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My World Tour:   The Kumari, Living Goddess in
Patan, Nepal

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183-8364_IMG.JPG (21588 bytes)Not only does Nepal have countless gods, goddesses, deities, Bodhisattvas (near Buddhas), avatars and manifestations, which are worshipped and revered as statues, images paintings and symbols, but it also has a real living goddess.  The Kumari Devi is a young girl who lives in the building known as the Kumari Bahal, right beside Kathmanduís Durbar Square.184-8468_IMG.JPG (47372 bytes)

            The practice of having a living goddess probably came about during the reign of Jaya Parakash Malla, the last of the Malla kings of Kathmandu.  As usual in Nepal, where there is never one simple answer to any question, there are a number of legends about the Kumari.

            185-8502_IMG.JPG (32700 bytes)One such legend relates that a Malla king had intercourse with a pre-pubescent girl.  She died as a result of this and I penance he started the practice of venerating a young girl as a living goddess of the valley.  Another tells of a Malla king who regularly played dice with the goddess Taleju, the protective deity of the valley.  When he made an unseemly advance she threatened to withdraw her protection, but relented and promised to return in the form of a young girl.  Yet another tells of a young girl who was possessed by the goddess Durga and banished from the kingdom.  When the furious queen heard of this she ordered her husband to bring the young girls back and keep her as a real goddess.185-8503_IMG.JPG (50666 bytes)

             Whatever the background, in reality there are a number of living goddesses around the Kathmandu Valley, although the Kumari Devi, or Royal Kumari, is the most important.  The Kumari is selected from a particular caste of Newari gold and silversmiths.  Customarily, she is somewhere between  four years old and puberty and must meet 32 strict physical requirements ranging from the color of her eyes and shape of her teeth to the sound of her voice.  Her horoscope must also be appropriate, of course.184-8489_IMG.JPG (28752 bytes)

            Once suitable candidates have been found they are gathered together in a darkened room where terrifying noises are made, while men dance by in horrific masks and gruesome buffalo heads are on display.  Naturally these goings-on are unlikely to frighten a real goddess, particularly one who is an incarnation of Durga, so the young girls who remains calm and collected throughout this ordeal is clearly the new Kumari.  In a process similar to the selection of the Dalai Lama, the Kumari then chooses items of clothing and decoration worn by her predecessor as a final test.184-8491_IMG.JPG (31919 bytes)

            Once chosen as the Kumari, the young girl moves in the Kumari Bahal with her family and makes only a half-dozen ceremonial forays into the outside world each year.  The most spectacular of these occasions is the September Indra 184-8470_IMG.JPG (55968 bytes)Jatra festival, when she travels through the city on a huge temple chariot over a three-day period.. During this festival the Kumari customarily blesses the king of Nepal.

            The Kumariís reign ends with her first period, or any serious accidental loss of blood.  Once this first sign of puberty is reached she reverts to the status of a normal mortal, and the search must start for a new Kumari.  During her time as a goddess the Kumari is supported by the temple income and on retirement she is paid a handsome dowry.  It is said that marrying an ex-Kumari  is unlucky, but itís more likely believed that taking on a spoilt ex-goddess is likely to be hard work!

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Bruce and Julia, World Travelers and Adventure Seekers Extraordinaire.
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Revised: 05 Feb 2007 20:21:27 -0600 .