Among the several tales of culture and history in Nepal, the tale of Kumari: The Living Goddess is one that is widespread among the communities residing in the country. But what exactly does Kumari mean? The word translates to ‘Virgin’ in English. Goddess Kumari is said to be the manifestation of Goddess Taleju with the added power of Kali. The Kumari is the last living Goddess worshipped by both the Hindus and Buddhist communities of Nepal.
What if we told you that a Kumari is a prepubescent girl from the Newar Community chosen by a committee of Newari people? When the girl starts getting older and experiences her first menstruation, that’s when the goddess is said to vacate her body. According to the legend, loss of blood due to injury and illness could also mean the goddess leaving the girl’s body.
Not only the tale of the living goddess is historically fascinating, but this tradition that dates back to the 17th century is something that connects two of the oldest religions, Hinduism and Buddhism.
Among the many legends that go around, there are a few that seem more convincing regarding the origin of Goddess Kumari. Jaya Prakash Malla, the last King of the Malla Dynasty, is said to have come across Goddess Taleju who visited his chambers as a beautiful woman during night time. The goddess promised to visit the King every night to play Tripasa (a game that involves dice) if he keeps the secret meetings to himself.
However, the King’s wife was not a fool. One evening, she happened to follow him to the chambers with the intention of inspecting what exactly was going on with her King. Goddess Taleju became aware of this and left in anger. The goddess, however, paid a visit to the King after this event in his dream. Goddess Taleju told King Jaya Prakash Malla that she would reincarnate as a living goddess that would possess children from the Newar community, specifically, Shakya and Bajracharya community. The King then commenced the search for the special child with Goddess Taleju’s spirit. This is how the tradition of Kumari Goddess is known to have been started. A house was also built for the accommodation and looking after the Kumari. The house was named “Kumari Ghar”, which at present time, is among the popular sacred destinations in Kathmandu.
There are other theories as well that is quite similar to the first one. One of them suggests that the same King made sexual advances towards the Goddess, which infuriated the Goddess. After worshipping and pleading for her return, the Goddess finally agreed to reincarnate in the body of a pre-pubescent girl child of the Shakya community. These theories or legends are more like spin-offs, so nobody knows exactly what had happened.
There are many such Kumari in Nepal at present. Most Newari communities have a ‘Kumari’ but the Royal Kumari is the most senior. Even the Royal family of Nepal used to take blessings from the Royal Kumari during Monarchy in Nepal.
There is a national search for the Kumari once the present Kumari loses the title and power of being a vessel for Goddess Taleju. The selection process includes criteria which are made sure to be met by a council comprising of Senior Buddhist Bajracharya, Chief Royal Priest, Priest of Taleju and Royal Astrologer. There are 32 such criteria that are known as ‘perfections’ of a goddess, some of which are:
If you thought it’s that simple, let us assure you that it’s not. In order to proceed with the selection process, the children have to show great calmness and bravery. The young girl who meets the criteria is kept in Taleju temple’s courtyard among the heads of slaughtered animals (sacrificed goats and buffaloes as a part of the ritual). Masked men dance about the courtyard and the girl must show no signs of fear when she spends the night there during any of these.
The girl who passes all these showing courage amidst the dancing and sacrificed animal heads is selected then as the next Kumari, the reincarnation of Goddess Taleju. She is then taken for the necessary ritual that involves cleansing her past life and welcoming new and isolated life of Kumari, the living Goddess. Although today, most Kumari get to see their families and the family members can live with them.
The Kumari of Kathmandu are the most popular and with this fame, she has more rules and boundaries than other Kumaris. Due to some necessary changes in the society, the Kathmandu’s Kumari can at least now welcome her family members on formal occasions which is like 13 times a year. However, the family members aren’t allowed to live with her contrary to the rules of other Kumaris.
Formal education is provided to her by her caretakers in the Kumari house itself. The Kumari house is an old palace building with minimal facilities and comfort of the modern world. The Kumari spend their days in a 4-wall room lighted fairly with candles and lamps. Regardless of the respect, the title of a Goddess, and privileges, it is not so easy being a Kumari. Being selected as the only living goddess in the world comes with great dedication and sacrifices.
Many royalties and big names in politics still visit the Royal Kumari seeking her blessings. Many seek for Kumari’s blessings for getting rid of blood and menstruation problems as well.
A Kumari is an embodiment of pureness and power. Her pre-pubescent age is a criterion for selection as the Kumari and she shouldn’t have lost a drop of blood. As soon as she comes to an age of adolescence and experiences her first menstruation, she is considered impure and is dethroned from the title of Kumari. And thus, the search for a new Kumari commences.
Untimely dethroning is possible if there’s any cut that results in loss of blood from the body. In such cases, the Kumari is considered to become a normal human and hence loses the power of the Goddess.
After her time as a Kumari, she is given back to her parents or guardians to live a normal life, far different from what she was familiar with. After leaving the position, Kumaris are given a token pension. This transition can be hard on some girls who have lived all their lives as a living Goddess and now is going to a quite unknown and unpredictable life.
Himalayan Trekking can arrange a visit to the Kumari House at Basantapur according to your planning and timings here in Kathmandu. We can tailor any of our Nepal Tour Packages to meet your requirements and plan accordingly. Although it might be close to impossible to get even a glimpse of the living Goddess Kumari, you can take a walk around the house and witness its traditional architecture with the guide telling you fascinating stories and facts about its history.
Get in touch using contact no: +977-9851032316 and get more information about how you can proceed with a tour of Basantapur Durbar Square and the Kumari House.