Thursday, September 15, 2016

Yenya: The Biggest Cultural Street Festival of Kathmandu

Rabin Man Shakya
Advisor, Nepaa Chhen, Portland, Oregon.

Yenya is one of the biggest cultural street festivals of Kathmandu. Not only   the Newah people of Nepal but the Newahs living abroad in different continents also celebrate the Yenya festival in their own way. There was a time when children of the local neighborhood in down town Kathmandu used to knock the door after door during the Yenya festival and used to say,"La Chhaku Wayak Samay Baji, Wal Wal Pulu Kisi."

Traditionally, the Yenya festival kicks off with the erection of Yosin or Linga at Kathmandu Durbar Square. This cultural and traditional ritual is famous as "Yosin Thanegu" in Nepal Bhasa.

Yenya is the biggest cultural street festival in Kathmandu. Yenya means the festival of Kathmandu in Nepal Bhasa, the language of the Newah people. Coincidentally,  Yenya festivities consist of two major cultural events: Indra Jatra and Kumari Jatra.

According to historical chronicles, the tradition of Kumari Jatra was launched by Malla King Jaya Prakash Malla in 1756 AD whereas Indra Jatra was initiated by Lichhavi King Gunakama Deva to celebrate the founding of the historical city of Kathmandu in the 10th century.

Kathmandu's downtown areas of Indra Chowk and Basantpur become center of cynosure  with the Kumari Jatra and display of dieties like Aakash Bhairav and Mahankal Bhairav during the Yenya festival. The Kumari Jatra is the chariot procession of the living goddess Kumari, Bhairav and Ganesh.

In fact, Yenya festival, which is a trusted perennial for the Newah people in Kathmandu, signifies the start of the holiday season. It will not be an exaggeration to assert that Yenya is the quintessence    of glorious street festival tradition of the Newah people. No doubt, traditions like Yenya festivities are the cornerstone of Newah civilization. Actually, Nepal is renowned for cultural festivals and ethnic diversity and Nepal is famous all over the world as the land of festivals.

Yenya is also a pot-porry of masked dances of deities, demons and elephant, performances include: Pulu Kisi dance, Majipa Lakhey, Sawa Bhakku, Devi Pyakhan, Mahakali Pyakhan  etc.

Taking a trip down memory lane, I remember the tradition of Nakhatya of the Newah people. Nakhatya is a tradition  which means inviting the relatives and members of extended families for a feast during or after the festivals. Maternal uncle of my mother was from Lagan Tole and we, as kids, used to go to his house at Lagan Tole for Nakhatya during the Yenya and Kumari Jatra during those years. Lagan Tole is one of the places where the chariot procession of Kumari Jatra takes place.

One of the very memorable part of Yenya festival for  me is Pulu Kisi dance which is rendered by the natives of Kilagal Tole which is two minutes walk from Naghal Tole where I used to live. As a kid and teenager in 1960-70s, I along with local kids used to frequent to Kilagal and Bhedasing to have a look of Pulu Kisi, a creature masked as elephant, which I remember, created a feeling of excitement as well as of fear among the kids at that time.

Majority of Newah festivals and Newah values have a lot of historical and cultural significance. In fact, the Lichhavi and Malla eras  were the 'belle époque' of the Newah civilization, the golden age of art and culture in Nepal during the medieval period.

Newahs living in the United States also celebrate Yenya festival in their own way. The mere fact that the Newahs living in different continents celebrate different Newah festivals in their own way is the testimony of the fact that no matter where the Newahs live, they do not and they have not forgotten glorious value of Newah culture and traditions.

Some US Newah organizations do celebrate Yenya festival and other Newah cultural events in a broader community level. For example, Newah Organization of New England, USA  celebrated  Yenya festival in Boston on Sept 17, 2016 by organizing Kumari chariot procession, Lakhey dance, Pulu Kisi dance. Traditional Newah musical instruments Dhime and Bhusya were played on the occasion to create local Newah environment. Likewise,  a program was also organized by Newah Organization of America  in Washington DC to mark the Yenya festival. The main attractions at the DC program were Pulu Kisi dance and performance of musical instruments of  Dhime and Bhusya.

Newah Organization of America, Nepa Pasa Pucha Amerikaye and Newa American Dabu etc are the Newah organizations which are effortful and committed to enrich and enhance Newah value, Newah culture and festivals in the US.

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