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Date Posted: 06:23
Author: ketch - 10 Feb 2002
Subject: Kumari - The Living Goddess of Kathmandu




Visitors to the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal have a rare chance to catch a glimpse of a living goddess at the Kumari Chowk in Kathmanduís Durbar Square. The Kumari (meaning virgin) is a living Hindu goddess who watches over the city of Kathmandu.

Although she is a Hindu goddess she is always chosen from a Buddhist family of the Sakya cast of silversmiths. She is chosen at the age of four years old and has to conform to some very exacting requirements as befits a goddess.

Her horoscope must be compatible with the king (who is regarded as an incarnation of Vishnu) and her body must be flawless and conform to 32 requirements including, no body odours, perfect white teeth with no gaps, a small tongue, and the voice of a sparrow. When such a girl has been found she has to undergo tests including watching the midnight sacrifice of 108 goats and 108 buffalo without flinching or showing any emotion, and then spending the night alone with the carcasses and many demon masks without showing any fear. If she passes these tests she will become the Kumari, and her reign as a goddess lasts until her first period, or until she sheds blood in any other way when a new Kumari will be chosen.

In the day many devotees will come to her ornately carved palace to pay homage and hopefully to catch a glimpse of her as she blesses them from her window. Many tourists also gather to see her (a few rupees will work wonders for anyone hoping to see her) and are rewarded by a brief sight of her looking down from her window. She is trained never to smile at anyone.

Twice a year she is taken of a religious parade around Kathmandu to assure the people of her protection. She is carried in a golden chariot and her feet must not be allowed to touch the ground. She wears robes of red and gold and her face is made up with heavy black eyeliner. Heavy jeweller is draped around her neck. Once a year the king will bow before her and ask for her blessing. It is said that one year the Kumari refused to give her blessing to the king, but blessed his eldest son the prince instead. Shortly after that the king died and the prince became king.

Sadly many of the former goddesses have trouble adjusting to life as a mortal again when their reign is over. They receive only a very basic education and are shielded from the outside world. They receive a small state pension of Nepali Rs300 (about US$5) per month. They may have trouble finding a husband as it is said that any man who marries one of these former goddesses will have a short life (in fact six of the eight living former Kumariís are married). Some information about one former Kumari can be found at:-

http://www.dispatch.co.za/1998/10/30/foreign/GODDESS.HTM
See also

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Cyprus/7833/

http://www.speedweb2000.com/kumar_bg.htm

http://mypage.bluewin.ch/raonline/pages/np/npkumari.html (This last link includes some details of the new Kumari chosen in 2001.)

I had thought that the devotees of the Kumari would regard her as a purely symbolic goddess, however speaking to some of them it is clear that many regard her as a goddess in the same way as any other Hindu goddess. It was several years until I came to see how beautiful this tradition really is.

As a mortal child who becomes a goddess she reminds us that every human being is essentially divine and can aspire to the greatest spiritual heights. We are all potential goddesses. As a virgin child she reminds us that we must be like pure children on the spiritual path. She must be careful not to cut herself or she will become a mortal again, thus reminding us that whatever our spiritual achievements we can never be completely safe from falling down and must continue to watch our behaviour and make a constant spiritual effort.

For a four year old girl to witness the killing of 108 buffalo and 108 goats without flinching takes uncommon courage. This reminds us of the need to bravely overcome the temporary nature of this world where death and suffering are always with us. Her feet never touch the ground, but she watches the world from her elevated position. She must not smile or show emotion, reminding us that we are in this world only as witnesses and we should not become involved with it. Her robes of red represent Rajas, the activating force in nature, while her robes of gold show us that all wealth really belongs to the divine. Her black make up reminds us of the infinite uncreated behind which unknown eyes are always watching. Being chosen from a Buddhist family she shows us the essential unity of all religion.

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