This week marks the start of Nepal’s biggest religious holiday, the annual week-long Indra Jatra festival. This Newari festival dates back to the 10th century and is characterized by grand processions, masked dancers, music, food and religious offerings. It pays tribute to Indra, the Hindu king of heaven.
According to legend, Indra descended to earth to pluck a rare flower that does not grow in the heavens. He was captured by the locals and put on display in Kathmandu, who refused to believe Indra was who he claimed to be. Eventually Indra’s mother Basundhara became worried and went to Kathmandu. The locals, upon realizing their mistake, immediately released Indra. In return, Basundhara promised to always provide enough rain for a healthy crop.
Although Indra Jatra is also celebrated in Bhaktapur and Sikkim (as well as other parts of India) the main festival occurs in and around Kathmandu Durbar Square (one of three Durbar Squares in the Valley, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites).
Locals Prepare For The Indra Jatra Festival
…And The Indra Jatra Festival Begins!
The festival commences with Yosin Thanegu, in which a large tree is stripped of its branches and dragged from a forest 30 kilometres outside of the city all the way to Kathmandu. Known as yoshin, this tree is erected in Kathmandu Durbar Square and the banner of Indra hung from it. Although I missed the actual procession, pictured above is the yoshin.
The Kumari Steals The Show
The unquestionable highlight of the Indra Jatra festival is the Kumari Jatra festival. (Yes, that’s right, its a 3-day festival within a week-long festival…those Nepalese really know how to party!) The Kumari, otherwise known as the Living Goddess, made a rare appearance over the course of three days in a grand procession with three gold chariots.
The Kumari is a pre-pubescent girl who is supposed to be a human manifestation of the divine female energy. She lives in a palace, is pampered beyond belief and hardly even allowed to walk on her own, and is worshiped as a living god until reaching puberty — at which point she is stripped of her deity status and must return to a simple life living with her family.
Popular misconception says that former kumari cannot marry, however this is not true. It’s merely said that marrying a former kumari will bring imminent death upon yourself, which for some strange reason tends to scare men off. (And probably women as well.)
There are many Kumari throughout Nepal, however the most famous one is the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu. Although I could ramble on about the life of a Kumari, the controversy surrounding this tradition, or the long and difficult readjustment phase that occurs once these young women go through puberty, let’s save that for another day. Instead just enjoy these photos of the Indra Jatra festival 2015
As you will undoubtedly notice from the photos, there is plenty of rubble and earthquake damage remaining, even here in such a prominent part of the capital city. People are using it as stadium seating, which is unfortunately further destroying what remains.
However there is some repair work ongoing, even during the festival. Look closely at the bell at the top of the building
Indra Jatra After Dark
The fun and festivities continue after sunset, with fresh crowds of families arriving after their daily obligations have been finished.
Festival dates change every year, as it is based off the Nepalese calendar. But if you happen to be in Nepal at the right time, make sure to check this one out!