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SACRIFICE OF SERPENTS
An Ethnographic Documentary film, The Festival of Indrayani, Kathmandu, By Dirk J. Nijland, Bal Gopal Shrestha, Bert van den Hoek


This ethnographic documentary film shows a lesser known Nepalese festival of the goddess Indrayani or Luti Ajima "Liquid-Gold Grandmother" in northern part Kathmandu. It is a Dutch-Nepalese co-production, supported by the Research School CNWS of Leiden University and the Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies of Tribhuvan University. It won an award of commendation from the American Anthropological Association.

The sacrifice of serpents into the sacred fire, is nowadays confined to the Newar culture of Nepal, and does not occur anywhere else in the subcontinent. However, ancient Indian prototypes exist: in Vedic ritual texts (of approximately the fifth century B.C.) the serpents perform their own (self-) sacrifice in order to vanquish death. To all appearances, serpent sacrifice is a royal ceremony, and also its present performance at the fire pit of the Indrayani pitha - the temple at the riverside - is carried out by the Thaku Juju, the "Lord King" of the Thahiti ("Northern Fountain") area in Kathmandu. The Thaku Jujus are said to be the descendants of the kings or chiefs who ruled Kathmandu in medieval times.

As a rule fire sacrifices precede the procession of fearsome deities around town, but for the general public these ceremonies, most often performed in the dead of night, are not a great attraction. The fire sacrifice is carried out in the New Moon night of November/December, but it is related to a blood sacrifice carried out the night before. Including preparations the festival period counts fifteen days, some of which are eventless. The camera has followed the preparations as well, so that the documentary shows all ins and outs of the festival. The place of action is the dyochem, which literally means the "god-house", and which refers to a shrine in the Thaku Juju's house where the brass procession images of Indrayani and her retinue are installed, and are worshipped every day by the Thaku Juju's priest. Other dyochems of divinities who join the procession of Indrayani are Bhagavati, Jvalamai, Ganesa. Ample attention has been given to the yatra of the Goddess through modern, congested Kathmandu. The procession shows the same mixture of duty and jest that characterizes the other ritual acts.