In Nepal Kumari
is given high respect and dignity especially during
social and religious functions. There are several
Kumaris including Kumaris in Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur
and Bungamati within the Kathmandu Valley. However,
among all of them, the Kumari of Kathmandu housed
in the Kumari Bihar situated at the vicinity of Hanuman
Dhoka Palace at Basantapur is regarded as the most
important one and is also known as the Royal Kumari.
There are several verses in the Vedas which eloquently
glorify the position of Kumaris and their role in
various spheres of life. As a female deity, she possesses
Shakti (Power). Both benevolent and fearful she is
worshipped as Kali, Durga and Taleju, etc. However,
Kumari as a female deity is worshipped as the living
virgin goddess, the defender of the living beings.
Why is a little girl from the Shakya family chosen
as a living goddess? The whole concept of Kumari as
a living goddess originated when Tantricism, was at
its height in the Kathmandu Valley. The Bajracharya
and Shakya clans played a crucial role and so the
tradition of requiring the Kumari to come from the
Shakya clan was established.
There is an
ancient story based on mythology. The Malla Kings
of the Valley in ancient times had wide knowledge
of practising Tantricism. They used to play dice and
other games with the goddess Taleju with their tantric
powers. King Jaya Prakash Malla, the last Malla ruler
of Kathmandu used to play dice with Goddess Taleju.
He became fascinated by the charming beauty of the
goddess. He lost control and caught her by the hands.
The goddess perceived his erotic thoughts and was
enraged by his immoral attitude, she immediately vanished
from the king's sight. That night the king again saw
Goddess Taleju in his dream. In his dream she strictly
warned him that he shall no longer be blessed by her.
His dynasty was going to end. The king would only
be able to get darshan in the new form of pre-menstrual
girl belonging to the Shakya caste in whom the goddess
herself is said to dwell as goddess Kumari. Since
then, the Kumari is worshipped as the living virgin
goddess. The Kumari bahal was built in 1767 during
the reign of King Jaya Prakash Malla. He also instituted
the festival of drawing the chariot of Kumari, the
living goddess followed by other two living gods-
Ganesh and Bhairav.
On 25th September
1768 AD Prithvi Narayan Shah, the king of Gorkha attacked
Kathmandu when Indra Jatra (festival) was being observed
in full swing. Jaya Prakash's troops were all intoxicated
in the chariot pulling festival. The Gorkha King easily
captured Kathmandu and received blessings from the
The Kumari is
given high dignity and is regarded as a personification
of the Goddess Taleju. She is considered as an incarnation
of Durga, the symbol of power, the divine universal-mother
goddess. The devotees consider looking at her as a
mascot will bring them good luck.
The four or
five year old little Shakya girl is chosen every ten
years. The girl who is to be made Royal Kumari must
possess several qualities. She must be free from any
disfigurement. She must be a virgin with an unblemished
body. She must have prominent black eyes or gorgeous
expressive eyes, white teeth without any gaps. She
must have a sonorous voice, long slender arms, delicate
and soft hands and feet and straight hair curled towards
the right side. Above all, she should possess 32 noble
virtues. She must have a sense of courage and should
not fear a masked man or an animal sacrifice. Her
horoscope must match that of the king.
of the Kumari ceremony which is usually held on the
eighth day of Dashain festival is called Kal-ratri.
During the day many buffaloes are sacrificed and bloody
buffalo heads are placed in candlelight in the courtyard
of the Taleju temple inside Hanuman Dhoka. At midnight
the Kumari is taken out to walk clockwise around the
grotesque heads. A dancer wearing a grostesque mask
dances near her. If the child remains quite and fearless
during this test she is recognized as a real Kumari.Then
after, the secret tantric ritual is held to remove
all her past memories from her body and purify her
as a pure vessel for the Taleju goddess to enter.
It takes a whole night and in the morning she walks
across a white cloth in front of a huge crowd as the
Kumari, the child is taken into a house called Kumari
Bahal in Basantapur. She has to live in isolation
from her family and relatives in Kumari Bahal. She
is always dressed in red and her forehead is painted
in red. The third eye is put in her forehead. She
sits on her throne with her attendants.
allowed to enter the courtyard but may not go up.
She usually acknowledges greetings from her balcony
For all the sacrifice a girl child makes in order
to become a Kumari, she gets very little in compensation.
When she comes to the end of her career as the Kumari
when she reaches puberty she has to walk out with
virtually nothing. The month's stipend she is paid
is a mere pittance and not enough for anything. If
the Kumari tradition is to vanish from our culture
it will indeed be a great pity. Not only will our
culture be so much the poorer but there will be less
to show to the numerous foreign tourists who come
to Nepal attracted by our rich cultural traditions.
Some former Kumaris have recently been speaking out
about the difficulties of rejoining a family you hardly
know. One said it was a real shock being told what
to do by teachers and difficult playing with other
children. Another, that she simply did not know how
to face her freedom. A woman MP has even called for
the tradition to be abolished. But today's Kumari
is perhaps relatively lucky. Under quite new arrangements,
living goddesses nowadays are all entitled to a formal
education with a tutor of their choice.