The Kathmandu Valley is home to a myriad of monuments, temples, shrines, traditional festivals and other exceptional cultural events. Thus, the valley has been a suitable place for all those interested in monuments and culture for centuries. The heritage sites and cultural festivals have been a major attraction among foreign as well as domestic tourists visiting Kathmandu. The ongoing eight-day long Indra Jatra, which is commonly known as Yenya in Nepal Bhasa, is the biggest religious street festival in Kathmandu. It starts from the 12th day of the bright fortnight and ends on the 4th day of the dark fortnight of Yanla, the 11th month in the lunar Nepal Era calendar. Therefore, its dates are changeable. This year, the festival began on Sunday (September 19). The festival starts with the erection of a wooden pole made of pine at Basantapur Square. It marks the beginning of a month-long festival season of autumn.
Kumari Jatra is another important festival. Both the festivals are celebrated side by side. Indra Jatra is observed with masked dances of deities and demons, displays of sacred images and pictures in honour of the god Indra, the king of heaven. And Kumari Jatra is marked by taking out a chariot procession of the living goddess Kumari. As per the centuries-old custom, President Bidya Devi Bhandari Sunday walked around the chariot of Kumari and received tika from the living goddess. She did it as the head of state of Nepal. Besides, she paid respects to the two other living gods, Ganesh and Bhairav. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, heads of constitutional bodies, diplomats, political leaders and chiefs of security bodies also joined her at Hanumandhoka and observed Indra Jatra from the balcony of the Gaddi Baithak. The then King Prithvi Narayan Shah had also received blessings from Kumari before taking over the throne of Kathmandu. He had conquered Kathmandu on the day of Indra Jatra.
Historical evidences show that Indra Jatra was initiated by Lichhavi King Gunakamadev to mark the founding of Kathmandu in the 10th century. Family members of the Newar community who passed away in the past year are also reminisced during the festival. The Kathmandu Durbar Square is the key venue of the festivities. However, Kumari Jatra started only in the mid-18th century. Meanwhile, culture experts say that Indra Jatra originated as a celebration of nature and ancestors, not a specific god. The ‘Indra’ figures that communities across Kathmandu put up on poles to mark the festival are actually Bukhyacha (scarecrows). They are very significant for farmers as they help prevent birds from damaging crops. Being members of an agrarian society, the people of Kathmandu opted for putting up the dummies during the festival to honour their utility.
According to the news carried by this daily, culture experts also mention that the term ‘Indra Jatra’ did not fully acknowledge the scope and importance of the festival. This is not just a festival of Indra. It also features many other characters and fables of Indra’s mother, the living gods, Majipat Lakhe and Bhairav. This festival is also celebrated by Hindus and Buddhists in Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, Kirtipur, Kavrepalanchowk and Dolakha as well. But the locals there do not call it Indra Jatra. Though these festivals are celebrated by the Newar community, they are a national pride and identity. As the Constitution of Nepal, 2015 also recognises Nepal as a multi-cultural nation, it is the responsibility of one and all to contribute towards preserving and promoting these festivals.