YAIN YAH "Yain Yah" – one of the most flamboyant festivals of Nepal is celebrated primarily in Kathmandu. In Nepali Bhasa, the local dialect of Kathmandu, Yain Yah literally means The Festival of Kathmandu (Yah = festival or the short form of Ya-tra. Yain Yah begins from YawnLaThwo Dwa-dasi, or the 12th day of Full Moon in September (Bhadra Sukla-Pakchya Dwa-dasi). This festival coincides with the Summer Solstice, the 21 st of September. Commonly known as "Indra Jatra" amongst non-Newars, the festival consists of many activities including a chariot procession, masked dances and once-in-a-year shows to name a few. The event kicks off with the raising of 108 hands long (equivalent to 108 feet) Indra Dhoj (Flag of lord Indra). It is believed to be one of the oldest existing flags in the world – ironically the symbol of an autonomous country. The flag is raised along a wooden pole of the same length called Yosin in Nepali Bhasa. The Yosin (or the Linga) is dragged from the forest of Nala, a rural settlement to the east of Kathmandu. The event takes place at Hanuman Dhoka commemorated with a formal worship and an open air gun firing by the Guruju ko Paltan (battalion of Guruji, the Royal Priest). A small golden statue of Lord Indra riding on his vehicle ( bahan) Airawot (mythological white elephant with one thousand tusks) is on public display right beneath the Yosin. Beginning from Dwa-dasi, an oil lamp is lit on a pole at present day Indra Chwok. It is an offering of light to the heavenly bodies that pass by. The locals call it "Aalo (k) Mata" (Light of another world) [A-Lo (uki) k = ALok = of another world + Mata = Light]. Interestingly, such lights are offered by individuals from the windows of local residents too. They use Kha: Dalu (one amongst the various lighting devices used for the festival). A keen observer should be able to notice the use of the top floor windows (Bui-Ga) or the third floor windows (Chwo -Tawn) to offer Aalok Mata. As per the name, the primary reason to celebrate Indra Jatra is to worship the Lord Indra – the king of gods. Religious tomes on Hinduism and Buddhism describe Indra as one of eight Dikpals and the owner of Alakapuri to the Eastern direction who holds Vajra as weapon. He is the god of rain and thunder. In other words, respecting Lord Indra is to respect nature and its contributions. This is a folklore known to be the purest form of human admiration. There is a story associated with the origin of Indra Jatra in Kathmandu. Legend has it that Basundhara, the mother of Lord Indra (or Dagin in Nepali Bhasa) wanted Parijat (Night Jasmine – found from Pakistan to Thailand) flower for a compulsory ritual in heaven. It is said that the flower is not even available in Alakapuri (heaven). As commanded by his mother, Indra descended to Kathmandu disguised as a local in search of Parijat. Natives believed that at that time there used to be a huge flower garden at/around present day Indra
Chowk. Aaju Dyo (or the Aaskash Bhairab) was believed to be its owner. This can be realized by the use of un-matched amount and varieties of flowers along with garlands offered to him during the festival.
It so happened that during the act of collecting the flower the locals caught and mistook Lord Indra for a thief. Hands tied he was then put on public display upon a raised platform. Such punishments were common during the mediaeval period even in Europe. As time passed and worry took over, mother Dagin herself descended to Kathmandu. Learning of her son’s arrest, she begged the city to release her son. In return, the people wanted something from her. For this, Dagin (or Basundhara) introduced herself and her son with an assurance of fog and dew to facilitate better (paddy) crops. It is believed that due to this boon, Kathmandu starts to be foggy right after Indra Jatra as coldness enters the valley with the accompaniment of dew. Citizens of Kathmandu realized their mistake and therefore started celebrating a festival in his honor to thank him for his contributions to the crop. Therefore, Yain Yah is the occasion to thank Indra for the year’s upcoming rich harvest. It is like the Thanks Giving Day of the west. As per timing, Indra Jatra marks the end of a rainy season and the beginning of autumn with people ready for a commemoration. Today, the place Lord Indra was captured is called "Indra Chowk" – meaning the crossroad (chowk) of Indra. The detention incident is replayed in several ways at various toles (junctions) across Kathmandu along with the one in front of Pratap-Pur next to Maru Satta (Kasthamandap). Another golden torso of Indra with outstretched arms is on display during the festival at Nasal Chowk inside the Hanuman Dhoka palace. For indigenous Newars, Indra Chowk has a different name - "Wongha". This means the confluence of two rivers. One can geographically prove this fact evidenced by the structural and historical formations. To cite something would be the till date existence of Mashan Galli. Despite this, there might be difficulties for any architectural and historical proof of any rivers in a diameter of roughly one kilometer from east to west of Wongha. This shall be dealt in detail over the later issues. Similarly, in memory of Basundhara’s frantic saerch for her son Indra, a Dagin processon takes place on day one (Kwo-Ne-Ya = festival of Lower/Southern part). A person with a mask runs wildly across the city from the northern to the southern parts imitating a search for Lord Indra. The search begins at around 8:00 pm after the return of the Kumari Chariot from its procession. Yain Yah is one of the most colorful and vibrant festivals of Nepal. Being a significant event indulges people from all levels including the head of the state (formally the royal family). From an artist’s perspective, this festival provides the best opportunity to witness the Flavours of Emotions (Nava Ras) and a full range of
