My Yellow Suitcase

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Living Goddess of Nepal

In the era where modernization and advancement in technology take the forefront of cultural evolution, the idea of gods and goddesses seem to be relegated to ancient mythology, folklore, and movies.  Coming to Kathmandu drastically changed my view on that.  Here, the idea of a goddess exists not only symbolically but literally in the full sense of the word.  Kumari is a living and breathing goddess worshiped and revered in Nepal like any other mythological goddess could be.

काठमाण्डौको हन्ुमान ढोकामा १०८ क्ुमारीक प्ुजामा क्ुमारीको पहिरणमा मन्द म्ुस्कान  सहभागि क्ुमारी यसरी हरेक वर्षक्ुमारी प्ुजा गरीन्छ

Royal Kumari (Photo credit: associated press)

Kumari which literary means “virgin” in Nepalese is a pre-pubescent girl, about 3-4 years old selected to personify the Goddess Telaju (Goddess who takes care of the Kathmandu Valley).  Kumari is worshiped by both Hindus and Buddhists in Nepal and thought to be an incarnation of Durga (the multi-arm slayer of demons).  While there are several Kumaris throughout Nepal, with some cities having several, the best known is the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu, and she lives in the Kumari Ghar, a palace in the center of the city.

Not every girl from Nepal can be a Kumari.  An eligible candidate must come from a Newar Sharka family — the clan to which the Buddha belonged.   She must be free of diseases and have never had an injury that led to bleeding. Young girls who passed these basic requirements are further examined by the queen before they move to the “thirty-two perfections” portion of the selection process. Her horoscope is scrutinized as well, it should be in complementary to the King’s horoscope as she must confirm the King’s legitimacy each year of her divinity.

Worth noting here is the fact that in 2008 the Nepalese monarchy was abolished and Nepal become a federal republic with its secular form of government, but the royals still perform various culturally significant functions here.  This is one of them.

After that royal pre-selection,  the girl must undergo yet more rigorous tests. The candidate is taken into the Taleju temple and released into the courtyard, where the 108 detached heads of the animals are illuminated by candlelight and masked men are dancing about. The real goddess is unlikely to be frightened, so the one who is calm and collected throughout the tests is the only girl who is entitled to sit on the pedestal for worship as the Living Goddess.  If she exhibits fear, another candidate is brought in to be tested in the same manner.

The unflinching candidate has proven that she has the serenity and the fearlessness of the heart to become the embodiment of the Taleju deity, which for centuries has been regarded as a protector of Nepal and its royal family.  The girl then undergoes a number of secret Tantric rituals to cleanse her body and spirit of her past experiences. Once these rituals are completed, it is said that Taleju enters her body and she becomes the new embodiment and manifestation of the Taleju deity.  From that point on, Kumari is no longer regarded or treated as a mere mortal.  She becomes the Living Goddess herself.  She can no longer go to school, play outside or touch her friends, all of which are considered to make her ritually impure.

 Nepal’s living goddesses locally known as Kumari looks on during the annual cleaning ritual of deity Seto Machhendranath or god of rain in Katmandu, Nepal, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012.  Living goddesses are worshipped by both Hindus and Buddhists. Selected as toddlers, they usually keep their positions until they reach puberty. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Royal Kumari (Photo credit: associated press/Niranjan Shrestha)

Her face is painted with rich shades of red and yellow as well as striking black around her eyes.  A symbolic “third eye” is tinted on her forehead.   Her feet are also painted and she is dressed in an ornate, traditional red costume accessorized with jewelry that is passed down from one Kumari to the next. Red is an important color in Nepal. It’s a fabled Newari color in clothing thus the Kumari wears nothing but red clothes.

Kuamri 3

The Kumari’s feet never touch the ground during her tenure and whenever she leaves the palace, she is carried in a golden palanquin especially during the annual Indra Jatra festival. (Photo credit: associated press)

Devotees carry Nepal's living goddess, locally known as Kumari, for a chariot procession during Indra Jatra festival, in Katmandu, Nepal, Sunday, Sept.11, 2011. Indra Jatra marking the end of the monsoon season is celebrated to worship God of rain Indra. (AP Photo/Binod Joshi)

Devotees carry Nepal’s living goddess. (Photo credit: associated press/Binod Joshi)

Although non-Hindus are not permitted to enter the Kumari’s chamber to seek her blessing, there are several occasions where she is presented to the public.  Tourists can  also catch a glimpse of her looking out at the world from her ornately carved window. The window is opened at 4pm sharp every day for a brief 5 seconds. It was said those who sees her will be blessed…..When I was in Kathmandu, I was thrilled with expectations to see the Kumari.  Unfortunately, I was not able to see her because she was sleeping when I came.

