Kumari - The Living Goddess of Nepal

Dec 06 . 2020

Kumari, or Kumari Devi, or the Living Goddess of Nepal, is the practice of worshipping young prepubescent girls in Hindu and Buddhist religious practices as embodiments of the sacred feminine spirit or Devi

The Sanskrit term Kumari is derived from Kaumarya, meaning "young". Although there are many Kumaris in Nepal, with some towns getting many, Kathmandu's Royal Kumari is the most popular. She resides in the Kumari Ghar, a palace near Hanuman Dhoka, Basantapur

Who is a Kumari?

In Nepal, a Kumari is a prepubescent girl chosen from the Nepalese Newari Buddhist community's Shakya caste. Some of the Hindus in the world adore and worship the Kumari.

A Kumari is usually chosen for one day and worshipped appropriately at specific festivals such as Navaratri or Durga Puja. It is a prevalent phenomenon in Kathmandu City. The embodiment of Taleju is thought to be a Kumari. 

When her first menstruation ends, the Goddess is thought to be emptying her womb. Severe disease or a significant blood loss arising from injuries often triggers deity impairment.

The worshipping of a young girl as the Goddess reflects the admiration of spiritual awareness that is distributed across the world. 

Since it is believed that the ultimate deity formed this entire universe out of her vagina, she appears in both animate and inanimate artifacts, respectively.

Although adoration of an object represents the worship and appreciation of the supreme by inanimate objects, worship of a human person in conscious beings constitutes paying respect and acknowledgement of the same supreme.

The deity is stated to have proclaimed in the Shakta text Devi Mahatmyam, or Chandi, that she lives among all the woman living creatures of this world. The entire Kumari practice is based on that verse.

Yet when worshipping a goddess, owing to their natural modesty and chastity, only a young girl is preferred over a mature lady.

Throughout Nepal, Kumaris are worshipped only for one day; such titles are given only for the length of the ceremony, sometimes several hours. 

One can not usually be a Kumari past the age of 16 because of menarche. A Kumari puja's fundamental goal is to understand the inherent divinity within a human being, often female. A modern Hindu aspirant recognizes humanity's inherent consciousness.

History of The Living Goddess in Nepal

Although Nepal's worship of a living Kumari is relatively new, dating only from the 17th century, the Kumari-Puja practice, or virgin worship, has been around for far longer. 

There is proof of the more than 2,300 years of virgin worship taking place in Nepal. Perhaps it took place in the 6th century in Nepal. 

There is documented documentation detailing the Kumari's collection, ornamentation and worship dating back to the 13th century C.E.

Legend behind the Kumari worship

There are many legends that say how the Kumari's current tradition started. Nevertheless, much of the inscriptions refer to the story of King Jayaprakash Malla, the last Nepalese ruler of the Malla dynasty (12th–17th C.E.).

A king and his wife, the Goddess Taleju, entered his chambers late one night, while he played tripasa (a game of dice) according to the most famous myth. 

Each night the Goddess came to play the game with the provision that the King refrains from informing others about their gatherings.

One night, he was accompanied into his room by the King's wife to figure out whom the King visited every day. The King's wife saw Taleju and insulted the Goddess. 

She told the King that if he wanted to see her again or have her defend his land, he would have to look for her among the Ratnawali Newari (Shakya) people. The Goddess said that he would be incarnated among them as a little child.

King Jayaprakash Malla left the palace in pursuit of the young girl who was abducted by the ghost of Taleju, in the hope of making amends with his patroness.

Similarly, Taleju 's absence has yet another tale. Some claim that King Trailokya Malla was visited by the Goddess every evening in human form. 

Like in many ancient tales, the King and the Goddess were playing tripasa (dice) while debating the country's situation. King Trailokya Malla, however, made sexual advances towards the Goddess Taleju one evening. The Goddess in anger stopped entering the palace as a result. 

