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Exceptional beliefs & uncommon traditions practiced in Nepal anchors apart the Nepali culture. Many such traditional beliefs have been shaped and molded from ancient History. Similarly, the legend of the Living Goddess: Kumari of Nepal is one of such mythological and traditional beliefs followed widely over from decades. 

The Living Goddess Kumari of Nepal

Picture from: RemoteLands

The living goddess Kumari is a prepubescent girl selected from the Shakya caste or Bajracharya clan of the Newari Buddhist community.

People tend to believe that Kumaris have miraculous capabilities like:

  •  the Power of Foresight
  •  the Ability to heal sickness(particularly blood disorders)
  •  the Strength to bestow blessings of Protection and Prosperity
  •  the Divine power to fulfill exceptional wishes

Above all, they’re considered to yield an immediate connection between the world and the divine whilst generating the feeling of infinite loving and kindness (called Maitri Bhavan in Sanskrit) in their devotees. 

Moreover, A Kumari is referred to as the embodiment of two different supreme female deities. Newar Buddhists regard Kumari as a female deity Vajradevi, a Buddha. As for Hindus, she incarnates the great goddess Taleju, a version of Durga.

–The Living Goddess Kumari of Nepal–

The History of Kumari in Nepal

The chronicle of the emergence of this ritual: chanting Kumaris records back to the 17th century

According to the popular legend, the last Malla king, Jaya Prakash Malla had the privilege of meeting the Taleju goddess while he was playing a game of dice: Tripasa in his chamber. The goddess curious over the game joined him & since then they played Tripasa every night with a condition that the king refrained from telling anyone about the meeting.

Noticing the King’s unusual interest to go to his chamber late at night, the Queen’s suspensions grew behind what he was up to. And one day, The Queen stealthily followed him to his chamber and witnessed the Taleju goddess which angered the goddess that the only term she had set was broken and
She vowed to never return. 

After a lot of pleading from the King, the goddess sympathized and granted the only way to witness her would be in the form of a pure girl from the Shakya Clan or Bajracharya Clan. 

After this event, almost every town in the Kathmandu Valley had its Kumari. But as time passed, not all localities got new Kumari. Like in Mu Bahal, a courtyard community five minutes’ walk north of Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, devotees have been worshipping an empty throne since their last kumari retired, in 1972. 

Currently, there are ten kumaris from different areas of Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, and Kathmandu in Nepal. Amongst which, The Patan Kumari is well known as the ‘Royal Kumari‘, representing one of the living-goddess traditions in the valley. 

–The Living Goddess Kumari of Nepal–

How is a Kumari chosen?

A girl destined to become Kumari depicts eagerness for the divine status before long when she is still a child. These rare behaviors persuade the family to put her forth.

Even as a Child, She longs to dress up like ‘Kumari’,
She keeps her hair bound into a topknot on her head,
thick kohl lines drawn around her eyes right up to the temples,
and on festival days, red tika covers the middle of her forehead with a silver ‘Agni Chakchuu’ —the third eye, known as the fire eye.

These exceptional behaviors with the desire to harness the ornaments of Kumari are in itself viewed distinctive, a sign perhaps that fate, or karma, is drawing her.

The eligible girl is from the Newar Shakya and Bajkracharya caste. She must be in excellent health, never have shed blood or been afflicted by any diseases, be without blemish, and must not have yet lost any teeth. Girls who pass these basic eligibility requirements are examined for the Battis Lakshana or thirty-two perfections of a goddess. 

–The Living Goddess Kumari of Nepal–

The Battis Lakhshana (the thirty-two Physical Perfections) of a Kumari
  • A neck like a conch shell
  • A body like a banyan tree
  • Eyelashes like a cow
  • Thighs like a deer
  • Chest like a lion
  • Voice soft and clear as a duck’s

In addition to this, her hair and eyes should be very black, and she should have dainty hands and feet, small and well-recessed sexual organs, and a set of twenty teeth.

The girl is also observed for signs of serenity and fearlessness, and her horoscope is examined to ensure that it is complementary to the kings. It is important that there not be any disagreements, as she must confirm the king’s legitimacy each year of her divinity. Her family is also scrutinized to ensure its loyalty and devotion to the king.