colors for eight days under the open sky. It can also be observed that many festivals in Nepal (Kathmandu valley) are celebrated for eight consecutive days - the Fibonacci Series (Aastha Matrika). Further information will be given in the next article. During these eight days, dances reflecting various deities and ethnicities/culture groups are performed throughout the valley. Amongst them, the Matrika dance (originally from Bhaktapur) is of great significance. This dance is locally termed as Dyo Phyakhan (goddess dance). It is a mask dance which could be coined as the most extreme form of dance developed in the Nepalese manda especially in the medieval period. The inclusion of various moods and emotions intricately weaved with the art of acting is utterly an amazing sight. The music (tune, rhythm), posture/gesture, ornaments, costume, expressions, all are breathtaking. The entire composition demonstrates the skill, craftsmanship and feelings put forth by an artist, ironically through a concealed mask. Every performing group has its own unique music or the instrument(s) as its identification. One can distinguish the performance by noticing the music or the sound. Besides Matrika dance, one can see the masked dances (rather procession) of Aaskash Bhairab (in a deep blue color) and SawoBhakku/Halchwok Bhairab (two male deities in deep red-orange color). Bhairab is considered as the furious form (Raudra roop) of lord Shiva. Lakhe and Pulu Kisi have the most thrilling dances during Yain Yah, creating a wave among spectators. Lakhe is the incarnation of Shanta (peaceful) Bhairab. His official residence is at Majipa(t) Tole, south of Hanuman Dhoka. Accordingly, he is called Majipa(t) Lakhe. There are several other incarnations/variations of Lakhe too which exist inside and outside Kathmandu. Amongst these Majipa Lakhe is famous for his energetic dance with the sound of cymbals. Coming to Pulu Kisi, (Pulu, dead body covering made of bamboo peel + Kisi = elephant, in Nepali Bhasa) is regarded as the Airawot, the vehicle of Lord Indra. His official residence is at KilwGwol. Pulu Kisi is an upside down basket with bamboo frames and peels fixed on the backbone of a solid bamboo. Two or three youngsters carry it from inside and run (dance) in the streets of Kathmandu. The structure has an elephant head at the front â€“ depicting Airawot. The head is made up of handmade Nepalese Paper MĂ˘chĂŠ. The sound that rings from a thick and round bronze bell, while being hit by a mallet is particularly prominent. All these deities precede the Kumari Chariot during the three day procession. The musical bands of Guruji Ko Paltan (battalion of the royal priest) and Nepalese Army were added later. Guruji Ko Paltan is the army battalion of king Pritihivi Narayan Shah during his conquest of Kathmandu.
Kumari is the only living goddess of Nepal. She holds the most important place among Aastha Matrika Gan (group). Kumari is shown in pure red color with a peacock as her vehicle/bahan. Her character is described as a charming girl of sixteen years having three eyes. Erotic (Sringarik) rasa is associated with her. This deity is supposed to represent the entire Matrika Gan. Therefore, she is like a summary or the abstract of a report. If you pay homage to the Kumari, it is equivalent of worshiping all the members of Aastha Matrika. In Nepal, the system of Kumari has been practiced from a very early period. There used to be a Kumari at several Newar settlements with the significant ones in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. In the mediaeval period, Tantrism considered Kumari as the human form of goddess Taleju. Legends state that Kumari was the daughter of Swet Kali (Nara Devi). King Gunakama Dev established Kathmandu city with eight Matrikas for her protection. All of them still exist as powerful places of city. The settlement protection was in the shape of a sword (Khadga). It stretched from Ikchumati (now called Tukucha or Twon-Khu-Cha) in the east to Bishnumati in the west. Once, a demon called Chandeshwor started troubling the entire settlement. Even the collective power of eight Matrikas could not subdue the male power of the demon. The tale further mentions of an affair between Kumari and Chandeshwor. Swet Kali, the mother of Kumari and other goddess decided to use this as their advantage. After many painful endeavours, they were able to convince that Chandeshwor had been devastating their nation. Finally, mother goddesses proposed Kumari to kill Chandeshwor for the sake of the nation. Though it was a tough decision, she ultimately willed to do so. To protect the nation and its citizens, Kumari did what she had never dreamed or thought of. Right after this incident, she announced her decision to remain un-married (Kumari) for the rest of her life. She is now worshipped as "Chandeshwori" in Banepa which has a beautiful mural of Bhairab. At present, the word Kumari also indicates for a virgin girl without any physical defects (even a scratch) in her body. This entire legend points towards the Matriarchal System once in practice in many countries and continents. Newar and other indigenous community are neatly weaved under this system. Both the Hindus and Buddhists pay homage to the Kumari. She is worshipped both in Shakta and Buddhist tradition. Therefore, Kumari is also considered as an icon of religious harmony in Nepal. The goddess is taken out of her official residence only once a year â€“ during Indra Jatra. Nepal government ensures special arrangement of her education at her doorstep. Historically, the chariot procession of Kumari was introduced by Jaya Prakash Malla, the last king of Malla dynasty in Kathmandu (1736 to 1746 and again from 1750 until his death in 1768 AD). The myth says he did this to prolong his rule.
