Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Indra Jatra 2010: In Which I Was Not Trampled by Elephants Nor Communists

I recently posted about the mythology of Indra Jatra. The subject is close to my heart because of my experience with Indra Jatra back in 2008.

Indra Jatra back in 2008.

Back then, the monarchy had just been abolished. For the first time in this age the Kumari did not officially bless the former King (although she did unofficially - the first year that the former King did not even attend was this year). Instead, she gave a blessing to the newly elected Prime Minister (the head of the government) and the President (the head of state, whose duties are most often ceremonial and religious).

Taken in 2008

At the time I had only a vague notion of what was going on around me. To avoid a crowd at the entrance to Durbar Square I had walked through a back alley, but it was so crowded that I got stuck. Suddenly, I heard cymbals behind me and a rush of people and I was pushed through the crowd and knocked over right in front of the chariot of the Kumari. There were police and people pulling the cart and other people fighting in the alley where I was standing. I thought they were communists because they wore only green and had military-style hats (I still don't know who they were). There was a giant red demon twirling back and forth and occasionally lashed out at people. Then the chariot started moving forward. It all seemed pretty dangerous, and I didn't know what to do, so I watched my back and [recorded a video of it].

I was also the only one of my friends to get a glimpse of the Kumari (taken in 2008).

It seemed calmer as I walked out of the back alleys and into the crowded open space of Durbar Square. Then, suddenly, a bunch of people ran the opposite direction and I saw that they were being chased by a giant three-eyed elephant. I had to dodge and run away.

I snapped this picture over my should as I fled in confused terror. (taken in 2008)
This year I was much more prepared. My Nepali teacher is Newari, and she has lived in the area around Durbar Square that is steeped in these ancient traditions. I spent my Nepali classes asking her as many questions as I could, and she even took me and the ETAs to the house where the demon mask is kept. A chosen Newari family guards the mask, and one man is given the honor of becoming the Lakhe demon dancer.

They say that in the 1800s a cargo ship began to sink into the ocean, and everyone on it began to pray to their own gods for salvation. And there was a Newari on the ship, a devotee of the Lakhe. And the ship was raised out of the sea by a giant mat of red hair like that of the Lakhe mask and the people were saved.

Even more amazing, the Director of the Fulbright Commission found us seats at Jaisidewal, a perfect platform high above the chaos from which to view everything. On the way there, our path was briefly blocked by police in riot gear as the Prime Minister's car drove by. Jaisidewal is one of the pyramid-like temples that surround Durbar Square:

From there I was able to see the order of events. First came a procession of demon dancers, who proceeded to the stage where they performed for the rest of the evening.

Laid out in the center of a wide street was the samaibaji, offerings of food for the Elephant, for Ganesh and Bhairab and for the Kumari.

Then the Elephant showed up. He was given some food, and then he proceeded to dance around and through and against the crowd.

After the Elephant Dance, there were some military parades and some more demon dancers. Then a small wooden chariot appeared, pulled by dozens of volunteers with linked arms. This was the chariot of the child incarnate of Ganesh:

After it left came an identical small wooden chariot. This was the chariot of the child incarnate of Bhairab:

I hope I didn't accidentally reverse Bhairab and Ganesh

As you'd expect, many of the devotees of the child incarnate of Ganesh are also huge Led Zeppelin fans.

As each chariot passed, a large white fabric would be passed from the pile of samaibaji to the chariot and offerings would be passed into the hands of the children.
As it grew dark, the Lakhe appeared. He was just as I had remembered him.

Hold still so I can take your picture!

And immediately following, to the jubilation of the crowd, came the giant golden chariot of the Kumari:

She was smaller and cuter than I remember, and she seemed to be chewing on something the whole time.

The chariot disappeared behind the side of Jaisidewal just as dusk turned to darkness. The crowd lingered, but our Nepali teacher guided us through the twisting maze of darkening back alleys that she knew by heart and we soon found our way to the bus park. And so that was Indra Jatra 2010.

1 comment:

  1. Ganesh comes before everyone in Newar/Himdu culture so you got the order of the chariots right.
    And Kathmandu got its new Kumari on Oct 08.