Jatra literally means a festival that is celebrated. The style of celebration of Jatra is quite different as it involves worshipping the related gods at family level as well as publicly in a crowd. In Nepal, many different Jatra are celebrated specially in Newari Community of Kathmandu, Nepal.
Here is the list and details of the most popular Jatras celebrated in Kathmandu, Nepal.
1. Gai Jatra – The most popular Jatra celebrated in Nepal
Gaijatra is also known as Saa Paru in Newari language. It literally translates as Cow Festival which is a carnival of dancing, singing and laughter. It is celebrated by Newar of Kathmandu to honor the death of loved ones.
In this festival, families who have lost a family member or relative during the past year participate in a procession through the streets of Kathmandu leading a cow. That involvement of cow justifies the name Gai Jatra.
It is celebrated in Bhadra Shukla Chaturdashi (The day before the full moon) as per the Nepali lunar calendar.
According to ancient history, King Pratap Malla, started this festival as a way to heal the sorrow of his wife who was devastated after the death of their son, Chakrabartendra.
2. Indra Jatra
Indra Jatra is also known as Yenya in Newari language. In its literal level, Ye means Kathmandu valley and Ya means celebration. In the combined form, Yenya or Indra Jatra mens a celebration in the Kathmandu valley.
The festival starts with the erection of Yosin or Linga, a pole from which the banner of Indra is unfolded, at Kathmandu Durbar Square. And it lasts at the 8th day by taking down the yosin pole erected at Durbar Square in a ceremony known as Yosin Kwathalegu.
Indra Jatra commences every year from the day of Bhadra Dwadasi to Ashwin Krishna Chaturdasi (from the 12th day of the bright fortnight to the 4th day of the dark fortnight).
It started when Bashundhara needed Jasmine flower (Parijat) for rituals, which is only found on the earth. Lord Indra, being a good son he descended onto earth disguised as a farmer in search for the flower. When he was plucking the flower, he was caught by local and they accused him of stealing. He was tied on the pole and present as a thief for 8 days in different parts of Kathmandu. He nither succeeded to make himself free nor made them believe his story.
Worrying his absence, Basundhara, his mother also descend on the earth to search him. When she finally found him, they realised that they had tied the Lord Indra, and freed him immediately.
Out of appreciation, his mother ensured Kathmandu to have enough rain to harvest healthy crops. Lord Indra and his mother returned back to heaven. Since then, he is known as the god of rain and his eight-day long capture is celebrated as Indra Jatra in the same way that incident happened.
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3. Ghode Jatra – The Festival of the Horses
Ghode Jatra is another popular Jatra celebrated specially in Kathmandu valley. Ghode Jatra literally translate as festival of Horses. Similar to Gaijatra, where cows were involved in the Jatra, in Ghode Jatra there is an active involvement of Horses. Ghode Jatra is also popular as Horse Racing day.
Ghode Jatra is celebrated in the month of Chaitra (last month) on Krishna Aunshi Tithi (the dark lunar fortnight) according to the Hindu calendar (lunar calendar).
In the same day, Newars of Kathmandu celebrate another festival called Pahachare to welcome the new year which adds more excitement in the Ghode Jatra.
On that day, on the main training ground (Tundikhel) of headquarter of the military of Nepal organize a competitive sport of horse racing in presence of the head of the nation (president, formerly king).
There is no proper evidence on why it is celebrated. But according to a myth, Tundi, a demon feasted the people visiting Tundikhel as it used to reside there. Out of anger, people of Kathmandu courageously battled and killed it and rode the horses over its body as a celebration.
4. Bisket Jatra (Biska Jatra)
Bisket Jatra (Biska Jatra), one of the most important festivals of Bhaktapur. The original name of Bisket Jatra was Bisyaku Jatra” (Bi and Syaku meaning snake laughter, In Newari language). But as time passed by, it is abbreviated as the Bisket Jatra.
