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Indra Jatra, most commonly known as Yenya is the biggest religious street festival in Kathmandu, Nepal. Ye means “Kathmandu” and Ya means “celebration”, together it means “celebration inside Kathmandu” in Nepal Bhasa. The celebrations consist of two events, Indra Jatra and Kumari Jatra. Indra Jatra is marked by masked dances of deities and demons, displays of sacred images, and tableaus in honor of the deity Indra, the king of heaven. Kumari Jatra is the chariot procession of the living goddess Kumari.
Family members deceased in the past year are also remembered during the festival. The main venue of the festivities is Kathmandu Durbar Square. The celebrations last for eight days from the 12th day of the bright fortnight to the 4th day of the dark fortnight of Yanla, the eleventh month of the lunar Nepal Era calendar.
Indra Jatra was started by King Gunakamadeva to commemorate the founding of Kathmandu city in the 10th century. Kumari Jatra began in the mid-18th century. The celebrations are held according to the lunar calendar, so the dates are changeable.
Note: For this year, the festival starts on the 21st of September according to the lunar calendar and Kumari Jatra starts on the 24th of September due to some anomalies.
The festival starts with the erection of Yasin or linga, a pole from which the banner of Indra is unfurled, at Kathmandu Durbar Square. Another event on the first day is Upāku Wanegu (उपाकु वनेगु) when participants visit shrines holding lighted incense to honor deceased family members. They also place small butter lamps on the way. Some sing hymns as they make the tour. The circuitous route winds along the periphery of the historic part of the city. Also, many masked dancers representing different gods and goddesses are also brought out in this festival of their own importance.
On this day, the masked dancers visit different parts of Kathmandu city giving blessings to the locals. Also, devotees make offerings to Akash Bhairab at Layakuli, and Swet Bhairab, and Indra at Maru tole throughout the day.
On this day, the chariot of the Kumari followed by two other smaller chariots carrying a representative of Ganesh and Bhairav is taken to the south side of the old Kathmandu. The completion of this route takes about 4-5 hours in which the chariot is accompanied by many masked dancers and traditional music (Dhime Baja). After the completion of the pulling of the chariot at Basantapur Durbar Square, Da-gi (Indra’s mother) goes around looking for her son Indra that had come to earth to pick a flower called ‘parijat’ for his mother da-gi. Sons and spouses of the deceased during the year follow Da-gi hoping to go to heaven with Da-gi to meet their loved ones. A series of oil lamps set on bamboo called ‘bau-mata’ is taken around the town following the route of da-gi apparently for giving the light to da-gi on her way.
P.S. There are 3 different routes for the chariot.
The three living deities on their respective chariot travel to the northern part of the old Kathmandu, and back to Layakuli in the evening. Masked dancers, Lakhe, Pulu Kishi, and Sava-Bhaku, lead the way of the three chariots. Making offerings to the deities on display continues. People make offerings to Indra in an oil lamp called ‘dal-lu’ in the evening, appreciate the god for making the rains given for rice plantation, and then ask the god to stop the rains as no more rain is required for the rice crops; after the worshipping, devotees feast on ‘samayabaji:’ the God-blessed food comprising flattened and puffed rice, grilled meat (chyoala), roasted black soybeans, and pieces of ginger, eggs and drink home-made rice beer called ‘thon’.
Performances of Lakhe and Pulu Kishi dance continues in the night starting in the afternoon. Deities on display at Layakuli, Indra Chok, and Maru tole continue receiving offerings from the devotees throughout the day and late at night.
Lakhe and Pulu Kishi dances continue. Devotees visit the deities on display.
Chariots of Kumari, Ganesh, and Batuk Bhairava are pulled to Kilagal, and then back to Basantapur Durbar Square. Lakhe and Pulu Kishi dancers perform ahead of the chariots. The head of state receives a ‘tika’ blessing from the Living Goddess Kumari at the Kumari House as a mandate to govern the State for a year. All the deities on display go to their respective shrine for another year. The golden Indra set at the foot of the Indradhoj on the first day of the festival is taken for safekeeping. The Indradhoj is pulled down and the pole is dragged to the bank of the Vishnumati River and burned down there which marks the end of Indra Jatra.