The drum beating gets louder and the crowd surges a little. I hear a deafening noise and run to catch a sight. A stream of young men comes running into the square followed by an elaborately decorated team dressed as a white elephant called Pullu Kisi.
The elephant is looking for his master Indra and walks along the streets creating mischief, with the men running beside him who lead the charge with a torch flame. Few masked dancers followed highlighting that the ceremony for Indra Jatra had started
Indra Jatra is famous as The Kumari Festival world over. It was on my list since the time a local guide mentioned it while I was doing my research on the Living Goddess of Nepal, back in 2013. It was during this conversation that the guide mentioned that if you really want to photograph Kumari, Indra Jatra is the time that she comes out of her abode and the general public is allowed to photograph her. “Even if you meet Kumari in her abode at Basantapur Durbar Square, she is not permitted to get clicked as it is considered inauspicious” he told me.
For me the sole attraction of attending Indra Jatra has been this that I could meet the Kumari, see Kumari chariot and could click her. The reason why I suggested it to the chairman of PATA (Nepal chapter) Mr. Suman Pandey, during one of our meeting and thankfully he liked the idea of inviting bloggers during the grand celebrations of Indra Jatra
But there are people who perceive Kumari Jatra as a part of Indra Jatra but in reality these are two different events celebrated under one main festival. These are completely different events and have no resemblance. So if you are one those like me, who think that this prestigious festival is limited to the living goddess of Nepal and expects to read the same in this blog, hang on till I share its long history and significance. My myths were shattered
I shall be dividing this in two blogs. This blog will majorly focus upon the overall experience of attending Indra & Kumari Jatra while in the next blog I am sharing the various interpretations that has been added to this festival over the centuries by the various Kings of Nepal. Do look for the tips at the end of this blog
Celebrating Indra Jatra
Landing ourselves in a hush, I reached Kathmandu in the afternoon on Day 1 of Indra Jatra when the pole was already erected, marking the start of this grand festival.
But I couldn’t spot anything concrete on the first two days of this festival except the crowd and few ceremonial rituals during the evening.
Day 3 is supposed to be the main day of Indra Jatra when the Kumari also comes out and bless the town riding on her Golden Chariot. Her sight is said to bring good fortune and hence thousands of people are gathered at Basantapur Durbar Square for her one glimpse. Also Indra Jatra being a festival of National importance, Day 3 is a declared public holiday in Nepal
But I guess we weren’t quite prepared to take the crowd and were a little surprised when we reached the grounds of Basantapur Darbar Square on Day 3. We weren’t expecting it to be so crowded honestly.
It was so packed that none of us could reach anywhere near to the celebrations.
We tried to push ourselves through the crowd but we had to give up mid-way. We reached the venue just 30 minutes prior to the start of the festival and as a result we ended with almost NO photographs. But as they say that each day is a new learning.
We were supposed to leave Kathmandu for our further trip the next day but we all chose to stay back. Better prepared this time, we got scattered in different corners of Durbar Square according to our comfort on Day 4 of Indra Jatra.
Visibly less crowded or we got ourselves out early lol. I and my fellow bloggers Ami and Divyakshi purposely chose to stay close to the Kumari chariot and Kumari Ghar as this is where all the major action happens. A volunteer helped us get inside the Kumari Ghar courtyard when Ami introduced us as Travel bloggers from India.
And from there everything just fell into place. We got glimpse of traditional dances performed during Indra Jatra as well as we could click Kumari while she gets out boarding the chariot.
Indra Jatra & Kumari Jatra- What it Means
The festival is marked by two major events. While Indra Jatra is celebrated by masked dances of deities and demons as well as displays of sacred images in honour of the deity Indra, Kumari Jatra is the chariot procession of the living goddess Kumari in honour of goddess Taleju.
Also Read: My Full story on The Kumari of Nepal
Indra Jatra was initiated during the Lichhavi Period (300 BC-1200 AD) by then king Gunakamdev. Centuries later, in 1756 AD, the last Malla king of Kathmandu, Jaya Prakash Malla, started the Kumari Jatra, beginning on the third day of Indra Jatra, as a tribute to the goddess Taleju Bhawani.
Indra Jatra is the most celebrated annual festival for the Newar community of Nepal. It begins every year from the day of the Bhadra Dwadasi to Ashwin Krishna Chaturdasi, in accordance with the lunar calendar. Indra is the Lord of Rain and Jatra means procession. It is also known as Yenya which means Celebrations in Kathmandu. This year Indra Jatra started on September 3rd and lasted for 8 days, celebrated among much fanfare.
Indra Jatra begins with the erection of Linga (Yasingh), a 36 feet long ceremonial pole made of Pine which is chosen from the Nala forest in Kavre district east of Kathmandu and pulled by the Newari men a week prior to its start.
