Indrajatra Festival in Nepal
Indrajatra and Kumari Festival : Honoring the Gods

Indra Jatra and Kumari Festival

The elegance of the living goddess features the 32 attributes of human life - a pure perfection. If she valorously faces the exhibition of the massacre of buffaloes, masked dances and has the horoscope as of emperors, she will be throned as a goddess. But her little exhaustion would deem her unworthy of the title of the holy Kumari.

Deepak Raj Bhatta
Author | Deepak Raj Bhatta Date Published:
Indrajatra Festival in Nepal

Nepal, a country full of multi-ethnicity and traditions bound by brotherhood and love, embraces various cultures and festivals. One of the major festivals celebrated in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal is Indra Jatra and Kumari festival. The festival is celebrated by the Newar community with great belief and enthusiasm.

The whole celebration is colourful and a feast to all senses, the tantalizing fragrance of the incense is widespread, the air is filled with positiveness and energy, and the beat of the drums and other traditional instruments provide tranquillity to one’s ear.

Table Of Content

Table Of Content

    Indra Jatra Festival

    Indra Jatra is the biggest festival in the Kathmandu valley. The festival is said to be founded during the Licchavi Era by King Gunakamadeva, the founder of the city of Kantipur (Kathmandu). Indra means the God of rain and lord of heaven and Jatra means Procession.

    Festival Indrajatra and Kumari Festival
    Newari Name Yenya
    Observed by Nepali Hindus and Buddhists
    Festival type Religious and Cultural
    Observations Masked dances, Chariot Processions
    Begins (Lunar calendar) Dwadashi
    Ends (Lunar Calendar) Chaturthi
    Started by King Gunakamadeva
    Processions Kumari Jatra, Mata Biye, Dagin, Bau Mata
    Exhibitions Bhairava, Indraraj Dyah, Dashabatar
    Masked Dances
    • Pulu Kisi (Elephant Dance)
    • Majipa Lakhey
    • Sawa Bhakku
    • Devi Pyakhan
    • Mahakali Pyakhan

    Thus, Indra Jatra is celebrated for thanking Lord Indra for the rain and prosperous harvest. During ancient times, the Kathmandu valley was known as “Yenya Dey” and the native Newars celebrated the jatra as “Yenya”. “Yenya” came from the two words “Ye” meaning Kathmandu and and “Ya” means Celebration. Together it means “Celebration inside Kathmandu” in Nepal Bhasa.

    The name “Indra Jatra” became popular afterwards, and some Newars still term it as “Yenya” and celebrate it as “Yenya Punhi”. The festival is celebrated by lighting up the butter lamp also called “Daluncha '' in the Newari language and worshipping it by offering Samya Baji, an authentic dish of Newari Community.   

    Mythological beliefs of Indra Jatra

    According to the legends, it is believed that the mother of Lord Indra required Parijat (a white flower with an enchanting fragrance) to perform a ritual. Then, Lord Indra descended to the earth in search of Parijat he impersonated himself into a common man. He saw the flower and picked some of the petals, but a farmer saw this incident and captivated Lord Indra for trespassing and stealing. 

    Then the mother of Lord Indra grew worried as her son delayed his return from Earth, Phul Khusi(Vahan of Indra) descended to find his master. He wondered around the narrow alleys of Kathmandu Valley. During the time, streets are filled with flowers. Peoples and mellow music, after the hours of search he found Lord Indra.

    indra jatra significance

    He passed this news to Lord Indra's mother and she descended to Earth in order to free her son. She requested villagers, but they didn’t consider her words. The villagers put forward their conditions to free Lord Indra.

    According to their conditions, Lord Indra should visit earth every year at the very time, and also provide enough rainfall for better productivity of crops during winter. Indra’s mother also promised to provide a final rainfall and take the deceased members of their family with her in heaven.

    Thus the celebration of Indra Jatra expresses the feeling of gratitude towards Lord Indra and his mother, for timely rainfall, prosperous harvest, and remembrance to the deceased family member.

    History of Indra Jatra

    King Jaya Prakash Malla started Indra Jatra in 1756 AD. Indra Jatra is a day of thanking Lord Indra for the rain. The king of rain and lord of heaven, Indra, is the major deity of Indra Jatra. Indra Jatra festival lasts for eight days,  which showcases mask dance, culture dance followed by culture songs and playing Newari instruments by groups of people from different communities. It falls in the month of September and between Bhadra - Ashoj month according to the Nepali calendar. 

    indra jatra festival history

    Indra Jatra is the chariot festival. On this day Living goddess Kumari, Ganesh and Bhairav’s chariots are taken to different parts of Kathmandu valley. In the past century, Indra’s mother was in need of Parijat (Night Jasmine) flowers. But she was unable to find those flowers in the garden of heaven.

