Celebrating Indra Jatra (Yenya) festival in Kathmandu

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ October 1st, 2015. Filed under: Nepal.
Indra Jatra in Kathmandu Durbar Square (Basantapur)

Indra Jatra in Kathmandu Durbar Square (Basantapur)

Indra Jatra is Kathmandu’s largest festival

After the Gai Jatra festival comes Indra Jatra. And between them are a number of smaller festivals and celebrations. Yes, this is Nepal’s peak time of year for festivals!

For tourists visiting Nepal it is a unique opportunity to not only experience an awesome spectacle but also a chance to witness the largest traditional festival in Kathmandu along with catching a glimpse of the Living Goddesses of the valley – the Kumari.

 huge statue of Bhairab

The huge statue of Bhairab unveiled in Kathmandu Durbar Square for Indra Jatra

What is Indra Jatra about?

Indra Jatra is known traditionally as Yanya Punhi which is Newari (the original settlers of the Kathmandu Valley) for “Kathmandu festival”. It’s also known as kumari Jatra. So in truth it’s about two to three celebrations all made into one.

Collage of crowds growing during Indra Jatra

Watching the crowds grow for Indra Jatra in Kathmandu

Indra is the hindu lord of rain and god of heaven. While the word jatra means procession or festival. History also tells a tale that the festival was to honor Bhairab, a manifestation of Shiva, who is believed to destroy evil.

Colorful statue of Indra in Nepal

Indra, the lord of rain and god of heaven is decorated with flowers and blessings are given during his Indra Jatra

What happens at Indra Jatra?

Technically Indra Jatra is an eight day festival. But to be honest, for most people, you’ll really only see a spectacle on the the penultimate day. Commonly known as “Indra Jatra”.

Musician laughs at Indra Jatra

Music and laughter plays a big part in Indra Jatra

There are several highlights during Indra Jatra

The festival usually kicks off at 1pm at Kathmandu Durbar Square with several groups of tribal and local musicians arriving into the main area. The music is heavy on cymbals and drums.

Young Kumari hopefuls by the large Indra statue during Indra Jatra

Young Kumari hopefuls by the large Indra statue during Indra Jatra

A thirty-six foot wooden pole, selected with due ceremony from the Nala forest in Kavre in east Kathmandu, is brought in to represent Shiva’s Linga (Yasingh). The pole is balanced by a man and there’s a flag on top. It is believed Indra received this flag from Lord Vishnu for protection.

The Linga (Yasingh), a wooden ceremonial pole makes its way into Durbar Square

The Linga (Yasingh), a wooden ceremonial pole makes its way into Durbar Square

The massive Bhairab statue is unveiled (usually the day before and on the day) in Durbar Square where alcohol pours from his mouth. It’s quite a popular statue to visit as you might imagine!

People dressed as demons enter the square and reenact mythical fights between the creatures.

The Majipa Lakhey (demon) of Kathmandu along with other Lakheys

The Majipa Lakhey (demon) of Kathmandu along with other Lakheys – they will do battle with a small blue Jhyalincha who can’t win but always maddens the Lakhey before escaping!

The music beat gets louder and the crowd surges a little. A stream of young men come running into the square followed by an elaborately decorated team dressed as a white elephant, Tana-kishi.

The elephant is looking for his master Indra and charges along the streets creating mischief along with the men running beside him who lead the charge with a lit torch flame.

the elephant Tana-kishi (white elephant) charges into the square

The crowd erupts into cheers as the elephant Tana-kishi (white elephant) charges into the square looking for his master Indra!

Finally after the dignitaries get their blessings the Living Goddesses enter the square in their special rope drawn chariots. Handlers throw out sacred carnations to onlookers. The Chariots are pulled by men and go through massive crowds.

Kumari chariots are pulled by heavy ropes into Durbar square

The Kumari chariots are pulled by heavy ropes into the square as Tana-kishi continues to dance through the crowds

How to get the most out of Indra Jatra

If you’d like to experience Indra Jatra the following might help as I’ve been there and experienced Indra Jatra myself.

  • There are no tickets nor is payment required to attend Intra Jatra. Do arrive early to get a space to view it.
  • Generally speaking the two best places are the platforms of the former Trailokya Mohan and Maju Dega temples (see my guidebooks to either Kathmandu Valley or Kathmandu city for a detailed map). You can climb all the way to the top which will have the best views.
  • Make sure to bring some water and snacks. Likewise bring some sunscreen and or an umbrella to cope with the sun or, if Indra desires (it’s meant to be lucky), the rain.
  • Everything is good natured but there will be a lot of people close to you. Small children and adults alike can get annoying as they push and shove for a vantage point. There’s no escaping this but do remember it’s all done in good nature.
  • A good zoom lens on a camera will help capture things up close.
  • Depending on the organisers whim tourists can often wander down to the square during the festivities. There are crowd surges, demons running around with sharp knives and a few chariots being heaved around so do watch your step!
The Kumari Living Goddess rides her chariot through Kathmandu Durbar square during Indra Jatra

The Kumari Living Goddess rides her chariot through Kathmandu Durbar square during Indra Jatra as the crowd cheer and her helpers throw out blessed carnations

When is Indra Jatra?

Indra Jatra is a yearly festival on the day of the Bhadra Dwadasi to Ashwin Krishna Chaturdasi. A rough translation of this means that Indra Jatra falls on the last day of Summer on the full moon.

Indra Jatra Festival Dates:

  • Indra Jatra was on 27th September 2015
  • Indra Jatra will be on 15th September 2016 *
  • Indra Jatra will be on October 6th 2017 *

* based on lunar full moon so subject to a change of a day or two

More festivals in Nepal

If you are interested in other Nepalese festivals do check out my list of festivals in Nepal.

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20 Great responses to Celebrating Indra Jatra (Yenya) festival in Kathmandu

  1. Tony says:

    Beautiful photography. The crowds look intense at this festival. Is it always crowded?

  2. Kyle says:

    Stunning photos mate. Such an interesting festival

  3. Timothy Harris says:

    I tried to see Indra Jatra years ago. But it was too crowded by the time I got there. Good to see you information here. Sad to see the big temple gone though.

  4. Mariana Calle says:

    So glad to have discovered your site, such a wealth of information!!

  5. Tammy says:

    Great to learn about this awesome festival Dave!! Thanks for the dates too! We should be their next year.

  6. Ted says:

    It’s very interesting to see people still celebrating like this. I like the 4 time lapsed photos. That temple still looks in ruins and people are climbing on it!

  7. Samantha says:

    Incredible images. Not sure if I would be brave enough to join in with those crowds. But well done!

  8. Bernard Hayes says:

    Thanks for publishing this. I was wondering what would happen this year. Looks like there’s no stopping Nepal!

  9. Anna's World says:

    Just wonderful! Such a culture in Nepal. Though big statues look fierce.

  10. Amanda says:

    I really like this. Is it worth going or are the crowds just too much?