The King worshipped with sorrow and begged for her release. Eventually, the Goddess decided to come from the Shakya family inside the body of the virgin child.

Also today, it is believed a mother dreaming of a red serpent is an omen of her daughter's promotion to Royal Kumari's role. 

And every year at the Indra Jatra festival the Nepalese King receives the blessing of the Royal Kumari. As of 2008 A.D., this practice has shifted. With the nation being the world's youngest republic.

A version of this and other legends calls King Gunkam Dev, King Jayaprakash Malla's 12th-century predecessor, as the main character rather than Jayaprakash Malla.

A third version of the story claims a young girl was expelled from the city during King Jayaprakash Malla's reign because it was thought the Goddess Durga had abducted her.

As the queen heard about the plight of the young daughter, she grew furious. She insisted on the King taking the child and appointing her as Durga's living embodiment.

Selection of Kumari

Once the former Kumaru leaves the Kumari Ghar, there is a flurry of action in seeking her successor. Some also contrasted the search procedure with that used in neighbouring Tibet to identify Tulkus reincarnations, such as the Dalai Lama or the Panchen Lama.

Five senior Buddhist Bhajracharya monks, the Panch Buddha, the Bada Guruju or Chief Royal Priest, Achajau, the Taleju priest, and the royal astrologer are in charge of the selection process.

Both the King and other religious figures who might be knowledgeable of suitable applicants are told that a search is ongoing.

The qualifying girls belong to the silver and goldsmiths from the Newar Shakya community. She should be in good condition, never spilt blood or been affected by any sickness, be without blemish and not have lost any teeth yet.

Girls who fulfil these specific qualifying criteria are tested for the battis lakshanas or thirty-two goddess perfections.

Many of those are mentioned poetically as such:

  • body like that of a banyan tree
  • thighs like those of a deer
  • neck like that of a conch shell
  • chest like that of a lion
  • voice clear and soft like that of a duck
  • eyelashes like those of a cow

Beyond that, her hair and eyes should be quite dark, and she should have dainty hands and feet, tiny, well-recessed sexual organs, and a series of twenty teeth.

The girl is often watched for signals of serenity and fearlessness, and her horoscope is also checked to ensure it is similar to that of the King's. 

There must be no disputes because she will affirm the authority of her divinity to the King every year. Her background is often looked at to ensure her modesty and loyalty to the monarch.

If the priests have picked an applicant, she will undergo still more stringent testing to ensure that she still holds the attributes required to be Durga's living vessel. 

Her main challenge arrives during the Dashain Hindu Festival. One hundred eight buffalos and goats are sacrificed to Goddess Kali on the Kalratri, or "dark moon." 

The young applicant is brought to the Taleju temple and released into the courtyard, where candlelight illuminates the dead heads of the animals and masked people move about.

If the nominee embodies Taleju's attributes, throughout the experience, she displays no hesitation. If she fails, they send back another nominee to do the same thing.

The living Goddess, as a final examination, has to spend a night alone in space amid the heads of ritually killed goats and buffaloes, without fear.

The courageous leader has proved to have the serenity and the fearlessness that characterizes the deity who is to rule her.

The final test, after completing all the other previous trials, is that she will be able to pick out the previous Kumari's possessions from an array of items set out before her. 

If she can do this, there is no rest of the question that she is the one she has selected. When the Kumari is picked, she must be cleaned so she can be a flawless Taleju vessel. 

The priests send her to perform a sequence of hidden tantric practices to purify her body and soul from previous encounters.

After these procedures are over, Taleju joins her, and she is unveiled as the current Kumari. She's dressed and made up as a Kumari and then leaves the Taleju temple and marches across the square to the Kumari Ghar on a white rug, which will be her house for the remainder of her divinity.

Life of The Living Goddess

When the Kumari performs the rituals of tantric purification and crosses the Kumari Ghar from the temple on a white cloth to claim her throne, her life takes on a whole new form. She can leave the Kumari Ghar only on ceremonial occasions.

