UNRAVELING THE MYSTERIOUS LIFE OF KUMARI- LIVING GODDESS OF NEPAL!

UNRAVELING THE MYSTERIOUS LIFE OF KUMARI- LIVING GODDESS OF NEPAL!

This blog is a part of 2 blog series of my account of Kumari Jatra aka Yanyā Punhi or Indra Jatra. Kumari is the living Goddess revered by Newari Hindus and Buddhists of Nepal. The festival takes place in the month of September in Basantapur Durbar Square (aka Basantapur Durbar Kshetra), Kathmandu, Nepal.

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Manita Shakya – The current Living Goddess Of Nepal. During Indra Jatra at Basantpur Durbar Square, Kathmandu.

Kumaris are living Goddesses of Nepal. I had been lucky to see a Kumari in the Indra Jatra festival of Nepal. In m previous post I wrote about my experience of attending Indra Jatra aka Kumari Jatra, the annual festival which is held in the Basantapur Durbar Square (aka Basantapur Darbar Kshetra ) area of Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal.

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Manita Shakya – The current Living Goddess Of Nepal. During Indra Jatra at Basantpur Durbar Square, Kathmandu.

WHO ARE KUMARIS?:

The literal meaning of the word Kumari is virgin or unmarried girl. Kumaris are living Goddesses of Nepal. They are believed to be the reincarnation of Hindu Goddess Durga or Goddess Taleju. They are usually young girls. They could be as young as 4 years old. The girls are selected from regular Newari families from the Shakya caste of silver and goldsmiths.

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Manita Shakya – The current Living Goddess Of Nepal. During Indra Jatra at Basantpur Durbar Square, Kathmandu.

It is a centuries old tradition of Nepal. Worshipped by both Hindus and Buddhists of Nepal, the Kumari displays no emotions, not even a smile. In fact, if she smiles at you, it is not considered a bad omen. She answers devotees’ questions with expressions and not words. Many small towns of Nepal have their own Kumaris.

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Manita Shakya – The current Living Goddess Of Nepal. During Indra Jatra at Basantpur Durbar Square, Kathmandu.

The Kumari of Kathmandu is considered supreme though. Once they reach puberty they cease to be a Kumari and return to the regular life. The first menstruation or even mere bleeding due to small cut is seen as a signal that the Goddess is vacating the body of Kumari. The transition from being a Kumari to being a mortal, of course is not easy. Nepalese Government takes care of the welfare of Kumari.

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Manita Shakya – The current Living Goddess Of Nepal. During Indra Jatra at Basantpur Durbar Square, Kathmandu.

THE STRICT LIFE OF A KUMARI:

The life of a Kumari is full of challenges. The Kumaris lose out on a regular childhood. They are not allowed to interact with anyone except their family. They step out only during special occasions and festivals. An exception was the massive earthquake which shattered Kathmandu.

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People waiting for a glimpse of Manita Shakya – The current Living Goddess Of Nepal. During Indra Jatra at Basantpur Durbar Square, Kathmandu.

The Kumari was seen in public during earthquake. Kumari is never supposed to move around by herself. For commuting, she is lifted by her caretakers. She is often carried around in a golden palanquin. As per the tradition, the feet of a Kumari should not touch the ground.  She is home schooled by a private tutor. Her playmates are often the kids of her caretakers. She is allowed to meet her parents in formal capacity. She is allowed to eat only certain kind of food.

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Manita Shakya – The current Living Goddess Of Nepal. During Indra Jatra at Basantpur Durbar Square, Kathmandu.

HOW ARE KUMARIS SELECTED?

The selection process of a Kumari is quite similar to the Tibetan style of selection of reincarnations of tulkus like Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. The Kumaris undergo rigorous ‘32 tests of perfection’ before being selected. They also undergo secret tests to ascertain how fearless they are. The tests are often done without the presence of their parents or family.

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Manita Shakya – The current Living Goddess Of Nepal. During Indra Jatra at Basantpur Durbar Square, Kathmandu.

During the Hindu festival of Dashain, the candidate is taken to a Taleju temple, where 108 buffaloes and goats are sacrificed on Kal Ratri (Black Night). In a courtyard, severed heads of animals are illuminated with candles, and men with demon masks dance around her. If she shows no sign of fear, she passes the test. If not, next candidate is exposed to the same.

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People waiting for a glimpse of Manita Shakya – The current Living Goddess Of Nepal. During Indra Jatra at Basantpur Durbar Square, Kathmandu. 

In another test, the candidate has to spend the night in a dark room filled with severed heads of animals. A Kumari’s astrological chart and star should align with that of King of Nepal. She should also be blemish free, disease free and not afflicted with any disease. Upon final selection, her body is purified so that it is fit for Goddess Taleju to reside in. Once purified, she moves to the Kumari ghar (House) where she stays till the time she is a living Goddess.

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Kumari Ghar. People waiting for a glimpse of Manita Shakya – The current Living Goddess Of Nepal. During Indra Jatra at Basantpur Durbar Square, Kathmandu. 

