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The Living Goddess Kumari

The Living Goddess Kumari
Nepal Travel Attraction

Kumari – The Living Goddess

The Kumari is named after the supreme Goddess Durga and literally translates to virginin Nepali. It is said that upon the first menstrual cycle of the Kumari the soul of Goddess Taleju exits her body and then moves to the next Kumari.

There are more than one Kumari in Nepal, but the most popular and frequently visited is the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu.

She lives in the Kumari Ghar near Kathmandu Durbar Square and has many visitors daily. Locals and travelers from all over come to her palace to try to get just one glimpse of the young Goddess from her courtyard more commonly called Kumari Chowk. To have her look down upon you, would be considered very lucky and is thought that you will have good fortune.

To find out who is supposed to be the next Kumari of Kathmandu, is a long process. She must be Buddhist and of the Shakya Newari community (the same community from which Lord Buddha descended) and she must have battis lakshanas or “thirty-two perfections of a goddess.”

She must have never had a scratch on her body or lost blood in any way. She should have never lost any teeth and should actually have twenty teeth. Her hair and eyes should be black and her voice should be soft and clear like a duck. Her thighs should be like a deer and her chest like a lion. Her neck like a conch shell and her eyelashes like a cows and her overall body should be like a Bayan tree. These are just some of the physical demands of the Goddess.

She must have no fear, for the Goddess Taleju was known for being fearless. She will undergo tests for the fearless trait. She could be put in a dark room and be handed snakes. One night she might have to walk through a courtyard only lit by candles, lined with recently sacrificed goat heads during the Dashain festival and have masked men dancing around trying to scare her. If she shows any fear, or cries it is known that she is not possessing the soul of the Goddess and another girl is then tested.

There are five senior Buddhist Vajracharya priests who oversea the tests of the girls. One of the last tests of the potential Kumari: she is shown some personal items of the last Kumari and if she identifies which ones belonged to her, then it is known that the Goddess Taleju is in her body and she is definately the next Kumari.

After she has been chosen she goes through purifying ceremonies to cleanse her body and soul to become an untainted vessel for the Goddess. When all of rituals are completed, she is dressed in a blood-red sari and now leaves the Taleju Temple a Kumari. She will walk across Kathmandu Durbar Square on a white cloth to the Kumari Ghar where she will stay until her duration as a Kumari is finished.

From now on she will only leave her palace for participating in ceremonial duties and always in a red sari and with agni chakchuu or “fire eye” painted on her forehead. The agni chakchuu is a symbol of her special powers of perception. The walk across the Kathmandu Durbar Square will be the last time her feet touch the ground while possessed by the Goddess. She will never wear shoes and if her feet are covered at all, they will be covered by red stockings.

The Kumari is carried out of her Palace and through the streets during festivals on her golden palanquin. People try to touch or kiss her feet as a sign of their devotion.

Her Kumari life will end upon her first menstrual cycle (or in some cases when she gets injured) the soul of Goddess Taleju leaves her body. There are ceremonies to cleansing the girls body of the soul and then she is left to be a normal citizen.

The Kumari is said to never get married or have children for the rest of her life because she is known as the virgin goddess. It is also said that any man who marries and ex-Kumari is said to be cursed to die within six months of the wedding by coughing up blood. This however has not stopped 9 out of the 13 past documented Kumari’s getting married and having children. The four of these unmarried Kumari’s are the youngest and most recent and are perhaps too young to marry at this time.

Former Kumari’s do not just leave the palace empty handed, in fact they are well compensated with a monthly pay of around 6000 Rupees (or $80.00US). This may seem small to some, but this is in fact more than twice the official minimum wage and about 4 times the average income of a Nepali.

There are two different myths on how the Kumari began, but both involve King Jayaprakash Malla, the last of the Malla Dynasty Kings (12th-17th century):

The first myth is that one night, a red serpent entered the kings chamber as he played a popular dice game, Tripasa, with the Goddess Taleju. The king was so awe struck by Taleju’s beauty favoring it even above that of his own wife. The Goddess however, read his lustful thoughts and was infuriated. Taleju told the king that because of his unfaithful thoughts that if he was ever to see her again it would no longer be in the form of a woman but in the form of a young girl from a Shakya caste. The king, wishing to see and be in the company of Taleju, left the palace in search of a Shakya girl possessed by the spirit of the Goddess. To this day, a popular tease among the Nepali people is if a mother dreams about a red serpent it might indicate that her daughter is to be the next Kumari.

The second myth is perhaps more believable one, though less enchanting, is said that King Jayaprakash Malla once banished a young girl from Kathmandu under fear that she was possessed by the supreme Goddess Durga. When the queen learned of this, she was outraged by the girls fate. She demanded that the king go and find the girl and deem her as a living incarnation of the Goddess Durga, from whom he must yearly get a blessing.

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