Growing up as a goddess: Extraordinary life of child Kumari

26 02 2012

Virgin girls are often regarded as the incarnation of Goddess in Hindu society. In Nepal, a virgin girl from Shakya community is chosen as the Goddess Kumari which is believed to be the reincarnation of the Goddess Taleju (the other name of Goddess Durga). It is believed that Kumari is an actual living goddess. The custom of worshipping a pre-pubescent girl, girls in the age-group of 2-7 year, who belongs to the Shakya community, is an old Hindu-Buddhist tradition that still continues to this day in Nepal. There are eleven living goddesses in Nepal known as Kumari. All eleven Kumaris are not treated equally, Kumari of Lalitpur and Kathmandu have to stay in Kumari house following strict ritual conducts whereas Kumari of Bhaktapur and Bungmati are not bound by those regulations. Among eleven only the Kumari of Kathmandu Valley get the facilities of the Royal Kumari and she is the most influential Kumari.
Kumari is given high respect and dignity especially during social and religious functions. She is regarded as a personification of the Goddess Taleju (Durga), the symbol of power, the divine universal-mother goddess. Kumari as a female deity, possesses Shakti (Power), is worshipped as the living virgin goddess, the defender of the living beings. The devotees consider looking at her as a mascot will bring them good luck.
The most important festival for the Kumari is Indra Jaatra, a celebration of the harvest held in late August or early September. On the third day of the festival, the Kumari Devi is carried around Durbar Square in a chariot. The chariot is kept next door to the Kumari Ghar and the great wooden yokes from past years are laid out nearby.
History of Kumari Practice
Myth: There is an ancient story based on mythology. The Malla Kings of the Valley in ancient times had wide knowledge of practicing Tantricism. They used to play dice and other games with the goddess Taleju with their tantric powers. King Jaya Prakash Malla, the last Malla ruler of Kathmandu used to play dice with Goddess Taleju. He became fascinated by the charming beauty of the goddess. He lost control and caught her by the hands. The goddess perceived his erotic thoughts and was furious by his immoral attitude; she immediately vanished from the king’s sight. That night the king again saw Goddess Taleju in his dream. In his dream she strictly warned him that he shall no longer be blessed by her. His dynasty was going to end. The king would only be able to get darshan in the new form of pre-menstrual girl belonging to the Shakya caste in which the goddess herself is said to dwell as goddess Kumari. Since then, the Kumari is worshipped as the living virgin goddess.
Truth: The whole concept of Kumari as a living goddess originated when Tantricism, was at its height in the Kathmandu Valley. The Bajracharya and Shakya community played a crucial role and so the tradition of requiring the Kumari to come from the Shakya community was established. The Kumari bahal (Kumari Ghar) was built in 1767 (B.S) during the reign of King Jaya Prakash Malla. He also instituted the festival of drawing the chariot of Kumari.
Selection of Kumari: The selection of the Living Goddess is a highly elaborate tantric ritual. The Kumari, literally meaning ‘virgin’, is a young girl of 2 to 7 year chosen from the Shakya community to represent a Hindu goddess after she passes 32 tests of ‘perfection’ which also includes the color of her eyes, the shape of her teeth and the sound of her voice. Then she needs to undergo the major test before being appointed as Kumari which is held on the Dashain festival. On “Kalratri” she is taken to Taleju temple where there are several killed goats, buffalo, chicken and the masked men are dancing around. If the candidate is fearless during this experience, then she would be selected as the Kumari and only simple process remains but if she fails this test, then the another candidate is taken for the same experience. Finally the horoscope of the Kumari is matched with the President and she will be the next Kumari. Then after, the secret tantric ritual is held to remove all her past memories from her body and purify her as a pure vessel for the Taleju Goddess to enter. Kumari is believed to have supreme power. That is why the King of the Nepal used to bow and take blessing from her as well. Now when there is no monarch the President of Nepal takes the blessing from her.

