Major Newari Festivals of Kathmandu Valley
Know the major Newari festivals of Kathmandu valley

Major Newari Festivals in Kathmandu Valley

“There is always a reason for Newars to celebrate any of their festivals.” Newari festivals are the key tourist attractions of Kathmandu valley.

Deepak Raj Bhatta
Author | Deepak Raj Bhatta Date Published:
Newari Festivals

“There is always a reason for Newars to celebrate any of their festivals.” Newari festivals are the key tourist attractions of Kathmandu valley.

The saying seems just fit when you randomly scan through your yearly calendar and there’s barely a month that drifts without a Newari festival coming in. Delicacies, feasts, traditional dances, and festivals, “celebration” as a whole is almost synonymous with Newari culture. The Kathmandu valley of Nepal mainly witnesses major elaborate Jatras (street festivals or carnival) around the year. Our blog will introduce you to some of the most popular and well known Newari festivals of Kathmandu valley in detail.

Table Of Content

    List of the major Newari Festivals of Kathmandu valley

    Festivals

    When does it fall?

    Indra Jatra

    August or September

    Bisket Jatra

    April

    Rato Machhindranath Jatra

    September

    Gai Jatra Festival

    August

    Gahana Pokhari Jatra

    March or April

    Sithi Nakha

    May – June

    Gatha Muga

    July

    Mha Puja and New Year

    October or November

    Yomari Punhi

    November or December

    Indra Jatra

    Indra Jatra is one of the biggest religious Newari street festivals of Kathmandu.

    Legend of Indra Jatra:

    Legend has it that once Indra descended on earth to find the flower of Parijat for his mother, Dagini. Then, he, disguised as a human, was imprisoned for theft. Worried for Indra, Dagini came to rescue and the god was released after 7 days of capture.

    Revealing themselves while returning to their abode, they promised the people two things. One to take the deceased of last year to heaven and the other to bestow good downpour in the winters for harvest. To celebrate the blessing, each year Indra Jatra is said to be celebrated.

    When is Indra Jatra celebrated?

    Nepali Bhadra month (August to September). It is celebrated for 8 days.

    Where does the festival take place?

    Indra Jatra is celebrated in Kathmandu. The festival takes place in Basantapur Durbar Square starting from Kumari Chhen (the house of the only living goddess in Nepal). Spectators can enjoy the festival by coming in early and getting themselves a spot in the parapet of the architectural monuments in the square. The swarming crowd that gathers to celebrate is very less likely to leave one.

    First Day Route (Day 1) : Basantapur, Maru, Chikanmugal, Jaisidewal, Lagan, Hyumat, Bhimsensthan, Maru, Basantapur.

    Second Day Route (Day 2): Basantapur Durbar, Pyaphal, Yatkha, Nyata, Tengal, Nhyokha, Nhaikan Tol, Asan, Kel Tol, Indra Chok, Makhan, Basantapur Durbar.

    Third Day Route (Day 3): Basantapur, Pyaphal, Yatkha, Nyata, Kilagal, Bhedasing, Indra Chok, Makhan, Basantapur.

    How is Indra Jatra celebrated?

    The festival begins with the erection of a 36-feet long ceremonial pole, Linga and the once in a year reveal of Aakash Bhairab represented by a gigantic mask gushing Jaad (local Nepali liquor). A deity of Indra is put on a high pedestal in Maru and is worshipped and thanked by the visitors.

    The main festival starts when Kumari leaves her seclusion for a day and leads the procession in a chariot. Other living gods like Ganesh and Bhairav follow her in their golden chariots. The procession comes alive with the music from unique Newa instruments being played by the locales and lurches through different localities.

    Masked dancers resembling both deities and demons and the popular Lakhey accompany the procession. Even the Nepali consular and officials gather at Gaddi Baithak to observe the parade. In the night the parade illuminates with led lights that decorate the chariots.

    The procession consists of:

    1. Majipa Lakhey

    2. Pulu Kishi

    3. Sawan Bhaku

    4. Ganesh (Chariot)

    5. Kumar (Chariot)

    6. Kumari (Chariot)

    Pulu Kishi meaning elephant is the vehicle of Lord Indra who rampages through the square in search of the god in the legend. Around the evening, cultural dances of Mahakali and Devi impress the crowd and there is lamp lighting for the deceased souls by their families in the temples of the square.

    At midnight, there is a showcase of Dashavatar (ten avatars of Vishnu), a costume drama in front of Gaddi Baithak for Ganesh and Bhairav also.

    Bisket Jatra

    Bisket Jatra, also called Biska Jatra is another major Newari festival that takes place in Bhaktapur of Kathmandu valley.

