Meeting The Kumari- The Living Goddess of Nepal

She is a young, beautiful and a naive soul. She represents the culture, history and beliefs of Nepal, keeping an age old custom alive of Newar community. People worship and stand in crews to get a glimpse of her because she brings good luck or atleast many have claimed so. Goddesses do exist in spiritual realm but in Nepal they are alive and breathe… They are called the KUMARI !

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My first rendezvous with the Kumari was in 2013 while I was exploring Basantapur Durbar Square in Kathmandu. I was picking up something from the market when I heard people saying that Kumari is soon going to show up and shower her blessing on everyone. Honestly I was clueless then of what they were saying. She appears either in the morning or late afternoon

 “Run to Kumari ghar otherwise you will miss her glimpse” While I was still thinking, my friends ran curiously and there she appeared. A divine young girl who should be close to 8 years, with heavy makeup on the face, on a palki, cautiously keeping herself away from touching the floor, showering her blessings and there I saw the living goddess of Nepal

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The Reign of Kumari

The Kumari is believed to be the incarnation of Hindu goddess Taleju, which means ‘unmarried girl’ or ‘virgin’

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The typical selection process for finding the Kumari has got resemblance to the Tibetan style of selecting the reincarnations of their predecessors. Few young girls aged between 4-5 years are selected basis their astrological chart and their stars should be favourable to the King of Nepal.

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The girls are then tested for 32 physical attributes which has minute details and she is also put through a secret test to check the signs of fearlessness. The goddess must not get frightened and therefore the selected girls are placed in a darkened room which sometimes has freshly severed buffalo heads or dancing men wearing demon masks. The girl who shows no fear is put through a final test where the girl should be able to carry the exquisite clothing of her predecessor. Thus a Kumari is born who moves into the Kumari Ghar and is worshipped as a living goddess.

The Kumari is supposed to follow strict rules which are laid upon her when she takes her seat. This includes barely talking, the reason that they answer devotees’ questions with the expressions on her face. It is said that Kumari should not cry or show anger or smile at you when she is meeting. If she does it means that something bad is going to happen. When i met Kumari recently again during Indra Jatra 2017, I found her completely expressionless, not concerned of anything happening around her. I later thank my stars after I got to know that it is a good sign that she didn’t show any expression

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Crowd outside Kumari Ghar for her blessing during Indra Jatra

All her necessities are taken care by the Nepalese government. She spends most of her time either studying or performing the rituals. She is allowed leaving the Kumari Ghar only a few times in a year during festivals and her feet must never touch the ground. She in the house she is carried around by the care takers

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The Tradition of Kumari

It is said that the goddess Taleju Bhawani was Jaya Prakash Malla- the King of Shah dynasty political and social advisor and would give important tips to the king on good governance. However, during one of their meetings, the king, overwhelmed by desire, attempted to rape the goddess inside the Taleju Bhawani temple, prompting the goddess to disappear and vow never to appear again. Worried by the goddess’ proclamation, the king begged her to reconsider her decision. Taking sympathy on the poor king, Taleju pledged to reside within the Kumari, a virgin girl from the Newar clan of Nepal. Jaya Prakash Malla identified the right Kumari and built a palace for her in the Hanuman Dhoka area.

The Living Goddess Kumari is the symbol of religious harmony in Nepal. The Living Goddess Kumari herself is from the Shakya clan of the Newar Buddhists. They are responsible for taking care of the Living Goddess Kumari whereas a Hindu Tantric priest called Karmacharya performs daily regular offerings to the Living Goddess Kumari. This has harmonized Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal.

Generally Buddhist and Hindus are allowed to meet the Kumari but you are not allowed to photograph her inside the Kumari Ghar. It is consider to be inauspicious. 

Kumari Ghar

Built in 1757 by King Jaya Prakash Malla, the Kumari Ghar is a three-story brick building richly decorated with wood-carved reliefs of gods and symbols. It is known for its magnificent carvings as well as its divine inhabitant.

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Beautiful Newari work inside the Kumari Ghar

The tourists can enter through the courtyard. The Living Goddess sometimes appears in one of the first-floor windows

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All set to meet the Kumari. You cannot photograph her in her abode

Events

Indra Jatra is the most important event for Kumari, a celebration of the harvest held in late August or early September. On the third day of the festival, the Kumari is carried around Durbar Square in a chariot along with other two chariot of Ganesha and Bhairav and bless the king who would reign in the coming year, with a tika

Challenges Faced by the Kumari

But unlike the Tibetans, the Kumaris reign comes to an end when she menstruates or bleeds for any reason, including just a minor scratch. It is considered that the girl lost her mortal status and the search for her replacement begins.

Kumari, the Living Goddess of Kathmandu

A moderate pension is given to them to help them survive. But the real question is if they ready to face the challenges of the outer world, from which they were withdrawn at a very young age?

My friend told me that many Kumaris has faced a tough situation coping up with the fast paced world when they step outside their abode. They find is hard to walk on the road, when as a Kumari they are not allowed to touch the ground. They find it strange to face the people when they were kept away from them

There is another hurtle for former Kumaris — an old Nepali superstition that says men who marry ex-Kumaris are destined to die young, a superstition which is dying soon. Ex-Kumaris have married and living a happy life

Former Kumari. Pic Credit- TheHimalayantimes.com

Some activists have criticized this tradition calling it child labour and withdrawing young girls from enjoying their childhood. But in 2008, Nepal’s Supreme Court overruled a petition to end the practice, citing its cultural value.

In April 2015 when Nepal was hit with a massive earthquake people in Nepal say that the Kumari became more important and more visitors come to seek their blessings.

Life as a Kumari seems to be surreal and strange, but according to those who have lived it, this extraordinary childhood is a privilege. Ex-Kumaris enjoy prestige their whole lives, as well as a lifelong pension from the Nepali government.

My View

To all friends with whom I shared this story, has most of the time either argued dismissing it as a weird tradition (which needs to get banned) or expressing the sympathy towards the ruined childhood of these young girls, when life is easy for them. Though a part of my heart agrees and feels that this practice needs to stop. But I also feel that as an individual we should respect other’s tradition as well as much as we do to ours. It is always wise not to judge and accept

Because for these Ex-Kumaris it is their sacred duty and an honour to keep this ancient practice alive!

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Outside Kumari Ghar

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8 thoughts on “Meeting The Kumari- The Living Goddess of Nepal

  1. Hi I just wanted to know that superstition regarding marriage of kumari is applicable only to royal kumari or all the Kumaris of Nepal.

  2. Pingback: Celebrating Indra Jatra & Kumari Jatra of Nepal | Buoyant Feet

  3. Pingback: Understanding the Evolution of Indra Jatra in Depth | Buoyant Feet

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