Kumari – The living Goddess

I had this post sitting in my draft box for a while but the article I read in the dailymail online inspired me to finish and post it. Please click here if you want to read it too.

The word kumari literally means virgin in Nepali. Kumari is the only living Goddess in the world worshipped by Hindus and Buddhists in Nepal. The Living Goddesses are young pre-pubescent girls that are considered to be incarnations of the Hindu goddess of power, Kali and Goddess Taleju.

History behind Kumari

For over 300 years now, it is believed that the spirit of the goddess Taleju has been residing in a succession of pre-pubescent virgin girls in this way, and the future of the country has balanced precariously on their pleasure. With a frown they have held back the rains; a single tear from their eye has resulted in floods. An ancient ruler ofNepalis even said to have died after the reigning Kumari fell asleep during an audience with him.

There are 10 Kumaris in Nepal but I have seen the ones from Kathmadu and Patan only. The Kumari from Kathmandu is considered the Royal Kumari and follows a bit different rules than the rest of the Kumaris. The Royal Kumari resides in Kumari Ghar in Kathmadu Durbar Square while the rest of the Kumaries live at home with their parents and family, and go to school as any other normal girl. They have certain ritual duties that they have to perform regularly, but otherwise live a pretty normal life.

Kumari Ghar

How Kumari is chosen?

Young Buddhist girls from, Kathmandu’s Newar community, Shakya or Bajracharya are chosen as “living goddesses”.  Normally it is a privilege to have your daughter contest in this selection process.

These are some features a young girl should have to consider to be chosen as Kumari .

  • Virgin with an unblemished body
  • Body of the Banyan tree
  • Eyebrows like the cow
  • Black straight hair
  • White teeth without any gaps
  • Dark eyes
  • Mona Lisa like smile
  • Sonorous crystal clear voice
  • Long slender arms
  • Delicate and soft hands and feet
  • Thighs like those of a deer
  • Neck like a conch-shell
  • Tongue – small and moist
  • Sexual organs small and well-recessed.

Above all, she should possess 32 lachchins (characteristics). She must have a sense of courage and should not fear a masked man or an animal sacrifice and she must never have lost a drop of blood. Her horoscope must match that of the king (it was so in the past, may be the President’s horoscope is considered now).

During the eighth day of Dashain, called Kal-ratri, the selection process of Kumari begins. The would be Kumari is left in a room with 108 decapitated buffalos laid out in a sea of blood with men wearing horrid masks dancing among them. This is to test the fearlessness of the girl. If the child gets scared and cries, she will be disqualified and the next girl has to go though the process until they find a girl who can smile in that surrounding and enjoy the dance of the masks men.

The Kumari Festival

Every September, during the Indra Jatra festival, the living goddess in all her bejewelled splendor is borne in a palanquin in a religious procession through parts of Kathmandu. It is a grand festivel attended by people in the thousands, who come to see the living goddess and seek her blessings. In keeping with an old tradition, the Kumari also used to bless the King but now she bless the president and prime minister of the country.

Controversy regarding Kumari

Critics say that the tradition violates the child’s human rights and leaves her unprepared for life after retirement.

Here is a documentary by ABC Australia on Kumari.

I’ll let you decide what you want to believe in but for people of Nepal, Kumari is still a Goddess who they respect and bow to. Kumari is the faith of Nepal and they still believe that she is an incarnations of the Hindu goddess of power.

Today, in the name of modernity, some members of the human rights groups along with the government are proposing that the Kumari tradition be abolished for good. Personally, I think Nepal should learn how to make its culture rich and safe instead of abolishing it, because it is centuries long tradition and this need to be kept alive for the future generation so they can learn and know more about it. Seeing the European countries spending millions to preserve their history and culture, it will be sad to see this tradition stopped.

14 responses to “Kumari – The living Goddess

  1. Kumari nowdays get school education at their official Kumari House, they are admitted to the best school of Kathmandu, teacher visit her house, they too have to give exams, after they retire at around 12 years age they live normal life and live successful family life in future too. They play, they play with their friends in Kumari House courtyard.

  2. Pingback: The Child Goddess Tradition of Nepal | OldPiano.Org

  3. Kind of shows how we create our gods rather than the other way around

  4. Pingback: Indra Jatra | nepaliaustralian

  5. The image of the Kumari Ghar, posted here, is not the Kumari Ghar of Kathmandu. What town’s Kumari Ghar is this? Does someone know it?

  6. M, do you worship the kumari as well? What is your opinion on this? Do these children have any special lifestyle, privileges? Are they educated normally? What happens when they reach the pubescent age?

    • My family worship Kumari like all Hindu in Nepal. I don’t know lots of details about this culture but as far as I know from my grand mother who told me all these stories while I was young, Kumari is similar to people who choose to be nun, monk or priest. The only difference is that the girls are really young and the parents make these choices for them.

      As far as I know except the Kumari in Kathmandu , rest of the Kumaris go to school and live a normal life. They dress up and become Kumari for special occasions only As for the one in Kathmandu , she have tutors and is home schooled.

      I am sure the culture is adapting and making changes as required in this modern days. One of the things I normally don’t like about people who criticise is that they know only half the story.

      After they reach puberty, they are given monthly salary but I don’t know details about how much or any other privileges.

  7. For many years now I’ve wanted to write a fiction novel from the perspective of a kumari. I think it would be fascinating, but I don’t know enough about their rituals to be able to write a story from one’s perspective. When we were in Nepal in 2009 I brought home a stack of books about kumari, so maybe someday.

    • I think there are few ex Kumaris in Kathmandu you can meet when you visit next time. I really like the idea for the book and getting the first hand information will help the book. good luck.

  8. When i was the first time in Nepal, I saw the Kumari in Kathmandu. Peoples told me I will be a lucky woman now. I m afraid it was not true till now, because of our trouble with public authorities about our visa…..

    I read so many historys about the kumari and my friend told me too. I m to respect for Nepal history so much, but actually the Kumari ( mean the royal), she havent no childhod right. And I heard one time, when she is a young woman and got here menstruation here Kumari time is finished and she dont get a husband so seldom. comparatively few men dont like it to married a ex Kumari.

    • I always feel there is more to this story than what we read in paper. I think abolishing the whole culture is silly but definitely it can be altered according to time and adapt with modernisation.

  9. Sid Dunnebacke

    Thank you for this, M – I learned quite a lot here. I look forward to reading more about your culture.

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