Her relatives would only see her, and only in a formal capacity. Her playmates are to be selected from her caste from a small pool of Newari students, usually her caretakers' babies.

She would still be clad in red and gold, holding her hair in a topknot and having the Agni chakshu, or "fire mark," drawn on her forehead as a sign of her extraordinary perceptional abilities.

The modern life of the Royal Kumari is drastically different from the one she was used to throughout her brief childhood. Although her life is now free from financial burdens, she has ritual roles to perform.

Despite not being directed, she is supposed to act as befits a goddess. During the selection cycle, she has displayed the right characteristics, and her continuing serenity is of utmost importance; it is assumed that an ill-tempered deity holds evil tidings for those who ask her.

The trip of the Kumari through Durbar Square is the last moment her feet reach the earth before the deity departs from her body. From now on, as she travels beyond her home, she would be borne in her golden palanquin or transported.

Her feet, like all of her, are now sacred. Petitioners may contact them in the hopes of receiving relief from problems and diseases. 

Each year as he arrives to get her blessing, the King himself must kiss them. She would never wear shoes; if she's hiding her feet at all, they'll be lined with red stocks.

The Kumari's influence is considered to be so powerful that it is assumed only sight of her would carry prosperity. People's masses are gathering under the Kumari window in her palace's Kumari Chowk or courtyard, hoping she'll walk through the latticed windows on the third floor and gaze down at them.

While her sporadic appearances last just a few seconds, when they do arise, the environment in the courtyard is filled with dedication and awe. In her rooms, the luckier, or better related, petitioners visit the Kumari, where she sits on a golden lion throne. 

Most of those who attend her are those who suffer from blood or menstrual diseases because it is claimed that the Kumari has particular control over these illnesses. Bureaucrats and other government leaders visit her too. 

Petitioners typically bear presents and offers of food to the Kumari, who accept them in silence. On delivery, as a gesture of dedication, she gives them her feet to hold or kiss.

The Kumari is closely monitored at these meetings, and her acts are viewed as forecasting the lives of the petitioners, as follows:

  • rubbing eyes or weeping means imminent death
  • laughing out loud or crying implies severe illness or death
  • clapping of hands suggests reasons to fear the monarch
  • trembling means imprisonment
  • picking at the food offered means economic losses

When the Kumari stays quiet and impassive in the crowd, she leaves her devotees exultant. It is the indication that their dreams were conferred.

A lot of men listen to the needs of the Kumari. Such persons are recognized as the Kumarimi, and their work is pretty rough. They have to cater to every need and wish of the Kumari while offering her guidance in her ceremonial duties.

While they can't specifically ask her to do so, they have to steer her through life. They are responsible for washing her, making her up and taking charge of her hair, as well as training her for her guests and official occasions.

Traditionally, the Kumari did not seek any tuition because she was generally viewed because of omniscient. Nevertheless, technology made her require education as she re-enters mortal life.

Today Kumaris can go to public schools and have life within the classroom that is no different from most pupils. 

Although many kumaris, including Bhaktapur's Kumari, attend classes, some, including Kathmandu's principal Kumari, obtain their education from private tutors.

Similarly, she has to learn to value her small playmates. Because all desires must be given to her, she must learn to yield to her anything she might desire and submit to her desires on what games or events to perform.

The Living Goddess in Pop Culture references

  • The Kumari was introduced in the CBS drama show Mrs Secretary's 25 October 2015 episode (season 2, episode 4), called "Waiting for Taleju."
  • The female main character was a Kumari in Nepal, in the Korean webtoon show For the Sake of Sita.

Former Kumaris of Kathmandu, Nepal

Rashmila Shakya- from 1984-1991

Amita Shakya- from 1991-2001

Preeti Shakya- from 2001-2008

Matina Shakya- from 2008-2017

Trishna Shakya- from 2017-till date