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A Look into the Indra Jatra Festival

By Sambridhi Shrestha

Nepal is a diverse country made up of communities that celebrate their unique cultures with festivals. Amongst them, the Newar community celebrates the highest number of festivals year-round, and to-date has been able to retain and restore the culture.


Leading you to an amazing journey of knowing, one of the most mesmerizing festivals celebrated in Nepal, initiated by the Newari community, is Indra Jatra. It is a spectacular experience of joy, energy and stunning exhibition in celebration of gods and goddesses. Continuing for eight days, this festival portrays the dance of deities and human representatives that are carried around the Kathmandu Durbar Square in different chariots of three gods, Bhairav, one of the forms of Lord Shiva, Kumari, the living goddess, and Ganesh, the elephant headed god. Young men and middle-aged men, fueled by local liquor, pull the chariots around the Kathmandu Durbar Square.

The chariots being pulled around The Kathmandu Durbar Square (click for image source)

The myth regarding Indra Jatra is that Lord Indra (god of rain) took corporeal form and came down from the heavens on his elephant to visit Old Kathmandu. He tied up the elephant at Indra Chowk, a place in Kathmandu Durbar Square. He walked out of the city to the flower fields and picked a flower, but was discovered by an angry farmer who tied him up and rolled him into town on a cart. The elephant, believed to be “Pulu Kisi,” angrily broke his restraints and crashed around Kathmandu, but was unable to find his master. After eight days Indra revealed himself to be a god in front of the townspeople, and they let him go. This initiated the celebration of the visit of Lord Indra and named it Indra Jatra.

Image of Pulu Kisi (click for image source)

The Pulu Kisi is disguised by three men inside a huge white get-up of an elephant that dances the way through the Durbar Square in sync with music played by local instruments. The Pulu Kisi is then accompanied by Lakhey, a disguise of a monster with red hair and an aggressive face. The dance between these two is a great crowd pleaser and invites immense energy. Every year the locals take turns and perform the demonstration and music which includes the Newari community of Kathmandu.

Lakhey running around the streets of Kathmandu Durbar Square (click for image source)

 

The “Dash Avatar” dance, which showcases the ten different forms of deities, is performed late at night with an astonishing beauty of the masks and the clothes representing every single avatar (form) of the deities. The remarkable dancers display a short drama through traditional dance and accessories. The unique appearance and dancing style attracts many locals and international tourists.

Dance of Dash Avatar (click for image source)

The Newars of Kathmandu Valley also celebrate the Yenya Punhi or “Samaya Baji” festival on the third day of the Jatra by lighting up an artistic Diyo, named Dalucha and worshipping ritualistically by offering Samaya Baji. Displayed in many areas of the Durbar Square, Samaya Baji is an authentic traditional dish of the Newar community in Nepal which is later distributed to all the locals that visit the Jatra.

Every year around September the Jatra is performed pulling a crowd of hundreds and thousands, worshipping, celebrating, and enjoying creating memories with an energy that cannot be forgotten. The contrast of colors and display of culture is a beautiful chaos to watch and does justice to the hype that it has built over the years.

Samaya Baji being displayed in Durbar Square (click for image source)

 

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