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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Recommended book reading on Kumari– The 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.
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.
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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