    Legend of Bisket Jatra :

    Legend has it about a beautiful princess who was destined to remain without a husband, because of a terrible curse that anyone unfortunate enough to wed her would die the very next day. A number of young men had died after marrying her which kept the entire palace in jeopardy. Then came a young lad who was reckless enough to take the risk despite being forbidden.

    On the wedding night, the princess drifted quickly to sleep. But the young man was determined to stay awake as per the advice he had received from the goddess Bhadrakali. ( disguised as an old woman). Things were normal until he saw two serpents slithering out of the princess’ nostrils in the night.

    Appalled, he cut the reptiles into two halves with his razor-sharp knife in no time. The palace was filled with rejoicing the next day seeing the man alive.

    It was a story that became King Jagjyoti Malla’s favorite legend, and he wished it to be remembered by the country tomorrow with Bisket Jatra.

    Where does Bisket Jatra take place?

    The Bisket Jatra takes place in Khalna Tole, Bhaktapur, Balkumari, Thimi and Bode.

    When is Bisket Jatra?

    It is celebrated in Mid-April (the beginning of the Nepali month of Baisakh).

    How is it celebrated?

    Bisket Jatra preludes the start of the Nepali New Year and is like a carnival in Bhaktapur. A huge chariot carrying images of the god Bhairab is trailed by the locales to Khalna Tole. The chariot lumbers through the town, pausing for a huge tug of war between the eastern and western sides of town. The tug-o-war is taken very passionately by the people and has witnessed accidents in the past.

    A huge 25m-high Yoh Si Dyo (Lingam) is erected after the procession which is pulled down in the evening of the following day in again an often-rash tug of war. As the pole crashes to the ground, the New Year officially begins.

    Variations of Bisket Jatra being celebrated in Thimi and Bode as well. Balkumari Thimi hosts a color festival (Sindur Jatra). Folks from various parts of Thimi carry their own palanquins on their shoulders, including the heaviest Balkumari, and take rounds in Layeku Thimi, including the heaviest Balkumari. People smear around orange simrick powder on each other and play Dhimay music.

    While Bode witnesses a tongue-piercing ceremony. One resident spends the whole day with an iron spike piercing his tongue and roams the city by carrying fiery torches on his shoulder.

    Related Article: Indrajatra Festival Tour in Nepal

    Rato Machhindranath Jatra

    Rato Machhindranath Jatra is the longest chariot festival of Nepal which celebrates the Buddhist deity of compassion Avalokiteshvara in Lalitpur. The deity is considered the giver of rain.

    Legend of Rato Machhindranath Jatra :

    The festival was instituted to celebrate the arrival of Bunga Dyah (Avalokitesvara or Rato Machindranath) in Nepal and the end of the devastating drought. The deity, Rato Machhindranath is said to have been brought from Assam by King Narendra Dev. The 1600-year-old festival has many different legends associated with it.

    The drought is said to have been a curse of “Guru Gorakhnath” who was not recognized and rejected by the locals of Lalitpur. But the arrival of Rato Machhindranath, who was Gorakhnath’s teacher, compelled him to bring back rain to the valley.

    The “Bhoto” displayed at the end of this festival is believed to be given by “Karkotak Nag” to a farmer who later lost it in his field. The farmer then noticed a man wearing the same vest in the parade and there was a dispute. To settle the argument it was presented to Rato Machhindranath for keepsake until one comes with the proof of the vest being his own.

    Where does the Rato Machhindranath Jatra take place?

    The procession starts circling the city via Natole, Gabahal, Mangal Bazaar, Sundhara, Lagankhel, Kumaripati and finally ending at Jawalakhel.

    1st Day: Ganabahal

    2nd Day: Sundhara

    3rd Day: Lagankhel

    When is it celebrated?

    According to the lunar calendar, the festival begins on the 4th day of the bright fortnight of Bachhala. Usually it falls in the month of September.

    How is it celebrated?

    A 60-feet long chariot is made out of bamboo and wood and the image of Bunga Dya is installed in it from his temple. The chariot is pulled across different localities in Patan for a month. The main chariot is accompanied by a smaller one of Chakuwa Dhya, the deity of BodhiSattva. The affair is led by folks playing Dhime and traditional brass cymbals.

    In a place called “Thali”, women of every age take charge of the chariot for a few meters and in another called “Lagankhel” a coconut is thrown from the top of the chariot as a sign of auspiciousness.

    The festival ends when the chariot reaches the open ground of Jawalakhel, the western part of Patan with the display of the jewel-studded “Bhoto” (vest) of Machindranath by a government official. The living goddess “Kumari” of Patan and the head of state also arrive to see the showcase. It is believed that a glimpse of the “ Bhoto” brings good luck.

    Gai Jatra Festival

    Gai Jatra is a yearly celebrated Newari festival in the Kathmandu valley where Gai means “cow”.

