What it is like, growing up as a Goddess:
The sun rises in Kathmandu. A tiny toddler (Kumari) dresses up in red. She is bedecked in gold jewelry and is carried into a temple.
She is being told that she will be left in a dark place filled with something horrifying. Some say its snakes and others say slaughtered animals.
She’s beat hundreds of other girls to get to this final test- screened for 32 qualities of perfection by the highest priests in the land.
If she cries she will be sent home to live an unremarkable life. But if she braves all the horrors in silence, she will be worshipped as the living goddess called the Kumari, worshipped by Nepal’s Newari people.
A Kumaris life is kept hidden, unless she decides to tell you about it.
The life of a Kumari:
In the words of Preethi Shakya, former Goddess and Kumari ” I wasn’t allowed to step outside and if i did, they used a traditional cloth kind of like a carpet”. Her real family visited her once a week, so her friends were the caretakers family.
During the day, the Kumaris would have to wear traditional clothes and makeup.
” I remember watching TV and seeing modern dresses and i really wanted to wear them. I used to wear them when i was studying in the house, but only in red- the color of the Goddess says Preethi Shakya in an interview with her.
When she wasn’t playing or studying, Preethi would have tp sit on the throne and offer her blessings to believers.
Blessed by a child:
Gautham Shakya, a caretaker, has been looking after the Kumaris since he was old enough to carry a cup of tea. His family has seen hundreds of girls, having passed the job from father to son since the first Kumari.
He saw thousands clamor to meet the Kumari as she is being paraded around Kathmandu for hours during the festival of Indra jatra, with crowds of believers following her golden chariot, throwing offerings and shouting for her blessings.
A kumari gets visited by so many people but they have to stay calm. It is believed that the royal kumaris blessing sustains the peace and prosperity of the country.
The end of an era:
As soon as a Kumari turns 11, it is time for her to enter the mortal world. The caretakers usually begin looking a new Goddess a few years early. Because it can take a while to find the right candidate.
Robbing a girls childhood days?
In recetn years, critiques of the Kumari tradition have emerged. In her ’90s memoir from Goddess to Mortal, ex-Kumari, Rashmila Shakya described the lack of education and the difficulties of returning to normal life.
Since then the critics have called for an end to the tradition.
Also read: Mahaguri – Goddess of purity.