• Culture & Tradition
  • 20 September, 2016

Indra Jatra

Indra Jatra
Kumari - The Living Goddess of Nepal. Photo: Sandip Wanem

Indra Jatra


The festival where Gods and Human amass.

Natives of the Kathmandu Valley admit the atmosphere and the ambiance of the capital city, Kathmandu, throughout the Indra Jatra festival has a different liveliness. Which is, of course, because of the enthusiasm of the volunteers commencing the festival, some devoting all their energy pulling the chariots, some would reach the peak and get lost in the trance state playing the drums and clashing the cymbals – along with some teenage girls and boys dancing and screaming their lungs out, lighting up the mood and energy to this very own sparkling and one of the biggest carnivals of the Kathmandu Valley.

The festival starts with hoisting a Lingo – a wooden ceremonial pole – at Kathmandu Durbar Square, marking the start of 8 days long Jatra (carnival) accompanied by the rare display of the statue of the deity Akash Bhairab. The hoisting of lingo is believed to propitiate Indra, God of Rain and King of Heaven. This thirty-six feet long Lingo is chosen with a great care, and experience, from the Nala forest in Kavre district, East of the Kathmandu City.  The inauguration of Indra Jatra is, almost, like releasing certain kind of magnetic energy, where people from all around the city gather in the Kathmandu Durbar Square, attended by quite a handsome number of local performers on every corner with their colorful masks and dresses, with their props and bells around their hands and legs, which already makes supplementary music of its own during portraying the exceptional Newari cultural dances.

Akash Bhairab

Sweta Bhairab. Photo: Sandip Wanem

The vivid and the most important highlight of the Indra Jatra is Kumari – the living goddess – accompanied by Lord Ganesha and Kumar. Each three of them are, only, represented by kids whose soul shall not be older than 10 years of age. All of them might look similar for the first time observe with the chariots, customs and makeup Whereas, as per the closer look or after a while, being a regular bystander, each highlight of the Jatra owns unique individuality and characters.

The festival starts with the procession of the chariots and masked dancers representing, both, deities and demons. The procession of chariots is pulled from Kathmandu Durbar square to old block of the city, and markets around the Durbar square. The first day is observed by the President of Nepal, used to be the Kings of Nepal before the fall of the monarchy, along with other dignitaries.

The origin, and the history, of the Indra Jatra, is so ancient and old that the interpretation of the festival throughout the generations to generation has, eventually, created its own story. Today, the reason behind the celebration of Indra Jatra is told in so many different stories that it does not make much sense. However, there must be some divine intervention which actually started this glorious festival while the truth must have been laying in pages that are left somewhere in some corner of the passed time, but meanwhile, we shall continue what we are doing so far.

Indra Jatra is all about family, faith, and fun.

Indra Jatra is all about family, faith, and fun. Photo: Sandip Wanem

However, some famous myths behind the celebrations of the Jatra say,

Indra’s mother needed Parijat -night-flowering coral jasmine, for some religious ritual so Indra disguised as a human being came to the earth from heaven to fetch them. But, he was recognised as a thief when he was plucking the flowers. So, the people of the valley caught him and tied him with ropes. The statue of such event is still worshipped in Maru Tole in Kathmandu. This image is also put on display with others in different parts of the city during Indra Jatra festival.

When Indra’s mother, Dakine Devi found that her son did not show up with the flower, she herself came down to earth in search of her son. But she finds her son caught in the Tantric (Magician) web. She had to go through tough negotiations with the Tantrik, and ultimately succeeded to free her son. Hence the farewell of Indra started the Jatra.


Ritual of Indra Jatra. Photo: Sandip Wanem

On this occasion, since the Dakine Devi and Indra leaves for heaven, family members of deceased people in a year follow in her footprints in the hope of going to heaven and finding the souls of their deceased loved ones. All of them reach Indradaha where they take a holy dip in preparation for their journey to heaven. However, Dakine Devi manages to leave the followers behind.

Another group of people of a special caste group in the Newar community carries a Baumata to light the way for Dakine Devi and the mundane flowers on their way to heaven. Baumata is made of a long bamboo fixed with a series of clay dishes with wick lamps on them and carried by two men. This is the Licchavi tradition that people followed even today.

On the other side in Indra Chowk, the famous Akash Bhairava bust is displayed and it is decorated with flowers. This Akash Bhairava’s head is related to the Mahabharata story. Some believe it to be the head of the first Kirat King Yalamber. In Indra Chowk, every night different groups gather and sing bhajans and hymns.

Author of the article is Mrs. Illika Tuladhar

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