Indrajatra is one of the most remarkable festivals of Kathmandu. The significance of this carnival lies in its famous masked dances, folk drama, and chariot processions. Living goddess Kumari is brought out during the festival from her abode in a beautifully decorated chariot. This event occurs only once a year, during this festival. The head of state and the head government also receive blessings from the deity, considered to be an embodiment of Taleju Bhawani. Lord Bhairav and Ganesha, along with Kumari are charioted across the city.
It is the most celebrated festival of the Newar community. The Newars of Kathmandu call it ‘Yenya’. In Nepal Bhasa, Yen means Kathmandu and Ya is translated to celebration.
According to Professor Suwarna Shakya, the author of ‘Ye Ya Yenha Punhi (Indrajatra of Kathmandu)’, the festival is an analogy of unity between various levels of Newars living in Kathmandu.
It begins after a long pine pole bearing the flag of Lord Indra — Indra Dhwaj — is erected. This pine pole is erected in front of the old palace, at the Hanuman Dhoka premises. This pole is brought from Bhaktapur by the government officials and priests to Tundikhel in Kathmandu. It is sanctified with the blood sacrifice of a goat before bringing it to Kathmandu.
Legends associate the festival with the tale of Lord Indra’s captivity. Lord Indra was requested a fetch upon parijat flowers by his mother. He came to the valley in disguise of an ordinary man. The peasants caught him stealing the flowers and held him captive in the Maru Hiti area, near the Hanuman Dhoka palace. When his mother came to earth in search of her son, the people of the valley found out who they had held prisoner. They begged forgiveness by offering flowers. Since then, Indrajatra is held in his honor.
The chariot procession is among the most prominent features of the festival. In this evening of Kumari Jatra, a masked female demon known as Dagini appears from the dark street of Maru Hiti, where Lord Indra was imprisoned.
The masked dance of Sawo Bhaku representing Lord Bhairav and Lakhe is equally interesting. Also, the Pulu Kishi dance, depicting Lord Indra’s carrier, draws enthusiasts from across the valley.