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The Living Goddess of Nepal – Judy’s goosebump moment

(text video)


Judy: “My goosebump moment was when I was in Nepal last February, in Kathmandu. I saw The Living Goddess. It’s a girl that comes out once a day to greet her people. She looks down from a window. I had eye contact with that girl and what was my goosebump moment, was that at a certain moment it was finished, and the shutters were closing, but she made a little jump. The most touching thing that went through my head at that moment, and that was the goosebump moment, was that she did a little jump. And I thought “Oh my God, it’s also a normal child.” And I was very happy about that. That is my goosebump moment.”

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The Living Goddess of Nepal

Kumari, or Kumari Devi, or Living Goddess of Nepal, is a ‘living goddess’ who is considered to be the manifestation of the divine female energy of devi, the goddess Durga, also called Taleju, in Hindu and Buddhis religious traditions. Kumari means ‘young prepubescent girl’ and she is chosen out of 3-to-5-year-old girls from the Shakya caste of the Nepalese Newari community. The Kumari are worshipped by the people and it is a great honor to be chosen to be a Kumari.

There are different Kumari in Nepal, some cities even have a couple of them, but the most well-known and most important one is the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu. She lives in the Kumari Ghar, a palace in the center of the city. The Kumari tradition is only still upheld in certain cities in Nepal: in Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, Sankhu and Bungamati. The current Royal Kumari is Trishna Skaya. She was chosen in 2017 at age 3 by the Maotistic government that replaced the monarchy. Unika Bajracharya was chosen in 2014 to be the Kumari of Patan and is the second more important ‘living goddess’.

The life of a Kumari isn’t always easy. She only leaves the palace for ceremonial events, her family can only come visit her once in a while, her playmates are chosen for her, she is being told what to wear and how to act and what she can and cannot do. From the moment she is chosen as Kumari until the goddess leaves her body, her feet are not allowed to touch the ground because they are now holy. She needs to be carried or transported in her golden palanquin. She never wears shoes and her feet can only be covered by red stockings.

Crowds await her coming because they believe she will bring luck and healing. Only certain people that put in a special request, are allowed to visit her at the palace. Only after the Kumari are ‘mortal’ again, they are allowed to go to school and get an education. Former Kumari Matina Shakya was Kumari from 2008 to 2017. You can watch her story from goddess to normal girl below.

The selection process of the Kumari

The selection process of the Kumari is very strict. The girls are Kumari until their first menstruation, because the belief goes that the goddess Durga leaves their body at that moment. Serious illness of a lot of blood loss by injury can also mean the loss of the goddess. Once the goddess Durga leaves the current Kumari, it is extremely important to appoint a new Kumari as fast as possible. The selection process is conducted by 5 senior Buddhist priests. A potential candidate needs to come from the Newari Shakya caste of silver and goldsmiths. She must be in excellent health, never have shed blood or been afflicted by diseases, be without blemish and must not have lost any teeth yet. Then the girls are checked for the battis lakshanas, the 32 perfections of a goddess, which include a body like a banyan tree, eyelashes like a cow, thighs like a deer and a voice soft and clear as a duck’s voice. She also needs to have very black hair and eyes, elegant hands and feet and 20 teeth. Her horoscope needs to be complementary to the king’s. Her family also goes through a rigorous process to make sure they are devoted to the king.

Once the candidate is chosen, she needs to pass a series of tests to be sure that she has the right qualities to be the living vessel for Durga. At the Hindu festival of Dashain she needs to pass her greatest test by walking through the temple court with severed animal heads without fear. As a last test the living goddess needs to spend a night alone with the animal heads. She also needs to be able to choose personal belongings of the previous Kumari out of a series of items. After the Kumari is chosen, she is purified and goes through several rituals to separate herself from any experiences from the past. When the rituals are over, the goddess comes to live inside her, and she is presented as the new Kumari.

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