Kumari: The deified living goddess

Nowhere else do you get an opportunity to witness and encounter a live goddess but in Nepal. Not only does Nepal have many gods, goddess, deities, avatars and manifestations, which are worshipped and revered as statues, images, paintings and symbols, but it also has a real living goddess. Kumari is the tradition of worshiping young pre-pubescent girls believed to be manifestations of the divine female energy or ‘devi’ in Hindu-Buddhist religious tradition that continues till date. The word Kumari, derived from Sanskrit word ‘Kaumarya’ meaning “virgin”, hence Kumari is believed to be the living virgin goddess. It was the Vajrayana sect of Mahayana Buddhism that was responsible for establishing the tradition of worshipping a girl from the Shakya community as the royal Living Goddess.

A Kumari is believed to be the incarnation of the goddess Taleju (the Nepalese name for Durga) until she menstruates, after which it is believed that the goddess vacates her body. The selection of the Kumari, who is entitled to sit on the pedestal for worship as the Living Goddess is an elaborate affair. According to the traditions of Vajrayana sect of Mahayana Buddhism, girls in the age-group of 4-7 year, who belong to the Shakya community, and have an ‘appropriate’ horoscope are screened on the basis of their 32 attributes of perfection, including color of eyes, shape of teeth and even voice quality. They are then are taken to meet the deities in a dark room, where terrifying tantrik rituals are performed. The real goddess is one who stays calm and collected throughout these trials and is entitled to sit on the pedestal for worship as the Living Goddess. Then as a final test similar to that of the Dalai Lama, the Kumari then chooses items of clothing and decoration worn by her predecessor.

After the ceremonies, the spirit of the goddess is said to enter her body. She takes on the clothing and jewelry of her predecessor, and is given the title of Kumari Devi, who is worshipped on all religious occasions. She would now live in a place called ‘Kumari Ghar’, at Kathmandu’s Hanuman dhoka palace square. It is a beautifully decorated house where the living goddess performs her daily rituals. The Kumari’s godhood comes to an end with her first menstruation, because it is believed that on reaching puberty the Kumari turns human. However, if she turns out to be unlucky, even a minor cut or bleeding can render her invalid for worship, and the search for the new goddess has to begin.

On Indra Jatra, the Living Goddess in all her jeweled splendor travels through the older part of Kathmandu city in a three tiered chariot accompanied by Ganesh and Bhairab each day for three days. It is really a grand gala in which scores of people throng in and around the Kathmandu Durbar Square to pay homage to the Living Goddess.


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