serenity now

The Kumari, Nepal’s living goddesses, are real little girls worshipped as deities.

image found here

“The best known is the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu, and she lives in the Kumari Ghar, a palace in the center of the city. A Kumari is believed to be the bodily incarnation of the goddess Taleju until she menstruates, after which it is believed that the goddess vacates her body. Serious illness or a major loss of blood from an injury are also causes for her to revert to common status.

Kumari Ghar found here

Once Taleju has left the sitting Kumari, there is a frenzy of activity to find her successor. The selection process is conducted by five senior Buddhist Vajracharya priests, the Panch Buddha, the Bada Guruju or Chief Royal Priest, Achajau the priest of Taleju and the royal astrologer. 

Eligible girls are Buddhists from the Newar Shakya caste of silver and goldsmiths. She must be in excellent health, never have shed blood or been afflicted by any diseases, be without blemish and must not have yet lost any teeth. Girls who pass these basic eligibility requirements are examined for the ‘thirty-two perfections’ of a goddess:

eyelashes found here

A neck like a conch shell

A body like a banyan tree

Eyelashes like a cow

Thighs like a deer

Chest like a lion

Voice soft and clear as a duck’s

In addition to this, her hair and eyes should be very black, she should have dainty hands and feet, small and well-recessed sexual organs and a set of twenty teeth.

Toothsome Natalie and Lana Wood found here

Once the priests have chosen a candidate, she must undergo yet more rigorous tests to ensure that she indeed possesses the necessary qualities. Her greatest test comes during the Hindu festival of Dashain. On the kalratri, or ‘black night’, 108 buffaloes and goats are sacrificed to the goddess Kali. The young candidate is taken into the Taleju temple and released into the courtyard, where the severed heads of the animals are illuminated by candlelight and masked men are dancing about. If the candidate truly possesses the qualities of Taleju, she shows no fear during this experience. If she does, another candidate is brought in to attempt the same thing.

image found here

As a final test, the living goddess must spend a night alone in a room among the heads of ritually slaughtered goats and buffaloes without showing fear. The candidate has then proven that she has the serenity and the fearlessness that typifies the goddess who is to inhabit her.

image found here

The Royal Kumari’s new life is vastly different from the one to which she has been accustomed. Whilst her life is now free of material troubles, she has ceremonial duties to carry out. Although she is not ordered about, she is expected to behave as befits a goddess. She has shown the correct qualities during the selection process and her continued serenity is of paramount importance; an ill-tempered goddess is believed to portend bad tidings for those petitioning her.

angry goddess cake found here

From now on, when she ventures outside of her palace, she will be carried or transported in her golden palanquin. Her feet, like all of her, are now sacred. Petitioners will touch them, hoping to receive respite from troubles and illnesses. The King himself will kiss them each year when he comes to seek her blessing. 

Chinese foot binding found here

Petitioners customarily bring gifts and food offerings to the Kumari, who receives them in silence. Upon arrival, she offers them her feet to touch or kiss as an act of devotion. During these audiences, the Kumari is closely watched and her actions interpreted as a prediction of the petitioners lives’, for example as follows:

Crying or loud laughter: Serious illness or death

Weeping or rubbing eyes: Imminent death

Trembling: Imprisonment

Hand clapping: Reason to fear the King

Picking at food offerings: Financial losses

If the Kumari remains silent and impassive throughout the audience, her devotees leave elated. This is the sign that their wishes have been granted. Popular superstition says that a man who marries a Kumari is doomed to die within six months by coughing up blood. In reality, however, it seems that most Kumaris do not have trouble eventually finding husbands. All of the living former Kumaris with exception of the youngest ones have married.

Published in: on November 3, 2011 at 7:27 am  Comments (53)  
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  1. At first I thought it would be depressing to be demoted from a goddess to a normal human, but since the life of a goddess seems to consist entirely of sitting quietly and looking pretty, I’m not sure I’d be sad to give that up.

    • Imagine not being able to run around – it sounds like a terrible childhood to me

  2. A voice as clear as a duck? What kind of ducks do they have there? The ones here make me want to attach a suitable length of hose to my car’s exhaust pipe!

    • *quack*

    • Maybe they mean an insistent voice, like the Aflac duck? :)

  3. Poor child. Loosing her childhood like that. Cow eyes and eyelashes are pretty though.

    • Long eyelashes are pretty but I think cow eyes look better on cows than humans

      • lol. thats what i meant.

  4. I think the angry goddess picture is Kali.

    • I believe you’re correct Syncy

  5. Before we condemn this age-old tradition (I am not saying I support it), perhaps we should look at the Western(Americanised) beauty pageants, especially those for very young children. Of course, I’m assuming that 18 year olds are far too mature to be seduced by such antics!
    (and this is where we insert a mee-owww! sound clip :-) )

  6. Well at least their goddess has to have some qualifications, unlike our royalty…

    • I thought your royalty excelled at mimicking the three monkeys

  7. It’s rather depressing what some people will do to themselves, and even worse – to others, in the name of superstition.