This is followed by the flag hoisting which signifies the start of Indra Jatra. According to the local beliefs, Indra had received this flag from Lord Vishnu for his protection, while he was visiting the earth.
Indra Jatra- Major Highlights
According to the locals, it all started when Dakini- the mother of Lord Indra needed Parijat, a special type of flower for her treatment, which was not available in heaven because Lord Krishna brought it down to earth. This flower it is said landed in Kathmandu Valley. Left with no option, Indra disguised himself as human and came to the city to fetch the flower along with his white elephant. But the locals unable to recognise him, chained Indra when he was caught stealing that flower. The statue of which is still worshipped in Maru Tole in Kathmandu.
Dakini upon learning the truth decided to visit earth and revealed the true identity of Indra. A procession of which is carried out around 8 pm on the street when the chariot of Kumari returns to Maru, re-enacting Dakini going around town in search of her son. In another significant part of this festival also shows Pullu Kisi (The White Elephant) dance, with whom Indra visited earth, going in search of his master after he failed to return. This is generally performed by the residents of Kilagal tole
On knowing the truth the locals felt guilty and immediately released Indra from the prison. Dakini overwhelmed with the gesture of Kathmandu people blessed them with good harvest for the coming months and also promised to take the soul of all those who had died in the past year to heaven.
Locals began to celebrate the eight days of Indra’s punishment as Indra Jatra, honouring the king of heaven and remembering all those who died the previous year by lighting butter lamps all along the street of Kathmandu. Called Mata Biye in the local language which means offering butter lamps Newars honour deceased by offering small butter lamps along the processional route on first day of the chariot festival. You can see the lamps lite while walking the streets at night.
During Indra Jatra, there are a variety of performances including the dances of Sawa Bhakku Bhairav from Halchowk, Majipa Lakhey from Majipat, Devi Nach and Yeravat hathi (Pulukisi) from Naradevi, Mahakali and Kathi Maka Nach from Bhaktapur. All the dances take place around Hanuman Dhoka area. But since I was there for only 4 days I could manage to catch the glimpse of Majipa Lakhey which is a special dance in Nepalese folklore, known as the Peaceful Bhairava
The Kumari Chariot
The Kumari Jatra was initiated by Jaya Prakash Malla centuries after the Indra Jatra. It is said that the goddess Taleju Bhawani was the king’s political and social advisor and would give important tips to the king on good governance.
However, during one of their meetings, the king, overwhelmed by desire, attempted to rape the goddess inside the Taleju Bhawani temple, prompting the goddess to disappear and vow never to appear again. Worried by the goddess’ proclamation, the king begged her to reconsider her decision. Taking sympathy on the poor king, Taleju pledged to reside within the Kumari, a virgin girl from the Newar clan of Nepal. Jaya Prakash Malla identified the right Kumari and built a palace for her in the Hanuman Dhoka area. In honour of Taleju Bhawani and the Kumari, he began a separate procession called the Kumari Jatra, which happened to fall on the third day of Indra Jatra.
The chariot of Kumari followed by two other smaller chariots carrying a representative of Ganesh and Bhairav are taken around the city for three days. According to Hindu beliefs, Ganesha is the son of Shiva & Parvati who has a head of an elephant and Bhairav is another form of lord Shiva himself. Both of them are considered to be the protector of Kumari as she steps out of her abode
The Linga (Yasingh) is pulled down signalling the end of Indra Jatra festival. It is taken to the confluence of Bagmati and Bishnumati in Teku to be put to rest.
- Opt to stay near Basantapur Durbar Square as it’s easy to catch the action. In our case we stayed at a beautiful Newari boutique hotel called Dwarika Chenn
- Entry to attend the Festival is absolutely free or you can say crowded enough that the ticket can’t be monitored 🙂
- Keep a watch on Nepal tourism website or contact someone locally for the dates of Indra Jatra
- Carry Snacks and Water as there is nothing to eat in the Festival area. Though there are plenty of eatery shops once you get out of Basantapur Durbar Square
- Reach the venue 2 hours prior to start of the event. Generally the main function starts at 5 PM
- If possible, firm a place near Kumari Ghar as major action takes place here
- Make sure to roam around Basantapur Durbar Square during early morning and at night. Quite interesting action goes around the place and it is safe too 🙂
- Wear comfortable clothing and shoes as it might require a lot of running around, incase you want to click photographs
- Keep the camera and phone fully charged. When the action starts you get no time to change the batteries 🙂
- Sunscreen is mandatory
- Carry rain coat or Umbrella as it generally rains on Day 3 of Indra Jatra