Indra Jatra – a folklore culture of Nepal

 

Lakhe Aju

Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, is a mixture of rich culture, ancient traditions and hustling bazaars. Home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the city boasts of natural beauty, vibrant culture, unique cuisine, and an intense religious devout that are apparent by the variety of festivals celebrated throughout the year. Among such reviving festivals, Indra Jatra is one of the most significant festivals celebrated for eight days in the month of September, observed mostly by the Newars – the indigenous inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley.

Indra – Lord of rain tied in accuse of stealing

‘Indra’, is the Hindu Lord of rain, also known as the ruler of heaven, and the word ‘Jatra’ refers to the festival or parade. Indra Jatra, commonly known as ‘Yenya’ –meaning ‘Kathmandu’s festival’ in Nepal Bhasa, is an eight days’ celebration to pay tribute to god Indra for rain, and honour Shiva’s manifestation – ‘Bhairab’, the evil destroyer. This festival interconnects with the Kumari Jatra, which is one of the main highlights of the festival. This religious & cultural celebration started by King Gunakama Dev in the 10th century, to rejoice the founding of Kathmandu. Following the ancient folklore and myths, since then it has continued down through several generations, and celebrated with much enthusiasm and participation each year.

Dagin – Indra’s mother in search of his son

Legend has it that Dagin, Lord Indra’s mother needed a holy flower called Parijat to perform a ritual. So Lord Indra descended down to earth in the form of a human in disguise to look for Parijat. In Indra’s extended absence, Dagin came down to earth looking for her son & Indra’s white elephant; only to find him imprisoned by a Tantric owner accusing him of stealing. She then freed him, on conditions that he would return to earth every year; provide enough rain & dew for the winter crops, and with a promise to take all those people who have died that year to heaven. When people realized that he was actually Lord Indra, they regretted and worshipped him for forgiveness. Indra Jatra festival thus, honours the deceased and celebrates the devotion to Indra and Dagin for the coming harvests.

There is also a different tale of the Goddess Kumari attached to this festival. Many years ago, the Mallas who ruled the Kathmandu Valley used to worship the Goddess Taleju Bhawani, who was very pleased with King Jay Prakash Malla. In fact, the Goddess often came to the king’s palace, chatted and played dice as well. One day during a casual game, the Goddess sensed a discomforting gaze, so she left the palace immediately, declaring to never return as a result of disrespect to a woman’s dignity. The king was embarrassed and begged for forgiveness after which the goddess made a strange concession for the king to find a young virgin girl from a Newari Shakya family, she herself would manifest.

Kumari – Living Goddess of Nepal

Later one night, the Goddess appeared in his dreams and confirmed that the girl he met the other day was herself. Then the king visited the girl’s house and apologized; the girl accepted his apology, put vermilion powder on his forehead and blessed him. After this, the king ordered to build a beautiful house for her and set a system to worship and take care of her as Kumari Devi, the living goddess. Since this incident in the mid 18th century, the procession of Kumari is held on the day of Indra Jatra along with other two chariots carrying human representation of the deities, Lord Ganesh and Lord Bharava.

Erection of the ceremonial pole – ‘Linga’

The festival begins in the Durbar Square with erection of a ceremonial pole called ‘Linga’ of 36 feet long, bearing the flag of Indra. The Durbar Square and the main streets are filled with people rejoicing in an unparallel cultural ambience. Afterwards, the chariots are pulled through the main streets of the southern, northern and central paths of the old part of Kathmandu on three different days. Many images and figures of Lord Indra and Bhairab are put on display, with various classical mask dance performances depicting stories and forms of deities dressed in striking traditional costumes and colourful masks adding further vibrancy, colour and attraction.

Devi Pyakhan

Among the remarkable performances in the Jatra, Majipa Lakhey dance, Pulukisi Nach, Mahankali Nach, Sawa Bhaku, and Devi Pyakhan, are the most significant, each with their own set of musicians playing distinctive forms of traditional music, while accompanying the chariot procession. Another event is the enactment of the ten earthly incarnations of Lord Vishnu that is performed every night on a platform near the temple of the Living Goddess Kumari. The festival ends with lowering of the Linga, marking the end of the festivities, and beginning of the major festive season of Dashain and Tihar.

 

Archery – ‘the celebration of the Bhutanese way of life’

“An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. When life is dragging you back with difficulties, just imagine that it’s going to launch you into something great!”

Archery or “Datse”, as locally called in Dzongkha language is the national sport of Bhutan. The much celebrated sport can be traced back in 600 B.C., used as an essential tool for hunting and war battles. In course of time, it has evolved into a social game enjoyed by all, whether be it the royals or the locals. Archery gained popularity following its official recognition in 1971; while the kingdom joined the United Nations the same year.