Biska Jatra is a week long festival celebrated in Kathmandu valley, specially in Bhaktapur. The main celebration is on the last day of a year and on the first day of new year of Bikram Sambat calendar.
In Biska Jatra, a huge Rath (Chariot) and a Lingo (a wooden pole) is erected marking the beginning of the new year.
As the Jatra is huge, almost every year human fatalities are recorded. This is due to being crushed by the huge Chariot or pole or fights or simply being crushed to death by the mass of people.
This Jatra started during the reign of King Jagajyoti Malla of Bhaktapur. He was fascinated by a story you probably have heard as “Shishir Ra Bashanta Ko Katha” and wished that it would be remembered for prosperity.
5. Rato Machhindranath Jatra
Rato Machhindranath Jatra is also known as Bunga Dyah Jatra in Newari language. It is also celebrated in Kathmandu valley. Rato Machhindranath Jatra is the longest running Jatra in Kathmandu valley that lasts for a whole month. The Chariot built for this Jatra is over 60 feet high. The chariot is constructed at Pulchowk at the western end of Lalitpur and pulled to Jawalakhel.
Machindranath is considered to be the deity of rain and whenever the Rath is pulled, it always rains to signify that the god is pleased by worship done.
Tge pulling of the Chariot is believed to be pulled only by the people of the Newar community themselves.
Rato Machhindranath Jatra was started from the reign of the King Narendra Dev. The story behind it is related to unsatisfied ego of recognition. When Guru Gorakh had visited patan, after getting educated by his teacher Machhindranath in India, no one recognized him. Being upset with that he captured the serpents, a snake responsible for rain then moved to Kathmandu and started meditation.
That caused drought in Patan. Therefore, as per advisors request, King Narendra Dev invited Machhindranath. When Guru Gorkha Knew that his teacher had been there, he released serpents and immediately it rained. For that reason, Rato Machhindranath Jatra is celerated in Nepal.
This Jatra is followed by another popular Jatra called Bhoto Jatra which is celebrated on the last day of Rato Machhindranath Jatra. In fact, it is a part of it.
6. Bhoto Jatra
After the a month long procession of Rato Machhindranath Jatra ends with Bhoto Jatra. Bhoto Jatra is shown in Jawalakhel in the presence of the living goddess Kumari and the head of the state (president, formerly King) by one of the government officials.
The back story of Bhoto Jatra is an interesting one. Once the queen of Serpent God, living in Taudaha Lake fell ill, the worried King asked help with a Jyapu, a Newar farmer who helped to cure with different herbs. The King Serpent being happy gifted a Bhoto (a sleeveless shirt) decorated with ornaments.
The farmer used to wear that Bhoto only on special occassions. Once, a ghost saw it, liked it and started following the farmer with hope to take it away in a good chance. That ghost took away the Bhoto when the farmer took off in one of his basket while working.
On the last day of Rato Machhindranath Jatra, the King, the farmer, that ghost and other spiritual beings were present to worship the Machhindranath. The farmer noticed that ghost and moving slowy towards the ghost grabbed the ghost and a fight broke.
King Gunakamadev was also present at that ceremoney, tried to mediation. But, as they both were claiming that Bhoto, he asked for proof. Farmer promised to present the proof and asked the Serpent King to present in the Chariot pulling ceremony in the next day. Serpent agreed but did not appeare in the next day in front of the King Gana Kamadev.
Due to lack of proof of ownership, Bhoto belonged to the King Gana Kamadev, which he handed over to Machhindranath Guthi. Then onwards, every year, at the end of the rath pulling ceremony the Bhoto is brought forth and shown to the people in hope that someone would come with a proof and take the Bhoto away.
That all are the major Jatras celebrated in Nepal specially in Kathmandu Valley by the local Newar Community. All of them being an important part of culture, are celebrated widely. And the government of Nepal also partiapates in these Jatras and even provides public holidays for Kathmandu Valley in some of these Jatras.