It is a well known fact that Hinduism and Buddhism are the two major religions of Nepal, each having it’s own rules and rituals. However, like most festivals of Nepal, both Hindus and Buddhist unite to celebrate the festival of Indra Jatra. This festival is celebrated by both Hindus and Buddhists with great enthusiasm. It is also believed that Indra Jatra is a festival of classical dances. It is on this very day when one is able to observe numerous varieties of traditional dances. The festival is named after Lord Indra who is known as the god of rain and also as the king of heaven.
Ceremonial duties save the Indra Jatra festival. Ganesh is the son of Durga, or Parvati, and the son of Shiva. He has the head of an elephant because, after he was created from dust by Durga, he blocked the way when his father came back. Shiva, flying into a rage that he could not enter his home, cut off the boy’s head. At the insistence of Parvati, he brought him back to life but, being unable to find the head, he gave him instead the head of a white elephant. Bhairav, or Kumar, is a manifestation of Shiva himself.
The Festival of Indra Jatra takes place in September each year and heralds the end of the monsoon season. It is primarily in honor of the rain god, Indra. According to ancient legend, the young Jatra, disguised as a farmer, descended to earth in search of Parijat, a white flower his mother, Dagini, needed to perform a ritual.
He found the Parijat, but was caught by the owner of the meadow where he found the flowers. He was bound and imprisoned in Kathmandu until his mother, worried about his extended absence, came looking for him. When the city folk realized who they had imprisoned, they were appalled, and immediately released their divine prisoner. Out of appreciation for their prompt release of her son, Dagini promises enough dew throughout the winter to ensure a rich crop One of the main events of the Festival of Indra Jatra is the Kumari Jatra, or Kumari Festival (also called the Rath Jatra, or Chariot Festival), which occurs on the third and fourth days of the Indra Jatra. One of the primary events of the Kumari Jatra is the pulling of the three-tiered chariot bearing the Royal Kumari’s ornate palanquin through Kathmandu.
The festival of Indra Jatra continues for eight days with much rejoicing, singing, dancing and feasting. People from all over Nepal, mostly those who live within the Kathmandu Valley, gather at the Hanuman Dhoka in Kathmandu. The first day of the festival is viewed by a large number of people. On that day, a long wooden pole is erected in front of the ancient Royal Palace at Hanuman Dhoka, in order to propitiate Lord Indra, the”god of rain”. Classical dancers also assemble at the spot, wearing different kinds of traditional masks and costumes and dancing around the courtyard of Hanuman Dhoka to celebrate Indra’s visit.
On the third day of the festival of Indra Jatra, the living goddess Kumari is taken out in a procession in a chariot. “Kumari”, the “living goddess”, is considered to be an incarnation of the goddess “Taleju”. Chariots of Kumari, Ganesha and Bhairav are taken around the city for three days. According to Hindu beliefs Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Parvati who has a head of an elephant and Bhairav is another form of Lord Shiva himself.
The king of Nepal, the only Hindu king in the world, also pays homage to the Kumari during this period. The festival’s many interesting dances, including the Procession of Living Goddess-Mahakali, Mahalaxmi and Dasha Avatara masked dances are staged in Kathmandu Durbar Square, near the Kumari Temple. The “Dasha Avatara” refers to the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu who is one of the Hindu’s Holy trinity. The excitement of the festival of Indra Jatra comes to an end on the last evening of the festival when the long wooden pole erected on the first day is lowered with religious ceremonies, animal sacrifices and ritual gestures.