    Indra discovered Parijat flowers in Kathmandu Valley at Maruti and came to Kathmandu disguised as a human and tried to steal them for his mother. But the people of Kathmandu caught him and committed him and after someday, Indra’s mother came to the valley to look for Indra. When people of Kathmandu valley found out that he was Indra they were horrified and released him. This festival is a symbol to honour Lord Bhairab, who is believed to destroy evil. That day onward Indra Jatra is celebrated. Indra Jatra festival is celebrated by Buddhists and Hindus in Nepal. This festival celebration is popular especially in the Kathmandu valley, Dhulikhel ( Kavre ) and Dolakha district.

    Indra Jatra Festival in Kathmandu Valley

    Kathmandu valley, also known as the city of thousand temples. Indra Jatra festival is a 7 days long celebration. On the first day of Indra Jatra, Kwaneya, a long pole (Linga) is stood at the side of the Hanuman Dhoka with a flag of Lord Indra and One of the masked dancers known as Lakhay performs a classical dance as a sign. of his search of goddess Kumari. They perform this dance to please Goddess Kumari, Lord Ganesh, Bhairav and Lord Indra. On the third day, Kumari is brought out from Kumari Ghar and is carried to her special chariot made up of wood, decorated with colourful clothes, flowers and other puja materials. While the goddess is brought out of her palace, a white cloth is laid out on her way to the chariot as it is believed that she should not step on the floor.

    what is indra jatra festival

    A Buddhist- Newari girl represents the Goddess Taleju.  On the same day, the Chariot of Ganesh and Bhairav, represented by two young boys, follow the chariot of Goddess Kumari. At Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square, mask dancers entertain people by performing dances and drama. Other days of Indra Jatra are observed by dancing in a group and playing a cultural instrument.

    Indrajatra - A Tribute to the Gods

    Indra Jatra festival in Nepal is a seven days long celebration that provides some amazing glimpses, depicting the lifestyle and culture of the Newari people. With some cultural dances and rites, Indra Jatra showcases the mind-blowing cultural attributes. Many people from all over the world participate in this living festival.

    The masked dances performed at the Indra Jatra are led by a fire torch. Majipa Lakhey is one of the main attractions of the Indra Jatra. Majipa means ‘Manjupattan’ and Lakhey means ‘demon'. Lakhey Aju is another name for Majipa Lakhey. The Lakhey went in search of the Goddess of Taleju and became her protector. Pulu Kishi is one of the most famous dances in Indra Jatra. This dance includes two people who are under the elephant costume and they run around the Kathmandu Valley creating mischief. History has it that Pulu Kishi is the carrier of Lord Indra and it runs in the Kathmandu Valley searching for Lord Indra who was in the custody of the locals. 

    indra jatra festival in kathmandu

    At the nighttime of Indra Jatra, temples around the Hanuman Dhoka Durbar square, Indrachowk, Yetkha and Ason glow with oil wicks and lights. Decorated with flowers and tika, the large image of Akash Bhairav is put on display in front of the temple at Indra chowk. Beside the Akash Bhairav Mandir a huge platter of Newari foods, Samay Baji (Scared Food), is put on display which symbolizes luck, prosperity, health and longevity. People can get the Samay Baji after the Goddess Kumari, Bhairav and Ganesh consume it. 

    When do we celebrate Indra Jatra?

    The festival lasts for 8 days and is celebrated at the heart of Kathmandu Valley, Basantapur Durbar Square in the offering of Indra, a king of heaven and god of rain. The festival begins every year from the day of the Bhadra Dwadasi to Ashwin Krishna Chaturdashi.

    The celebrations are held according to the lunar calendar, so the dates are changeable. This year (2021), the festival takes place on 19th September. The devotees especially farmers, thank lord Indra for the rain and worship Bhairava, who is believed as the destroyer of evil, Lord Ganesh and Kumari (the living goddess).

    Indra Jatra Festival Celebration in Brief

    The festival starts with Yosin Thanegu, the erection of Yosin or Linga, a pole from which the banner of Indra is unfurled, at Basantapur Durbar Square. The pole is erected by shortening and stripping off tree branches. And it is obtained from the forest of Nala, a small town located 29 km east of Kathmandu Valley. The muscles of hundreds are used to place it on the stage of Durbar Square. 

    First Day

    On the first day of the Indra Jatra, the people would hold a special flag-raising ceremony. This carefully selected pole is 10 meters high and is eventually erected outside Hanuman Dhoka in Kathmandu. At that moment, there will be a big dance party.

