National Foundation for Development of Indigenous Nationalities (NFDIN)

Infamous but Captivating Lakhe Dance of Nepal


Namaste! A legendary Lakhe is one of the cultural symbols of Newar indigenous community of Nepal. Its flamboyant mask dance performance is jubilant to watch during Newar festivals. A terrifying Lakhe however able to assimilate  with local community and became a popular household name has certainly assure its existence. 

Infamous but Captivating Lakhe Ajooof Nepal (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

Terrifying aspect of Lakhe of Nepal

Nepal is a beautiful country, home to a people of different ethnic and caste groups; having their own traditions, cultures, languages and values handed down from generation to generation. The Lakhe meaning demon believed to be arrived from South India in 11th century is worshiped for its divine power and cherished with other deities during a great Indra Jatra festival is one of the distinct intangible cultural heritage within Newar community of Nepal.

Lakhe Performer (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

All Majipa Lakhe performers are required to pay their visits to dance goddess in respect to wear Lakhe mask and costumes. They carefully plan and prepare eight-days performing schedule. Three to four performers take turns for a single day performance.

Food Offering Ceremony (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

Also known as Royal Lakhe, Majipa Lakhe is brought out only in the month of September for the Indra Jatra Festival. Surrounded by lighted oil lamps, Lakhe mask is worshipped and offered variety of food items in the belief that Lakhe must be kept happy so it will provide blessings and protect villagers from outbreak of epidemic diseases.

Royal Throne of Majipa Lakheof Nepal (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

Before a performer wears the Majipa Lakhe attire to be publicly displayed in the streets of Kathmandu, it is first worshiped on its throne. Lakhe and Jhyalincha masks are brought out into the procession for mending, grooming, and repainting for the upcoming Indra Jatra Festival. It is kept in its throne until it is sent to a craftsman chitrakar (a painter) of Newar community. Similarly, yak hair is dyed, brushed and fitted in a mask. This is a closed session that public viewing is restricted except for the guardians of Lakhe.

A Mask Bearer (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

Majipa Lakhe mask bearer is getting ready to perform a Lakhe dance at Indra Jatra Festival. Lakhe dance requires skills, knowledge, and great determination. As the dance is physically demanding many Lakhe performers retires early yet there is no shortage of young people who aspire to become a mask bearer.

Living Two Lives (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

A Lakhe dance performer is putting on the mask before going out to perform. The mask is believed to have a power to provide strength during the performance. The mask bearer portrays the expressions of excitement, fear, greed, and anxiety through this dance.

Jhyalincha,The Little Boy (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

In this dance sequence, the little boy as Jhyalincha stimulate Lakhe to perform more vigorously. Its a playful representation of epidemic diseases that Lakhe is persistent to chase away to protect the villagers. It also helps children to overcome the fear created by terrifying aspect of Lakhe.

Lakhe House (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

Before going out to perform in public, Majipa Lakhe visits a place called Rengal at Lagan to worship and receive blessing for a successful day ahead. Earlier, Jyapu (a farmer clan in Newar) people were responsible taking care of Lakhe. During the course of time, Jyapu find this practice difficult to carry out and handed over to Ranjitkars (another Newar clan). To this day, Lakhe visits Jyapu house to drink water and light its chilaag (oil torch) to begin the procession.

House of "Kebuche" (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

When Lakhe is ready to perform, a guardian (Mr. Rajib Ranjit) assists Lakhe to come out from its house called Lakhe Nuni. Lakhe's first prayer is held in Kebuche, the house of a clan in Newar known as Rajbhandari who made offerings to Lakhe. Lakhe comes out with musical instruments, Bhushyaha (a drum), Jhyali (cymbals), Jhyalincha, a bag, and an oil torch called chilaag.

Ready to roam around old city circuit (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

Lakhe comes out with joy and excitement to show off its vibrantly colorful batik attached to its arms. Lakhe is expected to follow a traditional route covering the periphery of the old city of Kathmandu.

Intimidating Lakhe Dance (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

A huge crowd gathered outside the courtyard of Basantapur in Kathmandu witnessing the captivating Lakhe performance with little Jhyalincha during the Indra Jatra Festival. Indra Jatra is called "Yenya" in local Newar language ("Yen" meaning Kathmandu and "Ya" meaning festival).

Agitating Jyalincha (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

The little boy dressed as Jhyalincha is teasing Lakhe to perform more vigorously.

Enticing Majipat Lakheof Nepal (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

Also called Shree Lakhe Ajoo of Majipa by locals, passionately dances in the middle of a captivating crowd, celebrating the Indra Jatra Festival in Kathmandu.

