Indra Jatra is Kathmandu’s largest festival
After the Gai Jatra festival comes the Indra Jatra festival in Kathmandu. The entire celebration take place over an entire week. Below is a map of where the festival takes place in Kathmandu plus daily events.
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.
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 and Yen Yaa. So in truth it’s about two to three celebrations all made into one.
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.
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”.
There are several highlights during the week long Indra Jatra celebrations
The main day 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
If you are in Kathmandu during the week, then do check out the map and schedule of events as they occur over many days.
By visiting on alternative days you’ll get to experience parts of Indra Jatra other tourists will never see.
On the main day in Basantapur (Durbar Square) you can expect the following:
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.
List of events during Indra Jatra
Do note that these events are by day order and not date order. Times are also approximate due to “Nepali time”.
Each day holds a precession that goes through several streets. You can view the streets in the map below. All locations are in my Kathmandu Valley Heritage Walks book.
Thanks to Alina Tamrakar for providing and translating the routes.
As you can tell the events may seem complicated at first. However, by showing up at the starting points you’ll soon get the idea that it’s a blessing, dance, music, story telling and precession to another location to repeat.
Do use the map below to understand the various locations. Again, you can also use the maps and locations in my Kathmandu Valley Heritage Walks book to find the starting point and mix the Indra Jatra celebrations with a heritage walk.
Map of Indra Jatra route:
For tourists the vast majority of the activity happens in Kathmandu Durbar Square as described above. However the precession does follow this route. Do be aware that it can get very crowded if you follow the route. There will be quiet areas and you will get close up views. Just be aware of bustling crowds.
Indra Jatra Festival Dates:
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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September 21, 2018 • 24 comments