KATHMANDU: Indra Jatra is one of the main festivals celebrated in Kathmandu named after the Indra — the God of Rain and King of Heaven. The festival officially began this year on September 25 after the lingo (wooden pole) brought from Sallaghari in Nala, Kavre was erected on the Hanuman Dhoka premises. It ended on October 1 after the lingo was brought down at night.
Many legendary stories are associated with the Indra Jatra and the celebration comprises many lively traditional dances.
What happens at the festival
The Rath Jatra, chariot pulling festival of the Living Goddess Kumari, Lord Ganesh and Lord Bhairab is the main attraction of the Jatra. These chariots are pulled for three days on different route for each day. The first day begins from Kumari Ghar and moves to Chikanmugal, Jaisi Dewal, Lagan, Hyumat, Bhimsensthan, Maru and halts at Kumari Ghar. First the chariot of Lord Ganesh is pulled, followed by Lord Bhairab and then Kumari.
The scenario is vibrant with the army’s band Guruju Paltan, Lakhey, Pulukisi and more during the procession.
It is believed that those who are not able to pay visit to the Kumari the goddess herself comes to visit her children. An interesting aspect is when women pull the chariot — this started around seven years ago. Srijana Shrestha and Kriti Lama were among many women wearing white tee-shirts who pulled the Kumari chariot this year. “I enjoyed pulling the chariot and letting females pull the chariot is a positive thing showing women are also accepted as equal to men.” And Lama added, “It’s my first time and I did it for fun and thoroughly enjoyed it.”
On September 30, outside the premises of Kumari Ghar, the ritual of Gau Daan was performed. For the ritual raj purohit (royal priest), priest from Taleju and Joshi priest were present where the royal priest does the Gau Daan (cow donation) “so that the Chariot procession runs smoothly without any hazard” as per Rajan Maharjan, President of Ward-25 Jatra Management Committee/Yuva Bishwo Hindu Mahasangha.
The khadga (sword) of King Jay Prakash Malla is also kept alongside during Gau Daan to bless the khadga.
Staging Dush Avatara
Stage drama Dush Avatara is also a part of the Jatra, showcased from the beginning to the end of Indra Jatra. In Dush Avatara various incarnations of Lord Vishnu from Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapara Yuga and Kali Yuga according to various Purans is staged. Each day 10 sequences of new avatars are shown.
According to Maharjan, the Dush Avatara was staged to entertain the crowd and impart knowledge to those who come to the festival. He informed, “Dush Avatara was performed only from the period of Shah Regime.”
Sagar Dhimal, 17-year-old who played the role of Lord Shiva shared, “I participated to have fun and it is fun being cheered. But I did not expect it would be difficult as we had to take care of our make-up, hair, and accessories. The trident I am carrying is very heavy and the wig irritates me due to the heat.”
The smoke and fire effect in the drama excites the spectators and the costumes along with the action helps to know which scene is being executed. About watching Dush Avatara, Sulochana Shrestha shared, “Dush Avatara adds value to the festival and I feel Indra Jatra lets people admire the existing heritage along with having fun and celebrating togetherness.”
The temple Puan Dega or Trailokya Mohan or Laxmi Narayan where every year the drama is performed collapsed in the April 25 earthquake. Though there was a dilemma as to continuing the drama, the show went on as usual this year as the municipality provided the Dush Avatara management team with new lights, clothes, and accessories.
“A jyapu (farmer) caught Indra when he was stealing parijat (night jasmine) blossoms from the garden and he was tied by ropes. After his master was caught, Ayerawat (the elephant) had nothing to do and wandered away from his master. Then he saw a jatra, musical instruments made the elephant dance happily. As it was dancing with the crowd it found its master and ran away with him dancing. Since then the tradition of dancing Pulukisi became a part of this festival,” said Rajan.
There are diverse celebrations and Lakhey dance is one of them.“Lakhey is regarded as an Aaju Devata (the God of Peace). It is a tradition continued since 230 years,” informed Sanu Maharjan, one of the members who takes care of Lakheys at the festival.
“Once upon a time devil (rakshasa) was brought to Kathmandu from Bhaktapur. The Lakhey was regarded as the security (dwarpal) of Taleju temple. When Gubaju, a king from Kathmandu and a jyapu from Kathmandu went to bring Taleju in the Valley, they brought the devil as it promised to feed on humans,” shared Sanu.
And there is also another myth associated with lakhey as per Rajan. A devil (rakshasa) was surviving on eating human flesh and blood. He came to a field where a jyapu was working. Seeing the man-eater, the jyapu hid in his hut. The rakshasa was thirsty and the jyapu gave him alcohol. The rakshasa asked for more. The clever jyapu put a condition — rakshasa had to dig his field. The jyapu gave more alcohol, then the rakshasa quit his habit of feeding on humans.
One day when jyapu got dressed and was about to leave, rakshasa asked him where he was heading to. Jyapu told him about the jatra and rakshasa wanted to see it. Jyapu was reluctant for obvious reasons. Rakshasa nonetheless vowed not to harm anyone. He went to the jatra and was excited to hear the music and danced. To represent the same devil and his dances, a man adorned with mask, luga, jama, ghangla, janai, pata (pheta) dances during the festival. His dress is made of tass (material used to make cloth) as it is considered as pure. The lakhey is supposed to show the way for the goddess Kumari during her chariot pulling ceremony.
As per tradition, lakhey starts dancing only when a jhyalinchaa — a small boy dressed in jama teases him. The lakhey is considered silent in nature and to tease him there is a jhyalinchaa. The lakhey then dances with his strength and runs to catch the jhyalinchaa. This catch-me-if-you-can dance makes people laugh and entertain. Sagis Ranjitkar, aged 12 is the jhyalinchaa. “It is fun to tease the lakhey. He only starts dancing when I tease him. When there are many people watching I find it difficult to run when the lakhey starts chasing. There are chances of getting hurt,’ said Ranjitkar.
One does not need to teach lakhey how to dance. “Those while learning bhushya, a Newari musical instruments get hypnotised and learn to dance on their own mastering it. Ranjit who has been dancing for the last 20 years as a lakhey in different festivals feels a divine power embraces the lakhey to encourage the dance. Heavy clothing starts becoming lighter,” informed Sanu.
Three people dressed in the form of deities tour around the Kathmandu Durbar Square during the celebrations of Indra Jatra. They dance and are worshipped at various places. These three deities are sab bhaku — Chandi, Kumar and Halchowk’s Aakash Bhairav.
“Prithvi Narayan Shah became unconscious while he was battling in Kathmandu and Aakash Bhairav helped him by carrying him to Gorkha. To recognise this deed of Bhairav, people from Putuwar (a Newar caste) dress up as Bhairav, Chandi, and Kumar and dance. The city dwellers invite them in their locality and worship them. It is believed that where these deities dance the place becomes diseases and evils free. But if someone crosses their path it is a bad omen. People who dress up and dance in the form of deities must be unmarried as they are believed to be pure,” informed Surendra Shrestha, Coordinator of Management Committee, Indra Jatra.
A version of this article appears in print on October 04, 2015 of The Himalayan Times.
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