When Nepal opened up to the outside world in the 1950s and the first early tourists started coming in, they used to photograph cremations at Pashupati, monks in Boudha and monkeys on Swayambhu and most of them still do that. The other must-see was the Kumari Temple and the living goddess of Kathmandu which soon became a subject of enduring fascination for foreigners.
A ritual called Kumari Pratha is widely accepted in Kathmandu valley. Kumari which literally means a Virgin girl in many of the Asian languages like Sanskrit, is a prepubescent girl chosen from the Shakya clan of the Newari community.
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 idea behind this leads to writings stating that the goddess resides in all females in this universe of which the cosmos was made from her womb. As the goddess believes in chastity and impurity of a young child, and hence the ideal choice to house the goddess on earth.
While there are several Kumaris, the best known is the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu, and she lives in the special chamber called the Kumari Ghar, a palace in the heart of the city. The selection process for her is rigorous and a kumari who reaches puberty is replaced by another. The eligible girls are Buddhists from the Newar Shakya caste (the clan to which the Buddha belonged) of silver and goldsmiths. She must be healthy and not afflicted by any disease and also should possess the ‘thirty-two perfections’ of a goddess.
There is also a legend about of how a Kumari’s spouse will die early leading to the now normal girl never getting married. Several Kumaris now have come out and disregarded many harsh aspects the life of a Kumari.
In recent times several former Kumari have written about their time as a Kumari. Most simply continue on their lives as best they can and settle back into a normal life in Nepal.
Many articles, books and films have come out about the Kumari, including ”From Goddess to Mortal: The True Life Story of a Former Royal Kumari” written by former Kumari herself, Rashmila Shakya in 2005.
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