    A series of legends about Indra and captivated scenes will also be made up of those fun dances. In many temples in the Kathmandu district, buffaloes, goats, fish, nuts, and other objects such as idols and goddesses are worshipped. At the end of the Indra rites, the offerings will be distributed to the crowds. Another event on the first day is Upaku Wanegu, practised in the remembrance of the deceased one’s holding the incense and flowers in their hand. 

    In Between

    The festival is celebrated in three different sequels of rituals: Kumari Jatra, Indra Jatra, and Bhairava Jatra. The celebration includes a flagpole ceremony, blood sacrifice, display of Bhairava masks, etc.

    These three sequels have their own ceremonial components but make a grand affair and turn Basantapur Durbar square into a grand ceremonial place filled with people, tantalizing fragrance and tranquil drum beats making a blissful environment.

    The sight of the square dazzles from dawn until midnight, the butter lamps enlighten the positive energy as the chariots of Kumari, Ganesh and Bhairava make their way through the inner city of Kathmandu Valley. The street comes to light with traditional instrumental beats, masked dances, and bloomy flowers.

    They also place small butter lamps on the way and sing hymns as they make the tour. The circuitous route is taken along the streets of historical parts and areas of the city.  This procession starts in the evening around 4 pm.  

    The chariot festival lasts for three days. The three chariots carrying the human representation of Ganesh, Bhairava, Kumari takes the street around 3 pm in the afternoon. In the first, the chariots are driven around with the muscles of hundred men around the streets and historical places of Kathmandu Valley by pulling ropes.

    During the Indra Jatra Festival

    The first day is also popular as Kwaneya and the chariot route starts from Basantapur and ends in Basantapur. It makes a circular tour of major parts around. The taken route is  Basantapur, Maru, Chikanmugal, Jaisidewal, Lagan, Brahma Marga, Wonde, Hyumata, Kohity, Bhimsensthan, Maru, Basantapur.

    This is the most important day of Indra Jatra. The head of state and higher personals come and pay their respect to Kumari, the Living goddess. 

    indra jatra festival day

    The chariot changes route every day, the second day of chariot pulling also called, Thaneyaa which circles the upper city, following the route of  Basantapur, Pyaphal, Nyata, Tengal, Nhyokha, Nhaikan Tol, Asan, Kel Tol, Indra Chowk, Makhan, Basantapur. After the Thaneyaa the festival continues with portrayals performing on the street. Whereas the pulling of the chariots takes place until the last day of Indra Jatra. 

    One of the major sources of attraction is mask dances, the devotees wear colourful and depicted ferocious masks, projecting fangs along with the thick red and black hair, dance carrying a colourful handkerchief in their hand is a worthwhile scene.

    Lakhey - The Demon

    The dances are filled with energy and are enjoyable for kids to elderly people.  Sometimes the local bands support these dances and music shows. One of the most enjoyable dances is Lakhey Dance, Lakhey a carnivorous demon. The lakhey dances in the music and moves ahead in the Jatra. 

    Lakhey the Demon

    Another major mask dance includes the Pulu Kisi dance. Pulu Kisi means an elephant in Newari Language. Pulu Kisi is believed to be a carrier of Lord Indra, so the dance of elephants is done in the remembrance of Pulu Kisi and celebrated with happiness.

    The people craft the white elephant structure and the young boys carry the crafted elephant along the historical part and streets of Kathmandu. The elephant roars, playful act, and the swinging of its tail is the most fun and joyful part to watch.

    Nanichayaa: The conclusion

    On the last day of Indra Jatra, the chariots follow the same route as Thaneyaa, reaching Naradevi, from where they take their place. Instead of moving north toward Tengal, it turns eastward to Bedasingh via Kilagal. From Bedasingh, it takes the same route from Thaneyaa to Makhan, Indrachowk, and back to Kumari Chhen.

    The Indra Dhwaj, a totem erected wooden pole is lowered, which marks the end of an eight-day long festival. Then, according to Indra’s mother's promise to the people of Kathmandu Valley they prepare themself for the forthcoming winter.

    Swet Bhairab

    Swet Bhairab depicts the most dangerous face of Lord Shiva. The fierce mask of Swet Bhairab is kept hidden for the whole year and comes to life during the Indra Jatra. This is another major attraction during the Indra Jatra festival as the local beer pours out from the mouth of Swet Bhairab through the spout and the crowd of people gathers to drink the beer, which is considered as the holy religious offering.

    swet bhairav

    Kumari Procession

    Kumari, the living goddess steps out of her home ‘Kumari Ghar’ and showers her blessing. Catching sight of her makes people lucky. The chariot festival of Kumari began in 1756 AD during the reign of Jay Prakash Malla.