KUMARI HOUSE: THE ABODE OF LIVING GODDESS OF NEPAL

The Kumari Ghar or Kumari House is an unpretentious yet remarkable building. It faces the Basantapur Durbar Square and blends in with the architecture style of other buildings in the vicinity. Two lion statues guard the doors of the Kumari Ghar. It is also quite similar to the ancient buildings of Patan and Bhaktapur, few minutes away from Thamel, the backpacker hub of Kathmandu.

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People peeking from window of Kumari Ghar. People watching the chariot procession of Manita Shakya – The current Living Goddess Of Nepal. During Indra Jatra at Basantpur Durbar Square, Kathmandu. 

Wood carved reliefs of Gods and symbols embellish its red brick walls. The 3 storey wood and brick house was built by King Jaya Prakash Malla in 1757. When I visited, wooden poles filled its courtyard. The massive earthquake that shook Kathmandu took its toll on the historical Kumari Ghar too. The poles are kept as part of the restoration work. The Kumari sometimes peeps out of the window. Watch out for wooden carving of Goddess Taleju, peacocks and Chakras on the doors and windows of the Kumari Ghar.

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People peeking from window of Kumari Ghar. People watching the chariot procession of Manita Shakya – The current Living Goddess Of Nepal. During Indra Jatra at Basantpur Durbar Square, Kathmandu.

Recommended book reading on KumariThe living Goddess:

From Goddess to Mortal: The true life story of a former Royal Kumari. The book is written by former Kumari Rashmila Shakya. It elucidates many interesting facts of the life of a Kumari.

When to Visit the Indra Jatra festival: It happens in the month of September. Dates vary.

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People waiting for a glimpse of Manita Shakya – The current Living Goddess Of Nepal. During Indra Jatra at Basantpur Durbar Square, Kathmandu. 

Where to stay in Kathmandu:

Dwarika Chhen Welcome Heritage Hotel is walking distance from the Basantapur Durbar Square. The host Mr. Sagar is very helpful with tips. The rooms are eco friendly and comfortable. The architecture style is authentic. They also offer great local Newari food and continental cuisine. The lovely sit out area in the courtyard is a charmer. It is also walking distance from Thamel, the bustling backpackers abode.

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Festive fervour. In anticipation of Manita Shakya – The current Living Goddess Of Nepal. During Indra Jatra at Basantpur Durbar Square, Kathmandu. 

Top Tips for attending Indra Jatra:

  • The Chariot procession begins on the 3rd day of the festival which continues for 8 days. The Chariot procession goes on for 3 days. It is during this time, general public is allowed to take the photographs and videos of Kumari.
  • If you wish to take pictures of Kumari, stay near the gate of the Kumari Ghar.
  • Do not click pictures of Kumari in the Kumari House. It is prohibited.
  • Wear shoes during the chariot pulling.
  • Always stay alert for personal safety during the Chariot procession. Standing too close to the path of chariot is not advised.
  • Combine your trip with easy day trips from Kathmandu. A visit to Bandipur , Pokhara, Nagarkot or Chitwan National Park is easy from Kathmandu.
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People waiting for a glimpse of Manita Shakya – The current Living Goddess Of Nepal. During Indra Jatra at Basantpur Durbar Square, Kathmandu. 

Note: I attended the Kumari festival in the capacity of a travel blogger on invitation by Explore Himalayas and Nepal Tourism Board

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8 thoughts on “UNRAVELING THE MYSTERIOUS LIFE OF KUMARI- LIVING GODDESS OF NEPAL!

  1. This is such an interesting festival and very colourful too. Never been to Nepal or heard of the kumari. The girl looks so young, I know it’s tradition there, but can’t imagine not having a normal
    Childhood!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hope the influence of social media and technology won’t kill traditions like this. Nepal is a beautiful country and the nepalese people are among the most kind people I’ve met. I love that you captured this beautiful festival with your lenses.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I literally put my hand on my head while reading this and this is not the first time I am reading about Kumaris of Nepal. It sent a shiver down my spine. Yes, it is definitely a unique culture but sending a child to spend a night in a room filled with severed heads of animals amounts to torture. The kid is cut off from the real world, her entire childhood is crushed in the pretext of Godliness by others. No wonder the kumari is devoid of expressions, it is because she had been tortured to that extent. I am sure there are more unspeakable things that happens to her before she is deemed ‘kumari’. If I were ever made to go through all these, sure I would lose my smile too. I hope this practice is discontinued in future.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow. Just… wow. I had never heard of this tradition before. The festival is beautiful, and the history very interesting, but I feel for those girls. Always interesting to learn something completely new about the world, though!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow. The photos you captured truly reveals a sense of the culture and what this city its like. Nepal looks as chaotic as India haha This festival looks like a fun event to attend to while traveling abroad – such an experience! Glad you had a blast. All best, Mariella

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: 10 REASONS TO BUY FOREX WITH NAFEX! | A Soul Window - Travel Blog from India!

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