    That foot deformity website has put me off my toast and marmite.

    • But let us also remember the plank in our own eyes – think of the messianic quasi-religious identification which people had with Steve Jobs (slavemaster extraordinaire of SE Asia) or the atmosphere in the country when Diana died.

      Er… you said marmite, so I’m assuming you’re British :)

      • Indeed I am – Marmite rules. Accept no gimcrack Antipodean substitutes. :)

      • I prefer peanut butter

  8. The more I am exposed to the foibles of organized religion, the less hope I have for mankind. It’s certainly no better here in the U.S. How do people fall for this stuff?

    • Centuries of tradition

  9. To me, those eyelashes look like tiny insect prosthetics. (Shudder).

    Some really fascinating stuff here. Nice.

    • They look a bit like caterpillars to me

  10. never have shed a drop a blood during childhood? oh, dear. had they been looking for the Kumari in my old neighborhood, they’d have been right shit out of luck! we were rough…

    • I was a tomboy too

  11. do they get a retirement plan?

    • Not unless you count the goat meat

  12. Not that I was ever a serious candidate for the job, but I would have failed the all-nighter with the severed heads.
    We are all goddesses in our own unique ways, but still, it’s hard to imagine marriage to a for-real ex-goddess. The standard of devotion must be pretty darn high.

    • Can you imagine being a four year old in a room with severed animal heads?

  13. Sounds like they like their goddesses on Zoloft, because if they do anything other than sit around and look bored it’s a harbinger of destruction. I think I’ve had some dates that ended up that way…

    • Perhaps you should double date with Tag Larkin

  14. So the Kumari are divine and holy until they menstruate, and then they’re permanently polluted. I thought that particular bit of sexism had been laughed off the stage, but apparently not. Still, better to be polluted and happy than dying of divine boredom.

    • There’ll always be men who are afraid of menstruation

  15. Some strange selection criteria. Not sure if a voice like a duck would help! I can’t see the Sermon on the Mount or MLK’s I have a dream speech would have had the same impact spoken a la Donal Duck!

  16. “Voice like a duck”? That quacks me up!
    And don’t look now, but I think you spilled bleach on your goat. Either that, or his dye job is running…..

  17. It frightens me that such a culture possesses nuclear weapons.

    • Err Nepal is quite vocal in the UN about ridding the world of nuclear weapons, perhaps you’re thinking of the chinese?

      Like many other cultures they seem to worship insensitive deities, the age old and bizarre mix of pragmatism and lunacy – such seemingly unlikely bedfellows.

      As for royalty, put them all to the sword.

      The King

      • Perhaps Marvin is thinking of India?

  18. Very interesting – especially that it’s best when the goddess is simply calm and quiet.
    I think that Mr. Takano, the one with the halux valgus site, is a bit over the top when he states that women with deformed feet are suffering from “subnormal mental functions”.

    • “Junji Takano is a Japanese health researcher involved in investigating the cause of many dreadful diseases. In 1968, he invented PYRO-ENERGEN, the first electrostatic therapy device for electromedicine that effectively eradicates viral diseases, cancer, and diseases of unknown cause.”

      Mr Takano knows his “dreadful diseases”

      • Oh, I missed this.
        And did not realize that cancer is “effecticely eradicated” – if I only had known earlier: Maybe all the siblings and friends I had to bury over the last years and who have died from cancer could still be alive. Thank you, Mr. Takano.

  19. Fear and ignorance breeds some very strange customs. Interesting, though, that the drive for sex seems to trump even the fear of death

  20. Cool looking goat!

    I never thought ducks had particularly soft voices…

  21. “A body like a banyan tree”?
    How many limbs do these girls have?

    • Oh at least seven or eight

  22. That is so interesting! And actually sounds incredibly dreadful for all the girls involved.

  23. That’s exactly how my false eyelashes ended up looking the one (and only) time I wore them to the bar…

  24. I loved the tricoloured goat but felt strangely uneasy at the rest of it.

    Goddesses, superstition, child beauty pageants, idealised standards of femaleness that normal females can never meet … a pox on the lot of it.

    But a ripping and informative yarn as always.

  25. Always felt Sophia Loren to be goddess: beauty, charm, poise and dignity not to be involved in scandal and such.

  26. Okay, this is strange. Where do I begin…?

  27. “spend a night alone in a room among the heads of ritually slaughtered goats and buffaloes” – Oh, the poor thing!

  28. would love to know how you choose your topics! i’ve been away and have much to catch up on. This is sad and worthy of at least an extra angry goddess cake.

  29. The choosing process would make a good reality show. “Project Royal Kumari,” anyone?

  30. This practice can’t be good for the psychological health of the girls involved. Left with animal heads, reveared as a deity, prevented from having a normal childhood, and then it all comes to an end at menarch. I think a study of former kumaris would be fascinating.


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