She is a naïve young soul who is an embodiment of an age old tradition of Newari community in Nepal, where a goddess in the form of a human being is worshipped because she brings good luck. They are famously known as the Kumari or Living goddess of Nepal
I MET THE CHILD KUMARI GODDESS OF NEPAL DURING INDRA JATRA
I heard about the living goddesses during my first visit to Nepal in 2013 while I was exploring Basantapur Durbar Square in the Kathmandu city when I saw people chanting Kumari religiously, outside her abode known as the Kumari Ghar. Honestly, I didn’t really get it what was going on during thus time but I was told that I had to run towards the Kumari Ghar, if I want to get a glimpse of the Kumari because she doesn’t make public appearances often. I must admit that by the time I reached, she disappeared into her little abode but not before she left me inquisitive to know more about the living goddess of Nepal
Who is KUMARI and why she is called the LIVING GODDESS OF NEPAL
This is during the following evening that I sat with one of my local friends from the Kathmandu city to know the Kumari of Nepal and got to know that they are an important part in protecting the cultural heritage of Kathmandu.
These child goddesses of Nepal is believed to be the incarnation of the Hindu goddess Taleju Bhawani who acted as the political and social advisor of Jaya Prakash Malla- the King of Shah dynasty. It was during a meeting when the king overwhelmed by his desires, attempted to rape the Taleju goddess inside the Taleju Bhawani temple. This prompted the goddess to disappear and vow never to come back. Worried by her proclamation, the king begged the Hindu goddess Taleju Bhawani to reconsider her decision. She decided that he couldn’t reappear in her physical form but henceforth she will reside within a child Kumari, who would posses a certain traits and that she should belong to the Newari community of Nepal.
HOW THE CHILD GODDESS OF NEPAL IS SELECTED ?
The Living Goddess Kumari is a symbol of religious harmony in Nepal, who belongs to the Shakya clan of the Newari buddhists. They are responsible for taking care of the Goddess Kumari whereas a Hindu Tantric priest called Karmacharya performs the daily offerings, signifying the harmony of Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal. Generally Buddhist and Hindus are allowed to meet the child goddess but you are not allowed to photograph her inside the Kumari Ghar. It is consider to be inauspicious.
The typical selection process for finding the Kumari Goddess has got resemblance to the Tibetan style of selecting the reincarnations of their predecessors. Few young girls from the Newari community aged between 4-5 years are selected basis their astrological chart and their stars should be favourable to the King of Nepal.
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 living 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 child Kumari is born who moves into the Kumari Ghar and thereafter is worshipped as a living goddess.
The Kumari is laid with strict rules when she takes her seat. This includes minimal talking and 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 the Kumari goddess during Indra Jatra , 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
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
The KUMARI GHAR: WHERE LIVES THE LIVING GODDESS OF NEPAL
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. The tourists can enter through the courtyard. The Living Goddess sometimes appears in one of the floor window
THE EVENTS OF KUMARI GODDESS OF NEPAL
Indra Jatra is an important event for the Kumari, a celebration of the harvest held in late August or early September. On the third day of the festival, the Kumari goddess is carried around the Basantapur Durbar Square in a golden chariot and bless the king who would reign in the coming year, with a tika
THE CHALLENGES FACED BY THE CHILD KUMARI AFTER HER REIGN GETS OVER
But unlike the Tibetans, the Kumari 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. A moderate pension is given to help the retired child kumari survive. But the real question is if they are 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
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.
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 child Kumari goddesses, it is an honour to keep this ancient practice alive!
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