It further describes of an incident when Jaya Prakash Malla embraced an un-known beautiful lady who had come to observe the festival. Infuriated by this indecent act, the lady asked the king to check his hands which were full of blood. The lady turned to be the goddess Taleju in human form who warned him of his regimes end. Feeling guilty for his blunder, the king begged for forgiveness. As a solution, Taleju suggested to begin a yearly chariot procession which would prolong his rule, but only up to his rule. His descendants would not rule. Thus started "Kumari Jatra" (or Kumari Rath Yatra) coinciding with the Indra Jatra. King Jaya Prakash Malla further built a beautiful private residence for the Kumari in the southern wing of his royal palace. The place is still her official residence and is called "Kumari Chen". This residence holds very rare and important murals of the late Malla period in the upper floor. Rana rulers who later ruled also added beautiful and significant murals of European style at various walls of Kumari Chen. They can be observed with special permission and is allowed for Hindus only. Likewise, the courtyard consists of fine terracotta art of the same era. The wood carvings are of high quality in terms of art. Kumari Jatra normally denotes the chariot festival of Kumari with other two deities Ganesh and Bhairab of human form. All three have beautifully carved individual chariots, the tallest one of Kumari. She has a two tier chariot while other two have a single tier. Her chariot bears canopy in festival and has special parking lot for the rest of the year. This chariot procession takes place for three days along different routes each day. Day 1 (KwoNeYā – the tour/yatra of Lower part) on YawnLaThwo CharturDasi KwoNe = Lower (southern) part + Ya = Ya(tra) / tour Route - Basantapur, Maru, Chikanmugal, Jaisidewal, Lagan, Hyumata, Bhimsensthan, Maru, Basantapur. Day 2 (ThaNeYā – the tour/yatra of Upper part) on YawnLaThwo PuNhi ThaNe = Upper (northern) part + Ya = Ya(tra) / tour Route - Basantapur, Pyaphal, Yatkha, Nyata, Tengal, Nhyokha, Nhaikan Tol, Asan, Kel Tol, Indra Chok, Makhan, Basantapur. Day 3 (NānichāYā) on YawnLaGa TrayoDasi Route - Basantapur, Pyaphal, Yatkha, Nyata, Kilagal, Bhedasing, Indra Chowk, Makhan, Basantapur.