The traditional Bhutanese bows commonly known as zhu are made of bamboo with twisted stinging nettle strings. The arrows are lead–tipped bamboo sticks with bird feathers. While professional archers use the compound bows for international tournaments, these traditional bow and arrows are still preferred by the locals during festivals. The bow and arrow represents a religious significance in the life of the Bhutanese and their culture as they use it in different ceremonies, rituals, and other social activities.

No festival or celebration in Bhutan is considered complete without archery and mask dances. Besides the striking cultural celebration of the local festivals (Tsechu), majority are drawn to the traditional archery tournaments held among the villagers – the battles for honor.

Bhutanese band performing in a local archery tournament

With two teams passionately competing with each other, the archers of each team stare down visualizing by mind onto the small wooden targets, placed at the end of a 145 meters range (double the Olympic distance of 90 meters). Each team has their own set of singers and dancers performing varied traditional songs and dances about love, enlightenment, and karma.

A common yet surprising sight is of the natives standing casually next to the targets cheering enthusiastically for their teams as well as mocking and distracting their opponents, passing comments on poor aims. At a successful attempt of hitting the target, teammates celebrate with a slow motion dance praising the shooter who tucks a colourful scarf into his belt. It is a remarkable sport deep rooted in Bhutanese culture as a symbol of festivity and rivalry.

Women dressed in their traditional attire – Kira entertaining the audience with their dance performance

Witnessing such a lively social event is an unparallel experience on its own as ‘Archery is the celebration of the Bhutanese way of life.’

According to Prince Jigyel Ugyen -“Buddhism is about emptying your mind, and so is archery,” “Once you pull the bow, you forget about everything else and find complete bliss. And if you can hold that mentality for 24 hours and 365 days, that’s enlightenment.”

Kailas – Mansarovar Kora

Mt. Kailash and Chiu Monastery

For centuries Mount Kailas is known as the most sacred pilgrimage destination in Asia. It is common for pilgrims to circumambulate the sacred mountain, commonly called Kora (Pilgrimage Circuit) or Parikrama. Often pilgrims encompass both the Mansarovar Lake and Mt. Kailas in a quest to wash away the sins of their life time.

Mt. Kailas, at 6714m, stands tall and unique from the rest of the mountains. It is accessed via the small town of Darchen, the starting point of the kora.
The mountain is known in Tibetan as Kang Rinpoche or ‘Precious Jewel of Snow’. It has major beliefs for different religions. Hindus believe Mt. Kailas to be the abode of Lord Shiva and Lake Mansarovar to be a creation of Brahma. To the Buddhists, it is home to Demchok, an infuriated manifestation of Sakyamuni.

Lake Mansarovar

Lake Mansarovar is considered one of the most sacred lakes in the world. According to ancient Hindu and Buddhist cosmology, the four great rivers of the Indian subcontinent, the Indus, Ganges, Sutlej, and Brahmaputra, arise from Mansarovar. Pilgrims circumambulate the lake and bathe in its holy waters. Legend has it that the mother of the Buddha, Queen Maya, was bathed at Mansarovar by the gods before giving birth to her son. Following the edges of the lake, the kora offers brilliant hues at this high elevation. The journey is enlivened by a series of monasteries along the way.

For centuries, this sacred mountain has witnessed pilgrims and adventurous visitors, although it is still amongst one of the less travelled areas. Due to the remoteness of this region of Western Tibet, travelers hesitate to undertake this route. However, in recent years, there have been more people keen on visiting.

Everest from Tibet

An amalgam of culture, history and nature, Everest from Tibet takes you amidst a wild and uncompromising landscape, through soaring snow-capped mountains, freshwater lakes and glided temples to the very heart of Tibet.

Everest-from-Tibet

Call it The Roof of the World, The Forbidden City or the Third Pole – so magnetic is its fame that a mere mention conjures up images of grandeur and spirituality. It has the earth’s highest ecosystem and is one of its last remaining wildernesses with its lush forests supporting abundant wildlife. Its many mountains feed some of Asia’s most revered rivers and Mt. Kailash is the most sacred mountain in the world. Its people are some of the most resilient in the world and through their richness and deep religious convictions, were built many captivating monuments.
It is one of the most fascinating places to visit in Asia.

Trip Highlights:

• Everest Base Camp with the spectacular view of the North Face of Mount Everest.
• Dalai Lama’s summer and winter retreats, The Potala Palace and Norbulingkha.
• The sacred Yamdrok Lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
• Witness monks in philosophical debates.
• Tread the path of Lhasa’s pilgrimage route to experience the firsthand religious fervor of Tibet.

Itinerary in Detail