Indra Jatra – Uniting Nepal Through Ritual and Celebration

Once a year in Nepal both Hindus and Buddhists set aside their religious differences to celebrate the joyous festival of Indra Jatra. Dedicated to the Lord Indra, this festival is one of dancing, feasting and rejoicing.

In Nepal both Hindus and Buddhists abound and each religious group generally has their own particular festivals which they adhere to. However, during the celebration held to honor the rain god, Lord Indra, both groups enjoy the many delights of life. Much of the festival activities center around a number of traditional dances which are perhaps practiced in their purist form here in Nepal at the festival. Many tourists prefer visiting Nepal during this festival season to enjoy the color, gaiety and dancing.

Indra Jatra lasts for eight days during which singing, dancing and feasting are the focal point. While it may be celebrated by people from all over the country, the most colorful celebrations can be witnessed in Kathmandu Valley. There the people gather at the Hanuman Dhoka where they witness the erection of a wooden pole in front of the Royal Palace. Classical dancers wearing traditional masks and costumes join in on the celebrations by dancing around the courtyard in celebration of the Lord Indra’s expected visit.

Two days later, the festival procession starts when a chosen woman known as “Kumari” – the living goddess – is placed in a chariot as part of the procession. This young woman is thought to be an incarnation of the goddess Taleju. Other chariots said to carry Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati, and Bhairav, who is Lord Shiva in another form, are also included in the procession. All the chariots as well as their passengers are carried around the city for three days as these deities are worshiped and admired.

Dancers may surround the chariots and are always a part of the festivities and even the King of Nepal pays homage to Kumari during the festival. A number of set dances performed by masked dancers are performed in Durbar Square near the Kumari Temple where many come to worship during this time.

Upon the eighth day and final day of the festival, the festival pole is lowered and a number of animal sacrifices and other ritual gestures are made on behalf of the gods.