Containing, Confining, and Categorizing Indra: A Vedic Deity in Tantric Nepal
Considering the Indra festival of Kathmandu, Nepal, this paper will ask how the unique narratives and icons of a contained and confined Indra help us better to understand the location of the festival and its central deity within the polytropic religion of the Kathmandu Valley. These icons of Indra, raised in Jyapu (Farmer) neighborhoods throughout the city, depict his arrest and confinement by the Jyapus following his theft of their parijat flower and thus confound his Vedic identity as king of the gods, celebrated with the installation of the festival’s tall pole outside the royal palace. Indra’s story of thievery and arrest is consistent, however, with other Nepalese stories of gods and goddesses contained and confined by tantric masters – in drawers, baskets, invisible walls, and tombs – only to be accidentally released at a later time. The anthropomorphic images that embody Indra’s story display a similar tantric identity: his arms outstretched in a posture similar to that of festival dancers possessed by mother goddesses, Indra is depicted as the god of rains whose power the Jyapu ritualists seek to harness for the monsoon season and coming harvest. The tantricism embodied in these images of an arrested Indra troubles additional boundaries as it reinforces the festival’s multiple and overlapping connections to local performances of the Mahabharata, allowing for the identification of Indra as a local/Vedic form of the epic’s divine protector, Aravan.