Lakhe Dance (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

Lakhe dance is divided into four different depictions: (i) snake, (ii) frog, (iii) eagle, and (iv) tiger. Sabre-toothed Lakhe pounces in a free flowing well-coordinated dance movements.

Offering of Shamhya Baji (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

During the eight-days public performance, the devotees invite Majipa Lakhe to their houses for prayer and blessings. They offer shamhya baji (a protein-rich offering consisting of legumes, includes beans, lentils, soybeans, peanuts, peas, eggs etc.)

Pulu Kishi: The Lost Elephant (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

Pulukishi is an elephant mascot believed to be lost after being left by Lord Indra when he descended down to earth from heaven in search of a flower called "Parijat". In this performance, Pulukishi goes around the town, dancing to the tunes of a single bell in search of his master Lord Indra.

Majipa Lakhe Hospitality (2017) by HItkaji GurungICHCAP

Majipa Lakhe is visited by Devi Nach performers from neighboring village. They will perform along with living goddess-Kumari, Bhairab, Ganesh, Dasha Avatars, Pulukishi and other deities in eight-days procession.

Appreciating Lakhe Performance (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

Exuberant and lively Lakhe performance is appreciated by many in this festival. The upbeat of music definitely makes this festival very entertaining.

Music to Your Ears (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

Musical instruments Dhime (a drum) and Bhushya (cymbals) are played in Lakhe dance. The musics are loud, abrupt, and continuous; it requires endurance and strength to keep up with.

Mask Dance Carnival (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

Majipa Lakhe is observed by thousands including the Head of State during Indra Jatra Festival. Newar community in Kathmandu have been celebrating this century-old festival from time immemorial.

Showing Lakhe's Presence (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

Majipa Lakhe shows its presence by performing and jumping three times at the main intersection at Jaishidewal, Chikamugul, Kumari House, and Hanumandhoka.

Pathfinder to Chariot of Kumari (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

Legend has it that the first Malla king brought the Goddess Taleju Bhawani in Kathmandu where it is enshrined. Lakhe, not finding his patron Goddess Taleju, simply followed the footprints of the Malla king and arrived in Nepal from the south. Later, Goddess Taleju appeared as Living Goddess Kumari and Lakhe continued to walk the chariots of Kumari in this great festival.

LakheatIndra Jatra (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

Indra Jatra is celebrated with various traditional dances and carnivals. Chariots of Goddess Kumari, Lord Ganesh, and Lord Bhairab are paraded in the streets of Kathmandu.

Final Day Feasting (2017) by Hitkaji GurungICHCAP

Majipa Lakhe is put back into its chest for another year after being out for almost a month. The trustee host the feast next day after the final ritual.

Final Day LakheRitual (2017) by HItkaji GurungICHCAP

After Indra Jatra concluded on the eighth day, Lakhe mask with its attire is placed to its throne and worshipped for one last final ritual. It is offered with shamhya baji (legumes). A guardian of Lakhe puts away the mask and other accessories back to the chest, leaving the house until next year. This marks the end of Majipa Lakhe. Public viewing is restricted to this rituals.

Transmission for Continuity as a Last Resort (2017) by HItkaji GurungICHCAP

Majipa Lakhe keeper, Mr. Rajib Ranjit, has inherited the Lakhe tradition and rituals from his forefather and uncle. Mr. Ranjit is optimistic that one day his son will follow his footsteps to keep this family tradition alive. His uncle, Mr. Laxmanram Ranjit, has retired after 28 years as a care-taker of Lakhe due to old age.

Credits: Story

"Infamous But Captivating Lakhe Dance of Nepal" is an online exhibition created by National Foundation for Development of Indigenous Nationalities (NFDIN), Nepal based on 2017 ICHCAP ICH Online Exhibition. This exhibition has been made possible by grant from International Information & Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region under the auspices of UNESCO (ICHCAP).

Photograph courtesy of Rekha Shakya, Sharan Dongol, Subesh and Rajib Ranjit.

Filmed by Indigenous Media Foundation, Nepal
Short movie clips edited by Red Chillies Advertising Pvt. Ltd., Lalitpur
Narration, caption & settings by Hitkaji Gurung

Special thanks to: Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation, Nepal; UNESCO Kathmandu; Newa Deya Dabu (Newar indigenous community); Rajib Ranjit (A Lakhe guardian); Prof Dr Prem Kumar Khatry; Dr Chunda Bajracharya; Rajbhai Jakami Maharjan; Ganeshram Lachi; Ekaram Singh, Laxmanram Ranjit; Som Bahadur Dhimal and NFDIN team.

Credits: All media
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