Lifestyle of Kumari: After becoming Kumari, the child is taken into a house called Kumari Bahal in Basantapur. She has to live in isolation from her family and relatives in Kumari Bahal. She is always dressed in red, wear her hair in a topknot and have the agni chakchuu or ‘fire eye’ painted on her forehead as a symbol of her special powers of perception. She sits on her throne with her attendants. She will be allowed to return to her family only at the onset of menstruation when a new goddess will be named to replace her. She will leave her palace only on ceremonial occasions. Her family will visit her rarely but are not allowed to stay overnight. She will neither work nor attend school. Under quite new arrangements, living goddesses nowadays are all provided with a formal education with a tutor of their choice. Her playmates are usually the children of her caretakers. She never wears shoes and her feet should not touch the ground until the goddess departs from her body. She comes outside of her palace only 13 times a year, when she comes out, she will be carried or transported in her chariot.
Beginning of Mortal Life: The Kumari’s divinity 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 make her invalid for worship. At this point she is thought to have lost her divinity, and the search for a new Kumari must begin.
Dehumanized Practice: Kumari lives a strange and paradoxical life. From her childhood until puberty, she has no name and lives in isolation. She commands more power among her people than almost any living person, and yet at the flow of menstrual blood, she immediately changes back to normal mortal life. The practice of Kumari worship is a child dehumanizing cult practice rather than a cultural heritage that should be respected and preserved. Kumari Cult originated from superstition, the belief produced by irrational fear in supernatural power.
Kumari practice is one of the most celebrated cults of Kathmandu valley. The Cult of Kumari worship depicts the pathetic story of young and innocent girls who are deprived of liberty, freedom and humanly life. The life of Kumari is, indeed, a dehumanized life that is celebrated in the pride of century old superstition that sustains on fear and irrational belief and such practices need to be deconstructed and exposed in order to free, liberate and let live the innocent female children a dignified humanly life. This tradition holds that men who marry ex-goddesses will die within six months of the marriage. Thus peoples are not openly keen to wed an ex-Kumari. The girls are believed to retain some of their divine power, and the idea of marrying a woman in whom the goddess Durga once dwelt is a scary prospect. Superstition has it that this power can even be fatal to a husband.
Some may say that Kumari is living a life like any important personality, which is very normal but a Kumari does not choose to be a goddess, she is a very small child when the decision is made. Many of these girls, are been taken from their families at the age of three or four, have no knowledge of the daily tasks involved with a normal existence. They have never had to work, attend school, go to the shops, or even walk about town. Having been exposed to only a very tight circle of playmates and surrounded by many servants, they have never learned the arts of communication and cooperation. And this is not regarded as “normal”.
Kumaris cannot live a dignified and free life even after their retirement which results negative impact on physical and mental development, social security and, rehabilitation is another major question for them. For all the sacrifices a young girl makes in order to become a Kumari, she gets very little compensation.
The human rights of living goddess are the human rights of any other people like right to equality, right to freedom, right to live a dignified life, freedom of thought, expression and peaceful assembly, right to choose dress and food, right to health, freedom of movement, right against exploitation, right to privacy, right to marry and choose life partner and right to entertainment.
Nepali Laws strictly prohibits the offering of child to god in the name of tradition. And the rules and regulation which she has to obey are also against the constitution and laws. The practice of Kumari violates the following provision of the Constitution of Kingdom of Nepal 1990.
1. Article 11: Right to Equality: All citizens shall be equal before the law. No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws. No discrimination shall be made against any citizen in the application of general laws on grounds of religion, race, sex, caste, tribe or ideological conviction or any of these.
2. Article 12: Right to Freedom: No person shall be deprived of his personal liberty. All citizens shall have the Freedom of opinion and expression; and Freedom to move throughout the Kingdom and reside in any part.
3. Article 20: Right against Exploitation: Traffic in human beings, slavery, or forced labor in any form is prohibited. Any contravention of this provision shall be punishable by law; Provided that nothing here in shall be a bar to providing by law for compulsory service for public purposes.
4. Article 22: Right to Privacy: Except as provided by law, the privacy of the person, house, property, document, correspondence or information of anyone is inviolable.
Other Nepalese Laws also says:
1. No person shall, for the purpose of fulfilling the promise made to god or for serving any other religious purpose, offer or surrender his or anybody else’s child to any god or goddess by buying such child, offering economic gain, under any kind of compulsion or undue influence.
2. No dhami, priest or the chief of any religious enshrinement shall incite to the commission of an act contained in sub-section (1) nor shall perform or permit to perform religious formalities in cases where a person bring his child to any temple with the purpose of offering or surrendering to god or goddess.
3. If any event takes place after the commencement of this Act, in violation of sub-section (1) and (2) above, the father, mother or any member of the family shall take custody of the child and make arrangements for upbringing, education and health care of such child on equal footing with other members of the family as if such event never took place.
4. The State shall make necessary arrangements to safeguard the rights and interests of children and shall ensure that they are not exploited.
Conclusion: 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. The tradition of Kumari-worship is still strong in Nepal, and although it has been modified slightly by education, it can be expected to continue.
It is unlikely that the tradition of The Living Goddess will be discontinued because the belief is so deeply entrenched in Hindu Culture and highly regarded, in terms of pride, by poor families. The girl child has freedom to do what she wanted, within reasonable bounds, to enjoy the company of her friends and later, to pick the man of her choice but it’s a great sadness for the young goddess who cannot enjoy her life in real. Parents also face difficulty in upbringing a daughter who virtually has dropped into the household from another planet with no social skills, no experience of domesticity, and no prospects of catching a husband.
This “horrifying” ancient tradition is an exploitation of the innocent girls in the name of culture. For the sake of her safety, the tradition should be regulated ensuring the best measures like social security and rehabilitation facilities, non discrimination, protection of their inherent human rights, an environment to lead a dignified life. Human Rights of the child should be the first concern rather than preserving tradition.

Reference:
– hinduism.about.com
– Srijana Shrestha, Living goddess Kumari: Story and Reality
http://www.nepaltravels.com
http://www.uniquetreks.com
http://www.visitnepal.com

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One response

2 01 2015
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