The Ancient Origins of Indra Jatra in Kathmandu
The vibrant festival of Indra Jatra held annually in Kathmandu has its roots in ancient myths and legends of the Hindu god, Indra. According to texts, Indra descended from his heavenly abode disguised as a commoner to steal rare parijat flowers for his mother’s religious ceremonies. When he was caught by villagers gathering the flowers, Indra refused to reveal his true godly identity.
Meanwhile, Indra’s worried mother also descended to earth in search of her missing son. Upon revealing their identities, the people rejoiced at hosting the Lord of Heaven and apologized for capturing him. As atonement, Indra’s mother agreed to carry thesouls of deceased villagers to heaven that year. Tragically, the chain of souls broke mid-journey and the spirits fell into a mountain lake near Kathmandu, where relatives now pay homage during the festival.
Indra Jatra festivities today reenact these mythic events with ornate chariot processions of living child deities, masked dances, and displays of ancient Bhairab masks and statues. A key ritual involves the living goddess Kumari blessing the King of Nepal to affirm his divine right to rule for another year.
The festival also features a tall pine pole symbolizing Indra’s captivity by villagers. The pole is cut from a specific forest using ancient ceremonies before being paraded through villages to Kathmandu’s palace square. After festivities, it is submerged in the Bagmati river.
Some scholars connect the legend of Indra’s imprisonment to possible clashes between early Vedic Aryans and indigenous hill tribes of the Kathmandu Valley. The Nepali king Yalambar, who is said to have captured Indra, established a settlement after their encounter.
Thus the mythological story behind Indra Jatra intertwines with both cultural history and local politics in Nepal. The festival vividly commemorates this enduring legend through colorful rituals that have been passed down for generations in the Kathmandu Valley.