As they pulled and tugged at the ropes attached to the chariot of Kumari, the living goddess, they realised that they were stepping into a bastion where no women had gone before.
On Wednesday, nearly 300 women pulled the Kumari’s chariot---as part of the weeklong Indra Jatra---and became the first ones to do so in the festival’s 258-year-old history.
From grandmothers in traditional attires to teenagers in jeans, there was a rush among the women present at Basantapur in Kathmandu to be part of the historic occasion.
“This is the happiest Indra Jatra for me. I always dreamt of pulling the Kumari’s chariot but had not got a chance till now,” said an exalted Smriti Shrestha, a housewife, who managed to pull the chariot briefly.
Started in 1756 by King Guna Kamdeva, Indra Jatra, meaning the procession of king of heaven Lord Indra, is the biggest religious street festival in Nepal.
The procession of Kumari and of deities Ganesh and Bhairav take place for three days during the festivities along different routes. But throughout the festival’s history no woman had taken part in it.
On Wednesday, the women pulled the chariot from the Kumari’s palace in Basantapur through various localities in the city’s old quarters before finally taking it back to Basantapur.
Though the chariot is usually pulled by members of Kathmandu’s Newar community, indigenous people of the Kathmandu Valley, on Wednesday there were no restrictions.
Women from other communities also took part and the organisers who had earlier permitted women to take part for just 20 metres had to do away with that limit as well.
The idea to include women was forwarded by Nani Hira Maharjan, member of Jyapu Maha Guthi, a social organization, to Mohan Krishna Dangol, chief of the Indra Jatra organizing committee.
“I was afraid Dangol would not be interested. But he seemed both surprised and excited,” she told ‘Republica’. Maharjan took part in the procession with her teenaged daughter.
The Indra Jatra festival which starts with erecting a ‘lingo’, a wooden pole at Hanumandhoka in Basantapur ended on Wednesday night with submersion of the pole in the Bagmati River.