    Legend of Gai Jatra :

    The origin of Gai Jatra goes back to the Malla rule. It started out to console the Malla queen who was devastated by her son’s untimely death and was mourning for a long time. The king asked every countryman who had lost their loved ones last year to come on the streets in a parade to show the queen that it was not only her who had suffered. Since then the procession comes out each year to commemorate the dead.

    When is Gai Jatra celebrated?

    It is celebrated in Bhadra (August-September).

    Where does Gai Jatra take place?

    Gai Jatra takes place in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, and Kirtipur.

    How is it celebrated?

    The procession starts in each district and families of the departed souls join in with photos and incense sticks. They receive small packets of fruits, nuts, and sweets by the people watching the festival. The procession travels many neighborhoods of the city.

    Kathmandu is considered the main source of the festival. The celebration in Patan observes much less involvement. The festival is most exciting in Bhaktapur where a chariot (called Taha Macha) made out of bamboo wrapped in a cloth decorated with the dead person’s image and belongings are carried through the streets.

    There are little kids dressed as cows or even gods with masks and face painting on who leads each family. In Bhaktapur, the local musicians and dancers even perform a dance called Ghintang Ghisi twak and follow the procession. The cultural dance goes on in the streets for a week later.

    In Kirtipur, Gai Jatra is also considered the day to celebrate the success of their cultivation and community.

    In the valley, the LGBTQI+ community holds a march celebrating cross-dressing and all genders making this day more special.

    Gahana Pokhari Jatra

    Gahana Pokhari Jatra of Hadigaun means the Newari festival of searching for jewelry.

    Legend of Gahana Pokhari Jatra

    When Tudaldevi and her three sisters Mahalaxmi, Manamaiju, and Nuwakotdevi were swimming in Gahana Pokhari, she lost her jewels. Because it was getting dark, Manamaiju and Nuwakotdevi left for home. But Tudaldevi stayed to search for her jewels in the pond with Mahalaxmi whose home was nearby. Both later returned when the jewels were found. This folklore initiated the Gahana Pokhari Jatra.

    When is it celebrated?

    It is celebrated on Chaitra Shukla Ashtami- Baisakh Navami (March-April).

    Where is it celebrated?

    It is celebrated in Gahana Pokhari of Hadigaun.

    The idol of Tudal Devi Vaishnavi is placed in a chariot from Baluwatar and taken in a procession to the town of Hadigaun. Another chariot of the goddess Mahalaxmi, the youngest sister of Tudaldevi is brought from Naxal. The devotees pull the chariot of Tudal Devi and take three rounds inside the Gahana Pokhari symbolizing the legend. The people pay homage and present offerings including an umbrella to the goddess. The entire event awakens with the beating Dhimes and Nyakhins.

    Sithi Nakha

    Sithi Nakha is one of the major Newari festivals of the Newar community. This day is devoted to the eldest son of Mahadev and Parvati, Kumar. The festival that falls in the month of Jestha marks the beginning of monsoon. The locals clean the water sources like wells, spouts, tube wells near their locality to celebrate. Also, the Newars gorge on delicious pancakes called Chatamari and Bara made from ground pulse-batter.

    Gathaamuga

    Gathaamuga, also known as Ghantakarna Chaturdashi is a regional Newari festival of Kathmandu valley which has many myths linked to it. The most popular one being from Bhaktapur that Gatha muga was a man who believed in the power of gods and sought out for people in need even if he had to go to an extent of killing the wrong.

    But, when he died no one was willing to cremate him as he was not associated with any religion. On this day, an elaborate replica of Gathamuga is made from straws, bells and masks and is burnt as a sign of cremation in the legend. People also wear a wrought iron ring as a protection against evil spirits.

    Mha Puja and New Year

    Mha Puja which means “worship of self” is a yearly Newari ritual that also heralds the start of a Newari year (the Nepal Sambat). It arrives on the 4th day of Tihar. Newars organize a Mandap-Puja as a symbol of celebrating the spirit within oneself. In Basantapur Durbar Square, there are rallies and parades of Newari musicians called “Bhintuna” to mark the new year.

    Yomari Punhi

    The Yomari Punhi is a harvest festival of Newars which falls in November/December. Yomari meaning “tasty bread” has become the favourite of everyone these days. It is a delicacy made out of rice flour dough, filled with sesame seeds and molasses or Khoa, and steamed. Yomari is offered to the goddess Annapurna and enjoyed by Newars with a big feast on this full moon day.

    Finally, these are some of the major Newari festivals celebrated in Kathmandu valley. Travellers can enjoy their Nepal travel on the several occasions of these Newari festivals. In addition, these festivals lighten your trip with a unique experience of festivals of the Newari community from Kathmandu valley.

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