It’s now six months since we were shocked by the biggest earthquake in 80 years in the country. It has been a most eventful six months, with all Nepalis coming together in the momentous task of recovery and rebuilding. Restoration is also on the anvil. Side by side, the Constituent Assembly has passed the new Constitution of Nepal, something that had been awaited for the last 60 years. Just as recovery and rebuilding have not been easy, and are still ongoing, constitution making has also faced many hurdles, which are also still ongoing. The Terai has seen continuous disturbances for many months and there have been tragic loss of many lives.
At the same time, proving the inherent resilience in the nation’s character, people are bouncing back with new zeal and enthusiasm. And nowhere is this more evident than in the joy with which everybody is celebrating, and are determined to celebrate, some of the country’s greatest festivals in this season of festivals. Indeed, it is the season of festivals in Nepal. Here are two of them.
Teej: September 16
This is a really celebratory occasion, and mostly an all women affair. No doubt all festivals are colorful, but Teej perhaps is the most colorful, with thousands and thousands of married and unmarried women decked out in bright red and ravishing green dresses (mostly saris), with long strings of red, green, and yellow pote (glass beads) necklaces around their neck and shoulders. Celebrated over three days, the main day of Teej is preceded by a lot of feasting. It’s necessary, too, since they have to observe a fast (no food, no water) next day for 24 hours. In fact, the day before, the women are invited to their maternal homes to partake of lots and lots of rich nutritious food, a day known as dar khane din. The feasting goes on till midnight, and is accompanied by singing and dancing by the women present, which includes many female relatives. The day after Teej, the women break their fasts with karkalo ko tarkari (lotus leaves curry) and ritually pure food made in ghiu (clarified butter), after doing some special pujas in which banana and basil leaves play a significant role.
On the main day, they visit a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva; most women of Kathmandu make a beeline for Pashupatinath Temple, one of the biggest Shiva temples in the world, and a UNESCO designated world heritage site monument zone. You can expect a carnival like atmosphere there, with long queues of women waiting to get a darshan of the Shiva Linga inside the famous shrine, and to make their offerings. They will all seek the lord’s blessings for the long life and prosperity of their husbands, as well as of their families. Unmarried women will seek blessings for a husband as greatly endowed as Lord Shiva himself. Teej is celebrated in remembrance of Goddess Parvati’s dedication to acquire Lord Shiva’s affections and companionship for life as her husband. It was an endeavor that required her to fast and pray for a very long time. In the end, Lord Shiva was aroused form his state of deep meditation high up on Mount Kailash, and he couldn’t help himself from falling in love with his determined paramour.
Indra Jatra: September 27
With the end of the monsoon season, denizens of Kathmandu Valley will pay homage to the god of rain, Lord Indra, to thank him for his benevolence, and to ensure that in the coming year, too, the valley will have plenty of rain. It’s a tradition that has continued from as far back as one can remember. Celebrated over eight days, this festival has many highlights—a procession of chariots, one of which carries the Living Goddess Kumari; the once-a-year display of the giant masks of the gods Swet Bhairava and and Akash Bhairava, with free flowing alcohol pouring out of the former’s mouth during the festival; plenty of traditional dances and dramas, most of them involving masked performers; and huge throngs in Kathmandu Durbar Square, another world heritage site monument zone, where the lively festival is held.
Indra Jatra is only celebrated in Kathmandu, and its name in Newrai is Yenya, which means “Kathmandu festival”. It’ a festival that historians say was first initiated in the 10th century by King Gunkama Dev to celebrate the founding of Kathmandu city, aside from the rain factor as mentioned above. The first day sees a totem pole (linga) with Lord Indra’s banner flying on top being erected in the renowned square. On the third day, statues of Lord Ganesh and Lord Bhirava, along with Living Goddess Kumari, are taken out on chariots in a regal procession through the old parts of the city.
This festival includes performance of many types of traditional dances by vigorous dancers. Some of the notable dances being Majipa Lakhey (a demon dance); Devi Pykhan (a masked deity dance); Mahakali Pykhan (a dance of black-furred mythical creatures called khyaks); Sawa Bhakku (dance of Bhairava’s blue incarnation); and so on. The ancient tradition of Dabu Pyakhan (dramas held at street corners) is also upheld. In some temples, a tableau of Lord Vishnu’s 10 incarnations (Dus Avatar) is presented as well.
In Hanuman Dhoka, throngs of men swarm towards the Sweta Bhairava mask to take a few sips of the alcohol flowing out of the giant mask’s mouth. In the meanwhile, in nearby Indra Chowk, another giant mask, that of Akash Bhairava, is also displayed to the public. The festival ends on the eighth day with the bringing down of the linga.