Yenya Punhi is one of the oldest festivals of Kathmandu, which is marked by a week long celebrations and feasting among the greater inhabitants of Kathmandu.
~Origin & History~
Yenya Punhi (Nepali: येँयाः पुन्ही) is a festival belonging to the Newari community of Kathmandu. Celebrated as a street festival, Yenya Punhi carries a historic and mythological significance to the bygone Lichhavi and Malla Kingdom of Nepal.
It is an amass of cultural, religious and historic events. From the start till it ends, the city of Kathmandu is filled with processions of various kinds, street festivals and feasting. The celebration lasts for eight days from the 12th day of the bright fortnight to the 4th day of the dark fortnight, and it generally falls on the 5th month of Hindu calender, Bhadra.
The occasion is remembered for two different occurring, Indra Jatra and Kumari Jatra, where one celebrates the Hindu God Indra (God of Rain & heaven) and the other celebrates the arrival of virgin deity or a living goddess. Despite the overlapping of the two occasions, these are completely different festivals and has no resemblance.
Indra Jatra (Nepali: ईन्द्र जात्रा) was initiated during the Lichhavi period (300 Bc-1200 AD) in Nepal by the King Gunakamadeva. It generally celebrates God Indra for offering a boon in form of rainfall to the inhabitants of Kathmandu.
It is marked by masked dances of deities and demons, displays of sacred images and tableaus. The celebration starts from the erection of a linga (a wooden pole) at the center of Kathmandu Durbar Square. The erection of pole and the following events enacts the mythical event of imprisoning God Indra by the inhabitants of Kathmandu. This year it falls on September 8.
The Legend goes as;
Indra, the lord of heaven, 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 realizing 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.
Kumari Jatra (कुमारी जात्रा) celebrates the living goddess Kumari, a virgin deity. Started by King Jaya Prakash Mall of the Malla Kingdom in 1756, the festivals offers a tribute to the goddess Taleju Bhawani.
The procession of Kumari, accompanied by the relics of Bhairava and Ganesha, is carried out in a chariot throughout Kathmandu city for 3 days following the Indra Jatra. The first day procession leads through downtown Kathmandu, the second leads through the uptown and the final procession is carried out in the midtown Kathmandu.
The selection of Kumari from the arrays of eligible candidate is an elaborate affair. The operation is carried out in accord to the law dictated by Vajrayana Buddhism. The girls aged 4-7 are pre-screened and selected for a task involving meeting the deities in a dark room. The one who remain composed and calm during the process is considered the goddess. It’s believed that the spirit of Taleju Bhawani enters the body of the girl hence giving her the spiritual identity, and the term of being a goddess remains until her first menstruation or the first cut and bleeding.
The Legend goes as;
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.