Nepal Festivals • Teej, Bishwakarma Puja and Indra Jatra
NEPAL FESTIVALS September 2016
The end of the monsoon marks the beginning of the festival season here in the Kathmandu Valley. Newars, both Buddhist and Hindu, celebrate a series religious holidays. From time to time we will share some news of major holidays, so that you can better appreciate the rich religious heritage of the valley.
04 Sep 2016 Sunday: Haritalika Teej Festival
Teej is a women’s festival in which they fast, take a ritual bath and pray to Lord Shiva. Married women prayer for the health and long life of their husbands. Unmarried women pray for a good marriage. The color red – an auspicious color, and the color of brides – predominates. Dancing near shrines is common. The fast is preceded by special women-only parties (dar khanne).
16 Sep 2016 Friday: Bishwakarma Puja
Bishwakarma is the divine craftsman, and chariot-maker to the gods. Thus he is honored by all craftsmen, especially engineers and mechanics on this day. Tools and workshops receive a special blessing.
15 Sep 2016 Thursday: Indra Jatra (Yenya Puñhi)
Indra Jatra, the Full Moon celebration devoted to Indra, king of the gods – in thanksgiving for sending the monsoon rains. This festival period also celebrates the Kumari, or living goddess, and Bhairava, the ferocious, esoteric form of Lord Shiva. The official government holiday this year falls on Thursday, the day before the Full Moon.
For eight days there are a number of processions, ritual dances and displays, mostly in the Kathmandu Durbar Square (Hanuman Dhoka) area that are worth seeing. Most of the events begin in the late afternoon, from 3 PM. The ritual dances typically begin around 6 PM.
Kathmandu lore says that Indra came to Kathmandu Valley in search of night-blooming jasmine, which his mother needed for a ritual offering. The residents of Maru Tole, taking him for a common thief, bound the deity in the public square. This is recounted by erecting an image of Indra, with bound hands, at Maru Hiti, just west of the durbar square.
Indra’s mother came in search of her missing son, thereby revealing his identity to the locals, who were horrified that they had insulted the Lord of Heaven. To make amends, the citizens of Kathmandu dedicated this festival to him. On the first day the ‘Flag of Indra’, or Indradhvaja, is erected in the durbar square. His mother’s frantic search is re-enacted by a masked dancer who roams the streets of old Kathmandu in a ritual known as Dagiñ. Indra’s elephant, in the form of a large wicker and cloth effigy, also charges through the streets, searching for his master.
This first day is also known as Mata Biye (Lamp Giving). Those who have lost family members in the preceding year make a circuit of important shrines, carrying incense and offering butter or oil lamps.
For three days, beginning on Indra Jatra, the Kumari is taken through the streets of Kathmandu in her chariot. Traditionally the kings of Nepal would attend the first day’s procession and make offerings to the Kumari in her chariot. The president and other government officials now fill this role. 3 PM is a good time to be in durbar square. Masked figures representing Bhairava and Ganesha are also pulled in chariots over these three days.
Images of Bhairava are also honored, especially at the Akash (Sky / Blue) Bhairava shrine in Indrachowk, and the Seto (White) Bhairava shrine near Hanuman Dhoka. The latter image is hidden behind a screen, except during this festival. At various occasions during these three days rice beer is dispensed through the mouth of Bhairava and devotees value this special ‘prasad’ (communion) highly.
Masked Mahankal dancers travel from Bhaktapur to Kathmandu to perform in the evening of Indra Jatra. Each evening there are ritual dances in the durbar square. These take place from about 6-9 PM. In front of the Kumari House Kite-flying traditionally begins on Indra Jatra, continuing until the 10th day, Vijaya Dashami, of the Dashain festival. The kites are a signal to Indra that it’s time to stop sending rain.