The first day of the festival is marked by the presence of head of the state (royal family in the past) and dignitaries. Head of the state pays his homage to the Kumari and other deities from the balcony of Gaddi Baithak (used for the coronation – GaddiAarohan ceremony by the royal family) at Hanuman Dhoka. On this very day, in 1825 B.S (1768 A.D), king Pritihivi Narayan Shah of Gorkha (in a verge of unifying smaller states to form the kingdom of Nepal) attacked Kathmandu and enthroned himself. Day three requires head of the state to visit Kumari Chen and receive Tika from the living goddess Kumari. It is regarded as the approval of Kumari (considered the guardian of country) to continue ones regime for another year. Head of the state (now president of Nepal) offers Asarfi (golden coin) at her feet (which never bear any shoes except plain red shocks) followed by a bow. People bow over her feet to receive blessings and betterments in life. Prithivi Narayan Shah did the same on this day of 1768 AD and formally made citizens to regard him as the king of Nepal. While visiting Kumari, expressions and signs of any kind like anger or even laugher is not taken as a positive indicator. Her facial expression is expected to be neutral for a good fortune. As a supplement for this, Rana rulers gave allowed special consideration to the living goddess. They had suffixes like 'Sri Kumari' with some important bureaus like – Sri Kumari KausiToshKhana, Sri Kumari Adda. Late in the evening of day one, there is another procession; of Dagani. It starts from the south-western corner of Maru Satta (KasthaMandap) at around 8:00 pm after the return of Kumari Kha(t) – the chariot. Dagin procession reminds us of a time Basundhara (Dagin in local dialect) was desperately looking for her long-lost son Indra. The route of Dagin is 1. ThaThu Puin - upper/northern part •
Maru, Pyapha(l), Yatkha, Nyata, Tenga(l), Nhyokha, Nhaikan Twa(l), Ason, Kel Twa(l), Indra
Chok/Wongha • 2. DaThu Puin - central part •
Makha(n), Hanuman Dhoka, Maru and
• 3. KwoThu Puin – southern/lower part •
ChikanMugal, JaisiDyaga, Laga(m), Hyumata, Bhimsensthan, Maru
At the onset of this festival, huge masks of Bhairab are on once-in-a-year public display until the festival ends. Among them the biggest one is of Sweta Bhairab at Hanuman Dhoka (established by king Rana Bahadur Shah). Likewise, Aaskash Bhairab has the most beautiful floral decoration at Indra Chowk followed by Waka Dyo next to Indra Chowk. Bhairab masks of several sizes and varieties can be seen at many places around the city. Such masks are kept by the respective Guthi as a continuation of their ritual. Generally a pipe is connected with the mouth of Bhairab that dispenses Jal (alcohol and rice beer) to petitioners as Prasad or blessings. One can observe the most exciting receipt of Jal at Swet Bhairab in the evening of the third day. Relating this, on the second day which is also a full moon day, various Guthis distribute Samaya Baji to the public. Samaya Baji consist five items including 1.
two types of Beaten Rice (Sya Baji + normal Baji)
black Soya Bean lightly roasted in oil (Bhatmash or Mushya in NepalBhasa)
roasted buff and
Young boys go around repeating a jingle of "La Chakku Woyeka Samaya Baji (please give Samaya Baji with a piece of meat)". Samaya Baji is a type of Prasad (blessing). The five edibles symbolize five evils of human life viz Kam, Krodha, Lobha, Moha and Ahankar (Lust, Anger, Greed, Affection and Arrogance respectively). Having Samaya Baji denotes ones wish of conquering all these five sins and also giving up them in the presence of god. In the entirety of the eight days, a silent play (rather postures) called Das Avatar is shown at the steps of a temple just in front of Kumari Chen. This is a type of Film/Television show for the Kumari which begins only after her arrival. She watches the play from the golden window at her official residence. One is not allowed to look into the windows. Das Avatar literally means ten different incarnations of Lord Vishnu as described in the various manuscripts. Actors' pose and ornamentations is worn as described in the stories and legends. As a rule, the show has to be extended for another eight days if an earthquake strikes at any moment during festival. Festival of Kathmandu â€“ "Yain Yah" officially ends in the evening of YawnLaGa TrayoDasi. 108 feet long Yosin (Lingo) is brought down and pulled out to be discarded at TundiKhel. In the past, TundiKhel was the open space outside the city to dispose anything far from its residents.
In conclusion, we see the whole festival dedicated to Lord Indra and the Kumari in a later period. We have been worshipping Lord Indra from the earliest of times as proved by his presence in the Vedas. Likewise, Kumari cult is the outcome of Tantrism which can be traced even across India. It has more than a 2000 thousand year old history of practicing Kumari Puja. Therefore, Yain Yah or Indra Jatra in Nepal is a festival that blends, respects, and integrates nature and science. Rain or Indra is nature while Kumari is Tantra - a high class secret science. The chariot procession of Ganesh, Kumari and Bhairab symbolizes the existence of three in the universe – a major digit in Fibonacci and Natural number system. Three indicates many things; top – middle - bottom / best – average – worst / male – gay or lesbian – female / electron – proton – neutron etc. Also, three is the square root of number nine – the highest value of natural number system. Whichever digit we multiply with nine, the result again becomes nine. Similarly, the product of values in multiplication table of nine gets reversed after fifth place (eg 9 x 5 = 45 while 9 x 6 = 54). The fact is Kumari Rath Yatra (Kumari chariot procession) during Yain Yah was primarily for the female power. Honor to both Indra and Kumari were later fabricated and mingled with numerous colorful cum social events. This allowed the festival to be more lively and vibrant with the involvement of every individual at various degrees. Hence, Yain Yah has historical, socio-cultural, political and religious significance in Nepal.