–The Living Goddess Kumari of Nepal–

Selection Process of Kumari

Once the priests have chosen a candidate, she must undergo yet more rigorous tests to ensure that she indeed possesses the qualities necessary to be the living vessel of Durga. Her greatest test comes during the Hindu festival of Dashain. On the Kalratri, or “black night”, 108 buffaloes and goats are sacrificed to the goddess Kali. The young candidate is taken into the Taleju temple and released into the courtyard. Where candlelight illuminates the severed heads of the animals and masked men are dancing about. If the candidate truly possesses the qualities of Taleju, she shows no fear during this experience. If she does, another candidate is brought in to attempt the same thing.

As a final test, the living goddess must spend a night alone in a room among the heads of ritually slaughtered goats and buffaloes without showing fear. The fearless candidate has proven that she has the serenity and the fearlessness that typifies the goddess who is to inhabit her.

After passing all other tests, the final test is that she must be able to pick out the personal belongings of the previous Kumari from an assortment of things laid out before her. If she is able to do so, there is no remaining doubt that she is the chosen one.

–The Living Goddess Kumari of Nepal–

There are claims contrary to the commonly believed ritual and screening process, however. The ex-Royal Kumari Rashmila Shakya states in her autobiography, From Goddess to Mortal, that this has nothing to do with the selection process, but rather is a ritual the Royal Kumari goes through each year, that there are no men dancing around in masks trying to scare her, and that at most, there are only a dozen or so decapitated animal heads in the scary room test. She also describes the requisite physical examination of each Kumari as neither intimate nor rigorous.

Once the Kumari is chosen, she must be purified so that she can be an unblemished vessel for Taleju. She is taken by the priests to undergo a number of secret Tantric rituals to cleanse her body and spirit of her past experiences.

The Living Goddess Kumari of Nepal

Picture from: NewsGram

Once these rituals are completed, Taleju enters her, and she is presented as the new Kumari. She is dressed and made up as a Kumari and then leaves the Taleju temple and walks across the square on a white cloth to the Kumari Ghar, which will be her home for the duration of her divinity.

–The Living Goddess Kumari of Nepal–

Who bears the Kumari’s expenses? 

Four kumaris—in Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur, and Nuwakot —receive government support in the form of a monthly stipend while in the throne and a pension for life when they retire. Practically, the value of this grant barely covers the cost of clothes and worshipping materials.

A Kumari is an onerous responsibility for all, one that would weigh heaviest on father as the family’s breadwinner.

The Living Goddess Kumari of Nepal

Picture from: Medium.com

She must wear special clothes and makeup every day and have new festival dresses made of expensive cloth at least twice a year.

A room in the house—a precious commodity in the overcrowded city—must be set aside as a puja, or worship, room with a throne where the goddess can receive devotees.

The family must perform Nitya puja—daily worship rituals—before her every morning.

She cannot go outside, except on festival occasions, and then she has to be carried, either in someone’s arms or in a palanquin, so that her feet don’t touch the ground.

She can eat only certain foods and no taboo items, such as hen’s eggs or chicken.

Everything in the house has to be kept ritually pure. No one in contact with her can wear leather.

–The Living Goddess Kumari of Nepal–

Why shouldn’t the Kumari Bleed?

The kumari must not bleed. It’s believed that the spirit of the goddess, the shakti, that enters the girl’s body when she becomes a kumari, will leave her if she loses any blood. Even an accidental graze could end her reign.

A living goddess is always dismissed when she gets her first period. But after years of pampering and seclusion, the transition from goddess back to mortal can be difficult. 

–The Living Goddess Kumari of Nepal–

Will there be any unfortunate events if kumari marries a man?

“It’s not true, these rumors about husbands of ex-kumaris dying,” Chanira (ex-kumari)  says.

“It’s a myth that is always repeated in the media.”

In fact, nearly every former kumari of marriageable age, whether in Patan, Kathmandu, or anywhere else in the valley, is married.

“Men are superstitious about marrying ex-kumaris,”. “They believe terrible accidents will happen to them if they try.”

The spirit of the goddess may still be strong in a former Kumari, it is said, even after the diffusing rituals she undergoes upon her dismissal. These are only the dark rumors about the marriage prospects of former living goddesses.

From the selection ceremonies to receiving the throne of Kumari, a Kumari have a hard time coping up at such a young age. But even after being dethroned life still remains complicated to settle as a regular character subsequently acknowledged as a living divinity for her entire childhood.

All things considered, It is of no wonder bearing such hardship her entire life that she is recognized as a living goddess, an embodiment of a Deity.

–The Living Goddess Kumari of Nepal–

–The Living Goddess Kumari of Nepal–

–The Living Goddess Kumari of Nepal–

 


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