Nepal is graced with a religious framework and decorated by glorious ethnicity. Religion is a lifestyle in Nepal. Today let me escort you on the journey of the one and only living goddess in the world ‘Kumari’. Kumaris are young prepubescent girls who encounter the divine power of goddess Taleju Bhawani (The royal goddess of the Malla Dynasty of Nepal) and Kali (a Hindu goddess who is considered to be the master of death, time, and change). Kumari is believed to be an incarnation of goddess Taleju. The word Kumari goddess is derived from Sanskrit (an ancient and classical language of India).
The diversity of the living goddess.
The Kumari practice is so unique that, the Kumari girl is from a Newar family which follows Buddhism but she represents the Hindu goddess. Kumari is the only living goddess which is adored by both Hindu and Buddhist religions. The distinctive characteristic of Nepal is crystal clear.
Who started the Kumari tradition?
The person behind establishing the Kumari tradition is King Jayaprakash Malla. The Kumari tradition started in the year 877 in the Newari calendar. Which is 1757 AD.
Life deciding gestures.
Some better-connected people visit the Kumari sitting upon a glided iron throne. High-rank government officials also visit Kumari. Throughout the visit, the gestures of Kumari are closely observed because her actions are interpreted as the prediction of the visitor’s life. So, some meanings of gestures given by Kumari are:
- Crying or Loud Laughter: Serious illness or death of a visitor
- Rubbing Eyes: forthcoming death
- Trembling: Imprisonment
- Picking at food offerings: Financial Losses
- Hand clapping: Reason to fear the king
Fascinating legends of living goddess Kumari.
There are some legends about Kumari which are assumed to be true. One of them is about a girl who never loses in a game. One day when king Prakash Malla was patrolling in his kingdom, he saw a girl who was remarkably good in the game of ‘Pasa’ (a non-combinatorial abstract game in the chess family). He absorbed her playing pasa and noticed that she was winning every game. King Prakash Malla himself being a master of playing pasa, curiously invited her to play with him. But surprisingly he could not win a single game against her, he was very amazed.
As they were playing pasa gradually king felt attracted to the girl. Then he invited her to his private chamber, suddenly king tried to seduce the girl. The girl got so furious that flame started striking her eye. Now king understood, that the girl was not any ordinary girl.
In reality, she was the goddess kali. She got on a rampage and threatened the king to destroy his palace. Then she vanished Infront of the king’s eyes. King was in huge regret after that incident.
After some time, the goddess appeared in his dream and said: “I will give you a chance to recompense your bad behavior. You will select a virgin, who has to be admired in a temple. If she gets her first menstruation, she will be a normal girl again and you have to find the next incarnation.” The king accepted the goddess’s last chance to improve himself and immediately build the Kumari Bahal (where Kumari stays).
Following up by another tale to narrate, it is said that king Prakash Malla used to visit goddess Taleju during the nighttime. Where goddesses would turn themselves into beautiful woman and they would play Tripasa (dice game). The goddess visited the king’s chamber every night on the condition that the king cannot reveal their meeting to anyone.
One day king’s wife decided to spy on King due to his strange behavior. She followed him to his chamber and then she found out about the secret meeting with the goddess. The goddess became aware of the presence of the king’s wife and left furiously.
King was in dilemma after the goddess left but one-night goddess appeared in the king’s dream and told him that ‘Find a child from the Shakya caste. I will enter her soul and you can worship her as you worshipped me’. Subsequently, the king went in search of a child from the Shakya caste, and then the one and the only living goddess was born.
How many Kumari Goddess are there in Nepal?
There are 10 Kumaris in Nepal right now. The Kumari tradition is only followed in a few cities in Nepal, which are Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, Sankhu, and Bungamati. Where Trishna Shakya is the current Kumari of Kathmandu. The Kumari of Kathmandu is also called royal Kumari considering the fact she is the most important of all. Unika Bajracharya, selected in April 2014 as the Kumari of Patan, is the second most important living goddess.
How special Kumaris actually are?
Kumari is a manifestation of the goddess Taleju Bhawani. The fact that they are goddesses, makes them special already. Kumari is even considered too special to walk. She is taken in a chariot, throne, or sometimes in people’s arms. A Gautam is always there to assist Kumari in any work (Gautam is a person who is assigned to help Kumari in her tasks and devote their life in service of Kumari).
Parents are happy thinking that they gave birth to a goddess but getting apart from a young daughter leaves them in tears. Parents are not allowed to see their own daughters casually; they can only see their daughters during kumara ventures in special facilities. They meet their daughter around 13 times only in a year. After leaving the family and settling as Kumari she is no more a normal daughter who can enjoy her childhood with parents and friends, now she is a living goddess.
Kumari stay at Kumari Bahal. In past, there was no system of giving education and internet facilities to Kumari. They had to spend the whole day sitting in a chair inside a room but now things are quite different. Kumaris are now homeschooled and are up to date about the outer world as well.
How is Kumari Goddess chosen?
Choosing a goddess is something which is not to be taken lightly. The selection procedure is quite extensive and has to fulfill many specifications. The ritual of selecting Kumari is supervised by 5 senior Buddhist Bajracharya, Chief Royal Priest, Priest of Taleju, anda royal astrologer. Some of the basic characteristics inspected in Kumari are no evidence of scars and marks on the body, sound health uncut and blemish body skin, pre-menstrual, and no loss of teeth.