Kumari 5

Kumari gives her  blessing to one of the devotees. (Photo credit: associated press)

Kumari 4

Kumari looking at the window (Photo credit telegraph.co.uk)

Kumari’s reign ends once she starts menstruating, even a minor scratch on her body that bleeds can make her invalid for worship.  She then goes back to living a normal life like everybody else, while a new Kumari is selected to continue the task of being the Living Goddess of Nepal.   There have been several controversies in regards to children’s rights, human rights activists said the Kumari tradition was ‘child abuse’.  But the local leaders made a convincing case for keeping a tradition that has come to be the symbol of the unique cultural heritage of Kathmandu.

Today’s Kumari is perhaps relatively lucky. Under quite new arrangements, living goddesses nowadays are all entitled to a formal education with a tutor of their choice. But then again imagine the transition between being a living goddess to living a normal life, which can really be tough.   Another struggle faced by many goddesses is the difficulty in finding a husband. Whether because of apprehension over marrying one so protected in childhood or because of the superstitious believe that men who wed a former Kumari will die young.

If you are interested in this fascinating cultural phenomenon, you can read a book written by the best-known ex-Kumari, Rashmila Shakya, titled “From Goddess to Mortal”.  I haven’t read it yet, but definitely looking forward to it.

So, what do you think? Would you like to be a living Goddess? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

Happy travels everyone!

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43 comments on “Living Goddess of Nepal

  1. Girl, Unspotted
    November 18, 2015

    I love this! Learning about other cultures is so mind-blowing sometimes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 18, 2015

      Yeah, it can be overwhelming at first but understanding cultures other than our own is liberating – that despite our differences, we are all similar and interconnected.

      Like

  2. TheBohoChica
    November 18, 2015

    I visited the Kumari Bahal in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square a few years ago and found it fascinating to learn about the tradition- so many interesting aspects to this culture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 19, 2015

      Oh glad you had experienced it. I didn’t get to see the Kumari up close and personal… well she was asleep when i went there!

      Like

  3. Marta - Learningescapes
    November 18, 2015

    What an interesting read! This is really a different way of understanding deity than we have here in Europe, it’s fascinating and thought provoking at the same time. Thank you for suggesting the book, I’d love to read it and learn more about this.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ynah CA
      November 19, 2015

      Hi Marta, I am glad you like it! Understanding and experiencing other culture is what I really like bout travelling.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Svet Dimitrov
    November 18, 2015

    Wow, this article was extremely interesting. I have read some great things about Bhutan, but Nepalese culture seems even more gripping.

    What would you say is the best time to visit Nepal?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 19, 2015

      Thank you so much Svet! Went to Nepal December to January . But the best time for trekking is from late September to December.

      Like

      • Svet Dimitrov
        November 20, 2015

        Oh, okay, great, thanks for the tips!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ynah CA
        November 21, 2015

        The pleasure is mine Svet! 🙂 🙂 🙂

        Like

  5. Carol Colborn
    November 18, 2015

    This is so fascinating! What other cultures can teach us!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. anneklien
    November 19, 2015

    This is unique tradition to witness. . I love the colourful photos

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 20, 2015

      Thank you Anneklien! Very interesting indeed 🙂

      Like

  7. TravellerHannah
    November 19, 2015

    “secret rituals to cleanse her body and spirit…” ? sounds an awful process for a 3 year old child to endure! I think I´m on the side of those that called out the tradition as child abuse!

    but an interesting read none the less!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 20, 2015

      There were several human rights activist who tried to put an end to this activity but they were not very successful. Honestly I felt sad for them too, but culture is culture and for them it is something to behold and be proud of.

