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.

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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.

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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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