Celebrating the Festival of Yenyā in Kathmandu

Taking place in Kathmandu in September each year, with the dates determined by the lunar calendar, the religious festival of Yenyā is Kathmandu’s largest religious street festival and incorporates colorful and vibrant celebrations, including the rituals of Indra Jātrā and Kumāri Jātrā. Taking place over a full week, Yenyā offers an opportunity for visitors to Kathmandu to experience ancient traditions and rituals first-hand.

The first day of the festival features the erection of a pole at Kathmandu Durbar Square from which to hang a banner of the deity Indra, considered to be the King of Heaven and the Lord of Rain. Upāku Wanegu is another tradition observed on the first day of the festival where deceased family members are honored by participants who walk along a route in the historic section of Kathmandu city, holding lighted incense and placing butter lamps along the way. Butter lamps are often used in funeral ceremonies and pilgrimages as they are seen as representing the illumination of wisdom and banishing darkness. These intricately decorated bowls on a stem within another bowl, traditionally burned clarified yak butter (hence the name), but today are more likely to use vegetable oil.

Indra Jātrā and Kumāri Jātrā take place simultaneously during Yenyā. Indra Jātrā was initiated by King Gunakamadeva in the 10th century to commemorate the founding of the city, with celebrations including exhibitions of dancing where the dancers wear masks of deities and demons, as well as displays of sacred images honoring Indra.

The chariot festival of Kumari (Kumari Jātrā) was initiated during the reign of Jaya Prakash Malla in 1756 AD. Celebrations feature a three day procession during which three chariots , each carrying a human representation of the three deities Bhairava, Ganesh and Kumari are pulled through the streets accompanied by musical bands and masked dancers. The first day of the procession is known as Kwaneyā, where the chariots are pulled from Basantapur, through the southern part of Kathmandu and back to where it started. Basantpur is once again the starting and finishing point for the second day of the procession, Thaneyā, which passes through the northern part of the city. The third and final day, Nānichāyā, the procession passes through the central part of the city.

Other processions that take place during Yenyā including Mata Biye, the offering of butter lamps; Dagin, in honor of Indra’s mother who travels through the town searching for her son who had been taken captive; and Bau Mata where a representation of a holy snake adorned with a row of oil lamps is carried along the festival route.