Indra Jatra is one of the most famous festivals in Kathmandu. It lasts for eight days. This festival was commenced by Lichhivi king Gunakamadeva.
The fairs and festivals provided good entertainment to the mental satisfaction of the people. Festival also encouraged the feeling of mutual co-operation among the different activities of people. During festivals, people were much more vigorous in the repair of temples and shrines, and in clearing and decorating roads, courtyards and temples. Same time religious people distributed food and money to beggars and hermits.
During Indra Jatra fairs and festivals were held in Indra Dahanear Thankot, Kathmandu. People of Pokhara worship Lord Indra in the shrine of Hansapur. Near Hapsapur of Pokhara, there is a cave called Indra Cave, or a way to heaven.
During Indra Jatra week the Durbar Square of Kathmandu and Indra chowk comes to life every with the solemn beats and stylized gestures of the masked dancers and the Narayana or Trailokya Mohan Temple near Kumari Temple flanking the peacock-widowed residence of the vestal virgin depicts the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu (Das Avatar) of Lord Narayana in tableaux bit up by crackling flares. Which is watched daily by a big crowd for eight days.
History of Indra Jatra
The specialty of Indra Jatra is marked by dances, songs, prayers to gods and goddesses. The Mahankali dance from Bhaktapur, the Bhairaba dance of Halchowk, the goddess dance, and the demon dance of Kathmandu. The elephant dance (Tanang Kisi) from Kilagal tole of Kathmandu, the Lakhe ( Demon) dance of Majipat Kathmandu, the Mahaluxmi dance act are displayed with pomp and splendor amidst great festivity and rejoicing.
Bhairaba and Lakhe dances are the most spectacular of all dances. The dance of Bhairaba with his follower SawaBhakko is in vogue and there are Buffalo-fighting and sacrifices to appease Lord Bhairaba.
The Mahankali dance of Bhaktapur is one of the popular renderings of Mahankali dance is in honor of the Nava Durgas (nine goddesses Durga) symbolizing the victory of good over evil. The Mahankali dance is based on the story of Markandeya Purana detailing the deeds and exploits of the Hindu Pantheon. The dance begins following the successful thrust of the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha, to capture the seat of power of Indra, the King of Heaven Indra and other gods of Heaven approached Lord Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva for the punishment of the demons but to no effect. Ultimately they seek refuge in the fierce might of Nava Durgas to rescue them from the hands of the evil of ShumbhaNishumbha and their kinds.
In this dance Mahankali, Mahaluxmi and Kumari confer together with their attendants to decide measures to confront the demons and restore peace and order in heaven. They discuss and try to come to a definite course of action to maintain the morale and staying power of their retinues. In the same dance, DaityaNritya demon dance shows the Joyous dance of demons upon their victory over Indra King of Heaven. They dream of perpetuating their reign in heaven and demolishing the order of believers. They contemplate winning over Mahankali, Mahaluxmi, and Kumari for their wives.
This dance also presents a battle between Goddess Mahankali and ShumbhaNishumbha. Shumbha and Nishumbhathe goddess challenge them to come to a duel. A fierce battle ensues in which both sides make frantic efforts to get the better of others. The demons prevail in their prowess and Mahankali disappears. Attendants of Mahankali, Beta, come to inquire about the encounter and its outcome. They find a pool of blood and dead bodies in the battleground and get worried about the safety of Mabankali. The attendantsBeta heightens the tension and indicates the ensuing battle. The musical interlude in Pachhima follows during which demons seek to consolidate their victory and goddess ponder over their difficulties. The tune is an integral part of the performance.
In the same dance Kumari-Nishumbha dance displays a beautiful charming Goddess clashing with a haughty demonNishumbha is bewildered by the grace and heavenly beauty of Kumari and asks her to come to his terms. Nishumbha is confident Kumari also will meet the fate of Mahankali and warns her to lay down arms and marry him. Then Kumari declares if you can defeat me in a duel I will accept your terms. In the ensuing encounter, Nishumbha perishes.
The attendants of Kumari celebrates after Kumari defeated the dreaded demon Nishumbha. They are drunk with pleasure and imitate devouring the dead bodies of demon Nishumbha and drinking his blood.