    The Kumari Jatra starts on Day 3 of Indra Jatra. Goddess Kumari is believed to have the intuition to foresee the future. The little girl child is worshipped as a living goddess.  There must be a certain sign to proclaim the living goddess.

    Kumari Possession

    According to the priest, "The child must have a certain sign i.e. 32 lakshin (32 attributes), no soar and birthmarks and must belong to the Shakya community.” The girl child is selected as goddess Kumari between the age of 3 to 4 till she reaches puberty. There is a mythological belief that the expression of Kumari shows various signs. And the one able to take a glance is fortunate. 

    Legends of Kumari Celebration

    The Goddess Kumari, the only living goddess, is worshipped by the Hindus and Buddhists. People believe that the Kumari receives the power of Kali and Taleju. The living goddess Kumari in Nepal is the human representation of Goddess Taleju. This remains until the goddess Taleju leaves her body after menstruation. Injury disease and blood loss can also mean that the Goddess leaves the body of the girl. Kumari is a small girl selected from the Sakhya and Bajracharya caste of the Nepalese Newari-Buddhist community. The history and origin of Goddess Kumari are prevalent among Newar communities in many ways. Among the few, many communities have widespread stories regarding the King and the Goddess Taleju.

    The first story involves the last king of the Malla dynasty, Jaya Prakash Malla. The legend has it that the deity Taleju visited the rooms of Jaya Prakash Malla as a lovely lady during the night. Every night the goddess toured the royal room and ensured that the king refrained from talking to anybody about her gatherings. The king's wife accompanied him one particular night in his room. She checked him during his secret conferences with the deity, Taleju.

    The deity realized the king's wife and furiously left. In his dream, Goddess Taleju appeared and told Jaya Prakash that, between the Shakya and Bajracharya clan of Ratnawali she will reincarnate as a living devotee in children. Jaya Prakash Malla sought out kids with the spirit of Taleju in his effort to make amendments to Goddess Taleju, and so began the Kumari tradition of goddesses. The Kumari building was constructed by Jaya Prakash who named it "Kumari Ghar".

    Selection Process of Goddess Kumari

    A Kumari is believed to be the incarnation of the goddess Taleju (the Nepalese name for Durga). The selection process is an abstruse ritual and vast having many criteria. The selection process begins on the eighth day of Dashain, Kala-Ratri.

    The ritual starts when she dresses up in a bright and elegant red dress, red tika painted on her forehead with silver agni chakchuu—the third eye, her hair bound top knot on her head, thick black kajal on her eyes. The five senior Buddist Bajaracharya, Priest of Taleju, Chief royal priest, and astrologer lookup in the selection process. 

    kumari selection

    There must be a certain sign to proclaim the living goddess. According to the priest, "The child must have a certain sign i.e. 32 lakshin, no soar and birthmarks and must belong to the Shakya community.” The girl child is selected as goddess Kumari between the age of 3 to 4 till she reaches puberty.

    Some of the 32 Lakshin is she must have a body like a Banyan tree, her lashes must be like cow beautiful and attractive, neck like a conch shell, chest, and heart like a lion, voice soft as a cushion and clear as of duck, horoscope same as of King or higher personals, her feet and hand must be as soft as feathers, thighs like an antelope, and small and moist tongue. 

    A Kumari must be calm when her nerves are tested to an extreme. She must not be scared of blood and masked man, as every child exhibits the massacre of buffalos. The masked dances are performed on top of the blood of animals. If any child shows fear or gets scared she will be deemed not worthy of Goddess Taleju’s power. As the incarnation of the goddess Taleju, the courageous girls fall under the criteria. 

    Life of Kumari

    The ornaments are very special and faithful to her.  A kumari must wear makeup and special clothes every day and expensive festival clothes twice a year. She has to dress up in a bright and elegant red dress, red tika must be painted on her forehead with silver agni chakchuu—the third eye, her hair bound top knot on her head, thick black kajal on her eyes. 

    She can only eat certain foods, not the taboo ones like chicken and egg. The family must perform daily rituals, she can’t go outside except in some festivals. Someone has to carry her, so her feet won’t touch the ground. No one on her contact can wear leather and most importantly kumari must not bleed. There is a mythological belief that the spirit of the goddess will leave her body if she loses any blood. 

    Dethrone process

    The most challenging part for Kumari is, not to lose any blood from her body, not even from a tiny cut on her hand.  As time passes and when Kumari reaches puberty beginning of her menstruation, she becomes impure, and the search for a new Kumari begins. The loss of blood indicates she has lost the power of God bestowed upon her. 

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