra is dedicated to the ‘Lord of Heaven’ Indra. Held just before Nepal celebrates its biggest festival, Dashain, the festival consist of two events, Indra Jatra and Kumari Jatra. 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.
This exciting festival is celebrated by both Hindu and Newari communities 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.
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 honor 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 Indra, 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 mask of ‘AKASH BHAIRAV’ 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.
The festival comes to an end when the ‘Linga’ or the pole is pulled 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- ‘DASHAIN’ and ‘TIHAR’.
Experience the rich culture of the valley’s Newari community by being a part of this wonderful chariot pulling festival. Book our Kathmandu Heritage Sites Tour!