In the other performance, Mahaluxmi and Shumbha dance the engage Shumbha bemoans the loss of his brother Nishumbha and vows to avenge on the goddess. The dance begins amidst thunderous war music played by both sides. Shumbha makes a death-and-life effort but all in vain. He is amazed at the staying tenacity of Mahaluxmi towards whom he had lustful intentions. Ultimately she succumbs to her bow. The end of Shumbha marks the climax of this dance
In another last performance, the lieutenants of God are overjoyed by the crash of the demons. They imitate drinking the blood and devouring the flesh of the fallen victims. This dance spread the news of the annihilation of chaos and disorder perpetrated by the demons. Mawali music proclaims the restoration of order and the final defeat of the forces of evil. After that symbolizes the beginning of easeful life and regeneration upon the removal of fear and the threat of Sumbha and Nishumbha. A pair of Khyaks plays to their heart’s content and enjoy sports of their liking. They are happy in the newfound calm and prosperity under the bright autumn air. Vijaya Nritya provides lastly a finale to the Mahankali Dance accompanied by attendants, hion, Dhunand retinues heralding a new era of peace and prosperity in Indraloka, heaven.
Lakhe dance is also one of the most popular and entertaining dances, the traditional performance of Indra Jatra. The origin and significance of Lakhe, are shrouded in myth and age-old folklore. What is certain is Lakhe was a demon who was penalized to perform dance shows every year to the people of Majipat.
With the fast beats of drums loudly, cymbals and tune of Mwali Lakhe are performed during Indra Jatra (July-September). It is played in the open ground before a temple or in places. The performer is believed to get possessed by the spirit of Lakhe and makes jests in good humor or attack violently upon those who tease him. In the set of this dance, there is a small boy of about ten years named Jhallencha who will tease the Lakhe in this dance performance.
A week before the commencement of the Indra Jatra festival a group of people, government officials, priests, and other persons of Guthi Sansthan appointed by the government for this purpose go to the village called Nala about 14 miles east of Kathmandu. Nearby in the forest, they select the biggest tree called Salla for Lingo or Indradhoja or a long wooden pole. They worship the tree with the sacrifice of a goat with religious rituals. Cut the tree to make Lingo and bring lingo to Bhaktapur with ceremonies. After two days the people of Thimi and Bhaktapur bring the Lingo to Bhotahiti near Ratnapark of Kathmandu. It is placed there for four days. One day before the commencement of the Indra Jatra festival a few government officials observed fasting through the night. The next day they make puja as prescribed by the shastras. The Manandhar or a particular set of persons of Kathmandu set up lingo or solemnized Indradhojothanam. On the trunk of the lingo on the first day, the gold image of Indra mounted on the back of the Airavat elephant is placed as the prisoners of war. Consequently, Indra Jatra lasts for eight days with a variety of religious performances in Kathmandu valley.
It is said that once Shiva gives a flag to Vishnu, from Vishnu it goes to Indra which is handed over to Indra by Vishnu for fighting against Demons. Again the flag was handed over to a King named Uparichar to be installed in the world of peace and prosperity in the world which is already installed in Sumeru Parbat during the time of war between Gods and Demons.
Later after many years King Pratap Singh Shah commemorated the victory in the valley by his father Prithvi Narayan Shah in Indra Jatra and installed a long pole and named Indradhojothanam on a fixed spot near Kalo Bhairaba at Durbar Square of Kathmandu. It is believed that the installation of the pole brings peace and prosperity to the people of Nepal. Images of the heads of Bhairabs like Hathudyo, Yalumba, Akash Bbairaba, etc are displayed outside and worshipped. At night the people in commemoration of the departed soul burn perfumed incenses, oil feed lamps, and go round the city making prayers, placing a small earthen lamp at certain intervals on the road. People’s belief is that the light will take the departed souls to heaven, or enlighten the departed soul, the name of the ritual is “Upaku wonegu” in the Newari language is the ritual of the first day of the weeklong Indra Jatra festival. The ritual is performed by the families in a white dress who would be in annual mourning.
Baumata is a procession taking out of the procession on Ananta Chaturdasi of an earthen lamp on a long bamboo-like serpent signifies the journey of departed souls to the next world, the whole structure of bamboo stick on which earthen lamp is placed is regarded as a body of Naga, Dagin and Bumata. People of Layakushal prepare throat, backbone by Phalsasal and Dakshasal, and lail by Chhanswad.
When the pole Indradhojothanam is installed in Durbar Square of Kathmandu a small cage containing the idol of Indra, on his mythical elephant Airavata is placed at its base this indicates the statue of Indra as a prisoner of war. His bands are bound. The images of Indra are placed at crossroads over a high platform during this festival.
On the third day of the Indra Jatra festival, the chariot festival of the living Goddess Kumari, Bhairaba, and Ganesa are observed and taken around Kathmandu city. The chariot festival of Kumari, Bhairaba, and Ganesa lasts for three days. The most unusual festival of the world is that of Kumari the living Goddess of Nepal, in which the king participates to pay his respect to the living Goddess. During this festival, local people participate in making merriments playing musical instruments chanting hymns, and prayers in honor of them. At that time thousands of people assemble at the street, every and in the terraces of Manjudewal and Trailokya Mohan Temple of Durbar Square of Kathmandu to see the chariot festival of the living Goddess Kumari, Bhairaba, and Ganesa. Their Majesties King and Queen and other members of Royal family, Prime Minister, other Ministers, high ranking civil and officers, members of constitutional bodies, foreign attend in Gaddi Baithak. Gaddi Baithak or an assembly room with a throne was constructed by Rana Prime Minister in modern European style. This Assembly room was of great importance for a variety of political, religious, and administrative reasons during the Rana regime and even after the overthrow of the Rana regime. It is in this assembly room that the ceremony of credentials takes place where His Majesty King received a letter of credence from the newly appointed ambassador of different countries before 2017 B. S.
