Living Goddesses – The Lives Of The Kumaris Of Nepal
On a trip to Nepal, don’t be surprised if you come across a real-life goddess. They are known as Kumaris and are considered to be the incarnation of Kāli the goddess of power. These living goddesses are chosen at birth, and have to fulfill their role till puberty. During this time, on certain festivals, they are worshipped as goddesses.
The practice of Kumari worship is fairly prevalent among the Hindus, but in most cases they are only ever chosen for a day, worshipped as prescribed and then they go home. For the Kumaris of Nepal, it is a different story. Chosen as infants, they are worshipped and adored by thousands or Hindus and Buddhists till they reach puberty. As incarnations of Kāli, they are considered divine and immortal. Protectors from evil and bestowers of good luck. The word Kumari means “virgin” in Nepali and most other Hindu language. As a mark of the deity, a third eye is painted on her forehead.
However, for these girls, their whole life changes. Chosen at birth and having to pass 32 rigorous tests, they have to leave their homes and stay sheltered in the temple, away from the public eye, only brought out for festivals and processions. They can, however, interact with her parents. Their status is considered so holy and exalted that their feet never allowed to touch the ground. They must be carried in chariots, thrones or even in other people’s arms. As a result, they sometimes do not learn to walk until they return to ordinary life. On most occasions a Kumari sits on a traditional throne and devotees worship her or pay their respects. She is carried out in procession nine times a year. These are known as the 9 jatras.
As she cannot be seen by the public, a Kumari cannot go to school. The only way she can get any education is by a tutor. This is possible through St. Xaviers School which provide a full scholarship for a Kumari during her reign. She can neither interact with other children, nor do the things that girls of her age do.
At the onset of menstruation, the life of a Kumari changes. She is retired. She goes through a 12 day “Gufa” ceremony, during which she is confined to a room.The “Gufa” ceremony is a grand one and comprises a number of rituals.At the end of it she returns to her home and a life she is a complete stranger to.
The photos show one such Kumari, Samita Bajracharya, who goes through the process of retirement. After the “Gufa” ritual, she goes to a nearby river, and washes of the third eye that had been painted on her forehead, then her hair which was arranged in a special knot is untied by her mother.
Kumaris, after their retirement, often have a lot of trouble interacting and coming to terms with the rest of the world. Samita has since learnt to play the sarod a traditional Indian stringed instrument. She has also started going to school, and playing with her friends.
So that was the story of the Kumaris –the real-life goddesses of Nepal. One can’t help but wonder what their life must be like, confined to such a limited horizon. What do they think about? Don’t they have and of those wishes and impulses that any other little girl would have? How does she handle that kind of adulation? To be a living goddess is no little thing, especially when there are thousands of people who implicitly believe in it. And what about when she loses her godhood abruptly? She may have known that this was going to happen in the future, but could she have foreseen its implications in entirety. No one asked her. No one wanted to know what she really wanted.