Just because Kumari Jatra begins on the third day of the week-long Indra Jatra, many consider the Kumari Jatra a part of the latter. On several occasions, I even see Nepali television channels reporting that the Kumari and Indra Jatras are two different names for a single festival. For people like me, always concerned with the religious and social meaning of festivals, such things are abusive. It hurts me to witness false information being spread. This not only misleads people and tourists interested in learning about our unique festivals, but also ruins the importance and originality of the Kumari Jatra. The distinction between the two festivals must, therefore, be instilled among youngsters so that uniqueness is not lost.
In the first place, everyone should be clear that Indra Jatra was initiated during the Lichhavi Period (300 BC-1200 AD) by king Gunakamdev. Centuries later, in 1756 AD, the last Malla king of Kathmandu, Jaya Prakash Malla, started the Kumari Jatra, beginning on the third day of Indra Jatra, as a tribute to the goddess Taleju Bhawani.
Gunakamdev’s inception of Indra Jatra was sparked by a myth. Indra, the lord of the heavens, was told by doctors that a rare jasmine flower was needed for the treatment of his dying mother, Dakini. Indra came to earth in search of the flower and found it in a tree in Kathmandu. Locals spied on the god in the act of plucking the flower and promptly seized him as a thief. Indra was tied to a pole and put on display at various places in the city for eight consecutive days, beginning with the Baman Duwadasi, according to the religious calendar, which usually falls in September-October. Later, when Dakini herself came to know of her son’s arrest, she too came down and pleaded for her son’s release. Upon realising that the ‘thief’ they had arrested was the god Indra, they immediately released him. Dakini then promised the residents a boon and the people, content with their lives under the king, only demanded regular rain in Kathmandu. Indra went back with his mother and locals began to celebrate the eight days of Indra’s punishment as Indra Jatra, honouring the king of heaven.
There is a different myth behind the Kumari Jatra, which Jaya Prakash Malla initiated centuries after the Indra Jatra. It is said that the goddess Taleju Bhawani was the king’s political and social advisor and would give important tips to the king on good governance. However, during one of their meetings, the king, overwhelmed by desire, attempted to rape the goddess inside the Taleju Bhawani temple, prompting the goddess to disappear and vow never to appear before the king again. Worried by the goddess’ proclamation, the king begged her to reconsider her decision. Taking sympathy on the poor king, Taleju pledged to reside within the Kumari, a virgin girl from the city. Jaya Prakash Malla identified the right Kumari and built a palace for her in the Hanumandhoka area. In honour of Taleju Bhawani and the Kumari, he began a separate procession called the Kumari Jatra, which happened to fall on the third day of Indra Jatra.
Both myths, as well as the time when these two festivals first began, clearly show that Indra Jatra and Kumari Jatra are two different festivals. This message needs to be transmitted from one generation to the other if we are to retain the charm of both of these social, cultural and religious happenings.
(Manandhar is an 83-year-old resident of Basantapur area with sound knowledge of Kathmandu’s ancient culture and festivals)
(As told to Ankit Adhikari)
Posted on: 2012-09-28 07:07