During the Rana regime, the Perso-Arabic influence predominated, and domes and cupolas, and minarets reigned supreme. The western style also made itself to the exclusion of the Muslim influence, and the Doric and Corinthian columns were seen supporting the triangle as the motif of the stucco palaces of Ranas.
Gaddi Baithak is an imitation of the building of England. One can see a decorated design of the flag of the United Kingdom on the wall of a terrace of the building from where the Majesties King and Queen watch chariot festival.
After the preliminary ceremony the Kumari, Bhairaba, and Ganesa and all living, Kumari is a real living goddess but Bhairaba and Ganesa are represented as Ganesa and Bhairab in human form, seated in three different chariots. Then the ancient army called “Guruju Ko Paltan” shots gun bloom in the sky and their Majesties King and Queen in the chariot, after that the chariot festival and procession of the first day starts.
During this festival, the chariot of Living Goddess Kumari is accompanied by those of Bhairab and Ganesa. Kumari is regarded as a Bhairaba as an aspect of Durga Lord Shiva and Ganesa son of Lord Shiva and Parvati. Kumari represents power, Bhairaba the King and Ganesa the people.
“Guruju Ko Paltan” is a small detachment of soldiers, clad in strange pieces of grey-green uniform and carrying long guns of the time of King Prithvi Narayana Shah. Three officers with wizened, accompany them. The “Guruju Ko Paltan” plays their role naturally with the old types of uniforms with old types of guns even today. They participate in different religious processions such as during Indra Jatra, Matsyendranath Rath Yatra, and procession during the coronation.
The chariots dragged on the first day through the southern portion of Kathmandu. From Basantapur to Maruhiti, Bhimsensthan, Jaisidewal, etc. On the second day dragged the chariot through the northern portion of Kathmandu from Basantapur to Maru, Pyaphal, Yatkhatole, Nardevitole, Tengaltole, Bangemuda (Naghaltole), Nhyakantala Tole, Asontole, Kelatole, Indra Chowk, Makhan tole and Durbar Square Hanumandhoka, and return back to Basantapur near Kumari Ghar and in front of Gaddi Baithak. The chariot dragging festival of the fifth day is known as Nanicha-Ya festival. This Nanicha-Ya festival was later introduced and observed by King Jaya Prakash Malla to show the festival to his illegal private consort named “Nanicha” of Kilagal Tole and for those people who could not witness the previous festival.
The Jubilation and festival outlook of the crowd when the chariot processions reach near the image of Akash Bhairaba in Indrachowk and the White Bhairaba in Hanuman Dhoka are not worthy features of the final day of this festival Nanicha-Ya and the second day of the festival. During this festival dragged the chariot in MaruhitiTole, PyaphalTole, YatkhaTole, NaradeviTole, KilagaiTole, BhedasingTole Indrachowk, MakhanTole, and Hanumandhoka. In the evening His Majesty King visits KumariGhar to receive tika from Kumari. She was very much respected and venerated by the Shah Kings of Nepal. Since the time of King Prithvi Narayana Shah.
The local people where the chariots dragged organize feast and invite their relatives and friends and feed them in the evening after the chariot passed from their locality.
On the seventh of Indra Jatra, a man is made to put on a mask and a Jama or a long garment, so a shape of a watch and is taken around the city. The relatives of the departed souls of that year also accompany him. Sowing seven seeds called Satabeeja to show their faith.
On the seventh day of Indra Jatra, the people make worship to the sky with an oil-feed lamp to Akash Deep, Same Baji”(mixed ingredients of beaten rice (cheura) Soybeans and gingers are scattered over all images of Bhairab and people on such an occasion drink Jand (Local made beer) which is extracted out of the mouths of Bhairabas placed at Indra Chowk and in the vicinity of Hanuman Dhoka Palace.
On the eighth and last day of Indra Jatra, the wooden pole of Indradhoja erected for eight days is felled, and thus ends of the festival of Indra Jatra which is celebrated to propitiate the god Indra, the god of rain.
The main significance of the Indra Jatra festival lies in the fact that it is but natural for an agricultural country like worship the god of rain, Indra for timely rainfall so helpful to agricultural output.