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Magazine Dec. 03, 2001
Devi - The Living Goddess
only does Nepal have many gods, goddess, deities, Bodhisattvas (near
Buddhas), avatars and manifestations, which are worshipped and revered
as statues, images, paintings and symbols, but it also has a real
living goddess. The Kumari Devi is a young girl who lives in the
building known as the Kumari Ghar, right beside Kathmandu's Durbar
From time immemorial the practice of worshipping
an ordinary pre-pubescent girl as a source of supreme power has
been an integral
part of both Hinduism and Buddhism, a tradition which continues
even to this day virtually in every household. They call this girl
Kumari Devi and worship her on all the religious occasions.
The predominance of the Kumari cult is more distinctly
evident among the Newar community inside the Kathmandu Valley as
she has become an inevitable feature of their worship almost in
every Vihar and Bahal and including the nooks and corners of Newari
settlements. However, it was the Vajrayana sect of Mahayana Buddhism
that was responsible for establishing the tradition of worshipping
a girl from the Sakya community as the royal Living Goddess.
The selection of the Living Goddess is a highly
elaborate tantric ritual. Upon passing the preliminary test, this
is merely concerned with their 32 attributes of perfection, including
the colour of her eyes, the shape of her teeth and the sound of
her voice. Her horoscope must also be appropriate. The 4 to 7 year
poor girls from the Sakya community are made to confront a goddess
in the darkened room. The sight of the Buffalo heads scattered around,
the demon- like masked dancers, the terrifying noises theyencounter
scare some of these innocent babies. The real goddess is unlikely
to be frightened, so the one who is calm and collected throughout
the tests is the only girl who 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.
The god-house Kumari Ghar is a store-house of
magnificent intricate carvings where the Living Goddess performs
her daily rituals. During her tenure in the god-house, Guthi Sansthan,
the government trust fund bears her entire expenses including that
of her caretakers. Under normal circumstances, her days in the god-house
come to an end with her first menstruation, but if she turns out
to be unlucky, as they say, even a minor scratch on her body that
bleeds can make her invalid for worship. She then changes back to
the status of normal mortal and the search of a new Kumari begins.
It is said to be unlucky to marry an ex-Kumari.
Indra Jatra, in September, 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 people in their thousands
throng in and around the Kathmandu Durbar Square to pay their homage
to the Living Goddess. During this festival she also blesses the
King in keeping with the tradition in which the first king of the
Shah dynasty, who annexed Kathmandu in 1768, received a blessing
from the Living Goddess.
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