Indra Jatra is one of the most important Nepalese festivals. The main “hero” of the festival is god Indra, Ruler of Heaven, controller of clouds and storms. Legend says that once upon a time Dagini, Indra’s mother, requested her son to bring a certain white flower called “parijat” which grew in the Kathmandu Valley. Indra disguised himself as an ordinary man and landed on Earth. He found the flowers but was caught “red-handed”. He was put in a prison then. Dagini, anxious not to see her son return to heaven, went down herself to Earth and made herself known to people. Then Indra was released and Dagini as a token of gratitude promised to spread enough dew over the valley during winter to ensure a rich crop.
Another popular legend repeated during Indra Jatra relates that the ancient Nepalese King Yalambar journeyed to India to witness the epic Mahabharata war disguised as god Shiva in his terrifying Bhairav form. At the battle site god Krishna asked him on which side he intended to fight. When Yalambar replied that he would fight on the losing side Krishna chopped off his head with such violence that it flew away and landed in the Kathmandu Valley.
Each year during Indra Jatra the Nepalese worship their headless ancestral ruler. The wooden lattice screen in Basantapur conceals the huge mask of Bhairav during the whole year and is opened only during Indra Jatra. Men and women throw rice grains and flower petals to him. A wooden tube sticks out of its half-open mouth. As the festival continues the yearly “miracle” happens: a stream of beer spurts out of the mask’s mouth. The explanation is simple: behind the mask jugs of rice beer have been installed. Everyone indulges in hazardous acrobatics in order to catch a sip of beer to receive that way powerful blessing from Bhairav.
On the main day of the festival thousands gather from all over the valley to watch living goddess Kumari procession. People completely fill the square and the steps of the surrounding temples awaiting for the event. Meanwhile a dancer wearing a fierce looking mask gesticulates, jumps and runs around. He is a Lakhe, a demon, performing a ceremonial dance. Along with him two other masked dancers, called Bhaku, entertain the crowd. Another popular dance is the elephant dance depicting Indra’s vehicle in search of his imprisoned master.
A goat is sacrificed to the wheel of the Kumari’s carriage to pacify Bhairav. If this is not done he may take a life by causing one of the heavy wooden wheels to crush one of those who pulls the chariot. Actually there are three chariots. The biggest one is for Kumari and the smaller ones are for Ganesh and Bhairav.
At the auspicious moment ascertained by astrologers Kumari is taken out of her house, placed in the chariot and then to the firing of military guns the carriage goes forward pulled by groups of shouting men.
It was the first time I watched Indra Jatra live, I mean not from TV but straight from the steps of the temple in Basantapur. The experience was worth it.
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