Indra Jatra festival in Nepal started in Nepal to commemorate the establishment of the Kingdom of ancient Kathmandu. The festival in its early years was called Yenya: (pronounced Yenyā) and it marked a season of joy for the old Kathmandu dwellers. The natives here celebrate the festival with equal glamour and clad like the early years of their ancestors. Melancholy of musical instruments, the noise of people moving in crowds, masked dancers dancing to the rhythm of musical instruments, chariot procession, hymns of Buddhist people remembering the dead, and butter lamp laid in the middle of the streets are spectacles of Indra Jatra celebration
Indra Jatra in Nepal is celebrated across many Newar towns across the country. The festival is also celebrated in migratory Newar settlements outside of Nepal. The festival begins way early when the Manandhar families of Kathmandu travel to Yoshin Gun (Yoshin forest) to select a wooden pole for starting the Jatra. The Yoshin is brought to Kathmandu with the sheer power of the people dragging it 30 kilometers from Nala Bhaktapur to the Basantapur Durbar Square in Kathmandu.
The Jatra officially kicks off after a flag touted the magical cloak of Indra is hoisted up on the wooden pole or Yoshin. The flag procession or Yoshin Thanegu ceremony is performed on Yalantho Ekadashi of Nepal Sambat calendar and Bhadra Shuklapaksha in Bikram Sambat Calendar. The date of the festival usually falls in late August to early September.
The Newar towns of Kathmandu have long held the belief that the festival started with the capture of Hindu god Indra, who is touted as King of all gods and heaven. According to folklore passed down to Jatra organizers and local Newars of old Kathmandu area, Lord Indra came to Kathmandu to loot night jasmine or Parijaat flower for her mother’s daily worship and prayers. In order to bring, the flowers to his mother, he used a mystical cloak to disguise himself as a human and came to a garden, where he was caught in the act and tied up.
Upon failure of his return, his mother went around in search of her son throughout the city to find him caged and tied. The goddess Dagin briefed them all the events and asked people of the valley to release him with a promise to provide an ample amount of dew for winter crop plantation. Goddess also promised to take the souls of the deceased into heaven along with her in return for releasing the lord of rain, Indra.
The Yoshin Thanegu in itself is the biggest happening around these parts of the UNESCO World Heritage site in Kathmandu. The Kathmandu Durbar square sees thousands of people gather around Basantapur Durbar square for lifting the humongous 60 to 70 feet tall pine tree trunk raised by locals and army; under the watchful eyes of Living Goddess Kumari.
The first day of Jatra sees people light up butter lamps, incenses along the traditional Kathmandu roads. Kids can be seen collecting these small butter lamp called Palchas in the local Newar language. While people dressed in white clothes can be seen walking around town for the sake of the deceased. People lightning the streets for someone already deceased; is a spectacle one should not miss. The century-old hidden mask idols of lord Bhairava are brought out in the streets for display during the Indra Jatra season. Along the traditional routes lay hundreds of Bhairava imagery opened up for display to everyone making along the route of the Jatra.
The Swet Bhairava is only up for display during this period of the year and it is a must-see idol for any visitor during Indrajatra time. The story high face sculpture of Lord Swet Bhairava in Basantapur Durbar Square serves a cocktail of Newar liquor Aayela and Thwon (rice beer; also called Chyyang) in an event called Hathu Hayakegu. People climb upon on shoulder of their friends or family members to taste the sweet alcoholic beverage flowing from a pipe near god’s mouth.
Similarly, the Aakash Bhairava or Baka dyo: (means the primitive god) decorated with Garlands of flower around his head, and a famous sweet called Peda is put up in a display at Indra chowk. Likewise, tall square structures made up of wood and ropes are put upright in the middle of the street at Indra Chowk, Kasthamandap, Jyabhal, and other places to symbolize capture of Indra.
The Kumari Rath Jatra during Indra Jatra in Nepal is the key take away of this Jatra. The chariot ride of the Living Goddess Kumari, Bhairav, and Ganesh making their way along Kwaney (lower corner of the city when literally translated), Thaneya (upper corner of the city), and Nanicha are series of festive event people should not miss. The beautifully decorated samayabaji up for distribution along various locations around town is an experience worth indulging in.
Similarly, the masked dancers and performers like MajipaLakhe, SwaaBhakku or Shovabhagwatinaachgan, Das avatar, MahakaaliNaach from Bhaktapur, Dagin procession, and Devi Pyakhaan are worth every visitors time. Equally, the amazing experience can be gained from roaming around the streets with PuluKishi and the band of traditional instrument players accompanying it. An enactment performed by a group of men cradled inside a replica of Indra’s White Elephant – who is said to have roamed the valley in search of his masters.
The traditional performances have well remained a key portion and offer an amazing way of entertainment. Late in the after the chariot procession is over family member of the deceased, walk along with a person take over by spirits of the goddess Dagin. A congregation of people dressed in white clothes walk behind the mother goddess Dagin and offer pujas to every deity on the route. Finally on the day of the first chariot procession, late in the shadows of the night starts Bau Mata.
During Bau Mata procession of the Indra Jatra Festival in Nepal – Manandhar builds a figurine symbolizing a snake and carries it across town. The Bau Mata is marvelous light figurine which is made up of small bamboos with excellently placed butter lamp across it.