It isn’t everyday that people get to witness Gods and Goddesses – even more rare is to see a deity in a human form, living life like any other person. Kumari, the living goddess of Nepal, is one such miracle that people have a chance to witness only in Nepal. Being an object of interest and awe to many, Kumari is both an identity as well as a treasure of Nepalese culture.
The word “Kumari” in Sanskrit translates to “virgin” referring to the tradition of worshipping pre-pubescent girls. The girls are strictly of Shakya or Bajracharya caste of the Newari community and are selected through a strict process. While there are several Kumaris in different places across Nepal, the main deity worshipped by Hindus and Buddhists is the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu who lives in the Kumari Ghar in the heart of the city.
The history behind celebrating the Kumari culture is the belief that the supreme power of Goddess Bhagwati resides in all females thus symbolizing the recognition of Gods inanimate objects. The choice of young prepubescent girls is for their purity and chastity. There are evidences of young virgin girls being chosen, prepared and worshipped as Goddess Kumari since the 6th century. According to recent legends, it was King Jaya Prakash Malla who was directed by Goddess Taleju to find a girl from the Shakya community blessed by Taleju’s spirit as a punishment for displeasing her.
The selection process is conducted by some of the supreme religious leaders of the country like the senior Bajracharya priests, Bada Guruju, the Chief Royal priest, the royal astrologer or the priest of Taleju. A young girl from the Shakya dynasty is chosen , the requirements being good health, never bled or suffered from diseases, not lost any teeth and who possesses 32 ‘lakshana’ or the thirty-two perfections inherent in the Goddess. A number of other physical and behavioral characteristics, a pious family, etc. are required that are complementary to the current King of the country(a tradition that has changed after the removal of the monarchy in the country). As a final test, the candidate is made to experience the slaughtering of animals and their severed heads on the eighth day of Dashain and if she shows fearlessness and serenity at such a time, she is chosen as the next Kumari. Once the Kumari is chosen, she is prepared by following certain Tantric rituals to purify her body as the vessel for Goddess Taleju. Once it is complete, the new Kumari is taken to the Kumari Ghar where she will reside for the entire period of being the Royal Kumari.
The life of the girl changes drastically from a normal girl to a deity who is supposed to act like a Goddess at all times. She is dressed all in red, wears her hair in a topknot and always has a “fire eye” painted on her forehead as a symbol of her perceptive powers. She is taken care of by a small group of people and friends with selected children. She doesn’t have to do her daily chores but certain ceremonial duties. It is believed that Kumari should not set foot on the ground and hence is carried along everywhere by her caretakers or on her chariot. She is viewed to the general public during pujas or processions like Indra Jatra or when petitions are made by the visitors to see her. It is believed that Kumari can alleviate financial, mental and physical problems of her devotees and bless them with peace and prosperity.
Once Kumari has completed her period of divinity, she returns to her life as an ordinary girl and has to make adjustments to adapt to the normal life. With modern times, the tradition of Kumari has also seen some changes such as the retired Kumaris getting married. So, the Kumari culture is not just a religious practice, but an identity and a tradition of great cultural, historic importance to the Nepalese people and a belief that a God in human form is watching over the country and its people.