      Like

  8. evan kristine
    November 19, 2015

    Interesting read! The process of becoming a Kumari is a little bit questionable – I mean, to put the girls through all of those mind torture and all the tests included. Of course it is tradition and it is very beautiful, I am just not sure how their lives will be after their ‘goddess’ life. I am going to read that book you recommended, this certain tradition is very interesting. I’ll also post your article to my page! Culture is good feed for the brain 🙂

    Like

    • Ynah CA
      November 20, 2015

      Hi Evan, glad you like the article! And thank you for posting my article to your page 🙂

      Like

  9. EatWorkTravel
    November 19, 2015

    Wow, what an interesting cultural tradition. The photos you captured are really stunning. Thanks for educational read.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Marjorie
    November 20, 2015

    I can only imagine how hard it may be like to be a Kumari. From the rigorous selection process that she has to go through to the fulfillment of the duty itself. I couldn’t help but be fascinated and intrigued by this Nepalese culture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 21, 2015

      Yes Marjorie, the selection in itself is tough, but the transition from being a goddess to living an ordinary life after their reign is even tougher.

      The Kumari tradition is indeed fascinating but what’s more amusing is how the Nepalese people carry on with the tradition/ belief despite modernization and the advancement in technology.

      Like

  11. Richard Collett
    November 20, 2015

    Fascinating cultural insight, thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 21, 2015

      You’re welcome Richard! It is indeed fascinating:)

      Like

  12. Grietje | TravelGretl
    November 20, 2015

    Interesting to read good background stories like this on a country! Keep up the good work 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Jessica
    November 20, 2015

    Culture would always interest me. I should better see this by myself. Thank you so much for sharing this. Certainly worth to read. 🙂

    Like

  14. Jessica
    November 20, 2015

    Culture would always interest me. Have to see this by myself. Thanks for writing this. Certainly worth to read. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 21, 2015

      You are welcome Jessica, and yes do visit Nepal. You will love it there.

      Like

  15. NYC JetSetter
    November 21, 2015

    Wow!!! i did not know about this. Amazing how different our cultures are all over. Great read.

    Like

    • Ynah CA
      November 22, 2015

      Thank you NYC JetSetter, glad you like the article! That’s what I really love about travelling. And the more I learn the more I feel like going! There’s just so much to discover eh?

      Like

  16. Arnie Jacobsen (@Arnie_and_Jo)
    November 21, 2015

    I had recently heard of this, but your article was really mind expanding.

    Like

    • Ynah CA
      November 22, 2015

      Hi Arnie, such a unique and fascinating tradition right?

      Like

  17. The Roaming Renegades.com
    November 22, 2015

    Wow, this is pretty crazy that this sort of thing still happens. I think that if religion still wants a place in our modern world it has to adapt and it’s great that they are doing that. It keeps traditions alive but stops them from having a detrimental effect where they could.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 23, 2015

      The Kumari tradition adds to Nepal’s image as a land of mystery and I think it will continue as long as there are believers. Anyway, at least now they are given tutorial classes so they will not be left behind when their reign is over.

      But just the same, going back to normal life will never be easy – that’s for sure. Most ex-kumari find it tough to settle down in a house where they no longer belong, with a family they hardly know.

      Like

  18. Alexandrea
    November 23, 2015

    This looks like quite the experience

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 23, 2015

      Indeed Alexandrea! It was an amazing experience 🙂

      Like

  19. Christa
    November 23, 2015

    What an interesting read! I learned about the Kumari on a travel show but didn’t know about the rigorous testing to be selected, I thought they were chosen at birth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 23, 2015

      Hi Christa, I am glad you like it! Yeah, quite tough selection prepossess and they have to endure – all part of their tradition. 🙂

      Like

  20. Alli Blair
    November 23, 2015

    What a delightful read! Thank you ever so much for enlightening me 🙂 Neat to hear of all the traditions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 23, 2015

      Hi Alli Blair, the pleasure is mine. Thank you for dropping by. Happy travels!

      Like

  21. Sonal of Drifter Planet
    November 24, 2015

    I find Nepalese culture fascinating. 🙂 Beautiful pictures

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 24, 2015

      Thank you Sonal! Yeah, their culture is so unique and interesting in all sense of it:)

      Like

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This entry was posted on November 12, 2015 by in Nepal and tagged , , .
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