After a girl passed through the basic necessity for being Kumari, she is then further examined for ‘batiis lakshan’ (32 body perfection) in order to decide the next living goddess. The battis lakshan are:
- Having circular posture while sitting in Padmasana
- The fingers are long
- Fingers should be perfectly aligned
- The skin is soft and even in old age it is like a young man
- The body is fragrant in seven ways
- Like a deer
- The genitals are hidden like the testicles of an elephant
- The upper part of the body is like a lion
- Keeping the various parts of the body fit
- Shoulder strong, wide, and round
- The arms should be well turned and reach down
- The arm is long
- The whole body has a radiant circle
- Having a conch-like neck
- Straight and snarling like a lion
- Thirty-two teeth
- Bright and perforated toothpaste
- Clean and mutilated teeth
- Bangara to be clean and beautiful
- The tongue is long
- Having the ability to taste various microscopic tastes
- Sounds like a sparrow
- An original and knowledgeable voice like Brahma
- The eyebrows are bullish and blue
- Having a soft hairline between two eyebrows
- Pagari-like match and good hair
- Bright body like pure gold
- Strong personality
- Lots of soft and curly hair on the body and sticking to each other
- Sapphire black and shiny hair
- Nyagrodh Parimandal (Nyagrodh = Bar tree) (Parimandal = Atmosphere)
- Strong nature like Vishnu.
Since she has to replicate the goddess herself, she must have signs of serenity and fearlessness. Similarly, her horoscope is also examined. Afterward, the young girl goes through a very extreme and tough test to ensure that she is worthy of being the next living goddess. During the Hindu festival of Dashain on Kalratri (black night) 108 buffalos and goats are sacrificed to goddess Kali. The young girl is taken to the Taleju Bhawani temple where the heads of the sacrificed animal are lit up with candles and the masked men are dancing in rhythm. Where chosen candidate must show their courage and be fearless to prove their worthiness.
In the next text, the Kumari must spend the whole night alone in the room between the heads of sacrificed animals like goats and buffalos without showing any sign of fear. The brave and fearless candidate moves forward and for the final test, she must be able to pick up all the personal belongings of the previous Kumari.
Differing from places the selection process can be slightly different. Finally, a Kumari is chosen, and then she must be purified so that she can be established as a vessel for goddess Taleju Bhawani. Then she is taken to a special priest to experience many secret Tantric rituals to purify her body from any impurities. Once all the rituals and exams are completed, Taleju Bhawani enters in her, and then she is presented as the new Kumari.
How is a Kumari Goddess dethroned?
When the young living goddess enters adolescence, she goes through a mensuration process. As she has her first mensuration, she is considered impure and no longer eligible to be Kumari. And the search for a new Kumari begins.
Sometimes, when reigning Kumari suffers from cuts and losses blood from her body, she is no longer a living goddess. She becomes a normal girl and losses her all divine powers.
Can Kumari marry?
Yes, a Kumari can marry. It is only a superstition that if a Kumari marries a guy, the husband will die. In fact, every ex-Kumaris are married.
The topic of the living goddess is discussed internationally.
- The Kumari was featured in the 25 October 2015 episode of the CBS drama series ‘Madam Secretary’ (season 2, episode 4), titled “Waiting for Taleju”. In the episode, fictional US Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord meets with the Kumari in hopes of gaining support for a deal that will help secure US disaster relief funds in the wake of the April 2015 Nepal earthquake.
- In the Korean webtoon series ‘For the Sake of Sita’, the female lead character was a Kumari in Nepal.
- In the novel, ‘The Lives of Christopher Chant’ by Diana Wynne Jones, the character of the Living Asheth is a little girl worshipped as a goddess in one of the worlds visited by the main character and is based heavily on the Kumari, being the incarnation of a goddess and having to live by strict rules of ritual purity.
- In the Netflix limited series The Serpent episode 4, Monique sees a Kumari girl from outside of the temple.
The Royal Kumari Goddess in Nepal.
The last king of Malla Dynasty, King Jayparakash Malla is honored as the person to start the Kumari system in Nepal. People of Newari communities have their own Kumari. Among many, the Kumari of Kathmandu is regarded as most important and supreme of all.
The present Royal Kumari is Trishna Shakya who acquired the title of living goddess after Matina Shakya on 27 September 2017. Trishna was only 3-year-old when she was declared as new Royal Kumari and was ready to step in totally different world of a living Goddess. She was a parted from her family and her twin brother to begin the voyage of the living Goddess.
Is Kumari Tradition exploiting Child rights?
Children rights and Human rights of Nepal have a strong believe that Kumari system has major drawbacks. Separating a girl from family in a very young age, not giving proper education, and not providing a child-friendly environment are the main agenda of Child’s rights Nepal. Which makes them anti-social and very hard to adapt in society after they are dethroned.
After discussion and mutual understanding now Kumaris are home schooled and have facilities of internet, books and magazines as well. They even attend exams inside palace under proper supervision. It is very important for Kumari to be well educated and run with time and society because after they are dethroned, they have to spend life as a normal girl.
For Nepali people it would be very unfair to say that they haven’t seen god or demon. We have seen the Kumari as a living goddess and lakhey (a demon figure) as well. There are a lot of things that are waiting to be explored in Nepal.