By Binu Shrestha Kathmandu, Sept. 2: The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has cast its shadow on the celebration of Indrajatra, one of the most exciting and revered festivals of Newar community of Kathmandu, this year. Regarded as the hub of festivals and celebrations of the Newar community, Hanumandhoka and Indrachwok have witnessed negligible turnout of devotees this year amid the fear of coronavirus. Every year on the day of Indrajatra the city usually would have the streets abuzz with people, chariot processions, masked dances, religious plays, lights, music and other celebratory activities. Locals and tourists used to throng to observe the festival of the living goddess. But this year, no tourists were seen. For the first time in history, Indrajatra, the eight-day long exuberant festival, has been observed in a dull manner, thanks to COVID-19 scare. Every year, Kumari, the living goddess makes her gracious presence in front of the head of the state and devotees. However, the visit of the head of the state has been cancelled amid the spiking cases of the virus. The festival falls in September and marks the beginning of a month-long festival of autumn. During the festival, devotees worship Indra, the king-god of rain and good harvest, and Kumari on the jubilant occasion. The revelers also enjoy dozens of masked dances of deities and demons, and exhibition of sacred images of Indra, while chariot processions of Kumari, Ganesh and Bhairav make create other scenes of attraction. Amidst the pandemic, the concerned authority like Guthi Sansthan and Indrajatra Management Committee had decided to limit the celebration only by performing regular rituals and worship of god and goddess at their respective places. Gautam Shakya, president of Indrajatra Management Committee, said, “Every year, percussion assembles, a traditional Newari instrument, used to be played around the city, while parading many gods and goddesses with the start of the festival.” But this year, the number of devotees is extremely low. Even the locals are not seen at Hanuman Dhoka, Indrachowk and nearby temples, he said. He said that chariot pulling and other open activities like Indradhojan, displaying Aakash Bhairav at Indrachowk, Indra Maharaj at Marutole, Kilagal and Bhairav in different nooks and corners of the city has been cancelled this year. “The head of the state used to visit Hanuman Dhoka to pay respect to Kumari and other gods and goddesses. But this year, the outdoor celebration has been curtailed. Only the annual
worshipping has been offered to the deities at the respective temples.” They have also performed annual worshipping of living goddess of Kumari at Kumari Ghar today, he added. “Every year we used to see a huge crowd of devotees milling the road throughout the day, but today there were only a few devotees present,” said Shakya. “This pandemic has turned the celebration of Indrajatra very tasteless. I had never experienced such a dull celebration of this vibrant festival. The pandemic has ruined all thrilling features of the Indrajatra,” he added. He shared that he was very disappointed to witness such quiet and dull celebration. Prior to this, chariot pulling task of the third day was postponed in 2008 but like today the celebration of Indrajatra was never postponed in history. Swet Bhairav depicts the most dangerous face of Lord Shiva, located at Basantapur, which is kept hidden inside a wooden curtain throughout the year and is taken out only during the Indrajatra. Every year, both wooden curtains used to open for the devotees. However, this year, only one wooden curtain was opened. Gautam Dangol, a local of Sankata, said, “We are staying inside the home in fear of the virus. The festive mood and the excitement of Indrajatra has been completely damaged.” Started in the 10th century, the Indrajatra has become an integral part of Nepali culture.