With the sound of the marching band, amid the busy hustle of the morning crowd at Basantapur Durbar Square. A group of revellers slowly gathers. As the band plays its final salute, the rope tied to the yahsi(Pole), the revellers muster their strength and in a great cheer, and as the yahsi makes its ascend three muskets are raised high, the Gurkha Paltan fires the aerial salute commencing the festival of Indra.
Regarded as the biggest festival of the then Kingdom of Nepal Valley, the true origin of the festivals are still debated. But this festival is believed to be founded during the Lichhavi Era by King Gunakamadeva, the founder of the city of Kantipur (Kathamandu). The celebration of Indra Jatra is made of three different series of rituals: Kumari Jatra, Indra Jatra and Bhairava Jatra. Each have their own legends and ceremonial components but as a whole, turn the centre of Basantapur Durbar Square into a grand affair. The square is a sight to behold from the break of dawn till midnight, as the chariots of Kumari, Ganesh and Bhairava make there way through the inner city of Kathmandu. Every street comes to life with masked dances, merry music during the eight days of festivities.
According to legends, it is believed that the mother of Lord Indra required a Parijat( a white flower) to perform a ritual. For which Lord Indra descended to earth in search of the flower. He disguised himself as a commoner and while trying to take the flower out of the lawn of a Jyapu(Farmer). He caught Lord Indra and held him captive blaming him of trying to steal. Lord Indra was imprisoned and not allowed to go back to heaven.
The mother of Indra grew worry some as her son hadn’t returned from Earth. Phul Khusi(The Vahan of Indra) descended upon Earth to find his master and wondered around the streets of Kathmandu. During when a great festival was occurring in the Kathmandu and after hours of searching, Phul Khusi found Lord Indra. Phul Khusi took the news to heaven after which, his mother descended from heaven to free her son. She requested the villagers to release her son, but didn’t heed to her words. Only after Lord Indra reveled his true form. The mother of Indra made a promise to the villagers to give in return a final rainfall for their harvest to prosper and she would lead them to the gateway to heaven.
Accepting the conditions the villagers freed Lord Indra and let him go with his mother, a group of villagers followed them to the outskirts of Kathmandu to find the doorway to heaven. But Lord Indra’s mother tricked the villagers by putting forth a large mist which left the villagers confused and in dismay as Lord Indra and his mother went to heaven. To commemorate this event, during the celebration of Indra, a Dagi (Procession) takes the same path every single year. “The circumambulation of the city is performed in order to reach heaven in the Dagi’s footsteps to meet the dead relatives. The families scatter grain by the wayside so that they would not forget the way home. One finished, they throw what remains of there offerings in a place called Bhuta Satta, near Kasthamandap, and wash their faces at Maru Hiti fountain. Afterwards, they either return home or go to bathe in Indra’s Pond ( Yamki Da), which is located on a hill 12 kilometers west of Kathmandu.
The festival of Indra Jatra is a feast to all senses, the air is scented with the smell of incense, and the sound of drums and traditional instruments tranquil once ears. For the eyes, one can behold the procession of Living Goddess Kumari along with Lord Ganesh and Lord Bhairav. The chariot is pulled for three consecutive days. The first day is known as Kwaneya during when the chariot makes its way from Basantapur, Maru, Chikanmugal, Jasidewal, Lagan, Bhimsensthan, Baru and ends at Basantapur. The second day is known as Yenya Punhi on which the chariot procession begins from Basantapur to Pyaphal, Nyata, Tengal, Nhyaokha, Nhaikan Tol, Asan, Kel Tol, Indra Chowk, Makhan and ends at Basantapur. The final day of the procession is known as Nanichaya, the chariot is pulled by revellers from Basantapur to Pyaphal, Yatkha, Nyata, Kilagal, Bhedsing, Indra Chowk, Makhan and ends at Basantapur.
During the festival of Indra, various idols and masks of goddess are taken out of their normal abode to be exhibited to the people. The most prominent of which are the Sweta Bhairab mask and the idol of Akash Bhairab. Similarly an image of Indra is displayed at Maru and Indra Chowk. Various forms of dances such as of Lakhe Aju, Mahakali Naach, Halchowk Bhairab, Phul Khushi, Devi Kyakhan are performed on specific days and nights of the festival.