Kumari/ Taleju (living goddess): Nepal

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The child deity: A 1996 picture from India Today
Nanimayya became a chemist. Photo: India Today
Rasmila, at age 16, in the temple that she once was the deity of. Photo: India Today
Anita at age 22: for her going out meant going to her own rooftop. Photo: India Today
Hiramayya, at age 77. Photo: India Today

This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.

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The authors of this page are…

Most of this page has been adapted from

Tryst with the gods, by Vijay Jung Thapa January 31, 1997 India Today

Isabella Tree | Meet Nepal’s Living Goddesses | June 2015 | National Geographic

Isabella Tree first saw a kumari when she visited Kathmandu as a teenager in the 1980s. Her book The Living Goddess is the result of 13 years’ research.

What is a Kumari

(A Kumari is somewhat like a divine Spanish Catholic virgin.)

Kumari is worshipped as Taleju (Tulja in India), a form of Durga. (Newars ruled the city states of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Patan and Kirtipur in the Kathmandu Valley until they were subjugated by the Gorkhas in the late 18th century). During Indrajatra, kings (now Nepal’s presidents) seek Kumari's blessings, touching her feet in public.

Bhaktapur and Patan have separate Kumaris. The Kathmandu Kumari is the most important.

The Taleju tradition

History

Isabella Tree | Meet Nepal’s Living Goddesses | June 2015 | National Geographic


A living goddess can wear only red—the color of creative energy, usually reserved for married women.

Kumaris are revered in the Newar community. They’re believed to have powers of prescience and the ability to cure the sick (particularly those suffering from blood disorders), fulfill specific wishes, and bestow blessings of protection and prosperity. Above all, they’re said to provide an immediate connection between this world and the divine and to generate in their devotees maitri bhavana—a spirit of loving-kindness toward all.

The tradition dates back to at least the tenth century, when young girls and boys across South Asia performed in Hindu and Buddhist rituals as agents for divination. Their presumed connection to the divine and ability to predict the future were of particular interest to Asia’s rulers. Centuries later the tradition was taken up by people who lived on the periphery of the Indian subcontinent—in Kashmir, Assam, Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Nepal—and who followed subversive religions that emphasized female power, or shakti, and tantric possession, a state brought about by magical invocations and rituals in which humans supposedly can be transformed into divine beings with supernatural powers.

Only in the remote mountain fastness of Nepal did the practice of glorifying prepubescent girls (in Nepali the word “kumari” means “virgin girl”) as living goddesses for years at a time become a deeply rooted cult, and only in Nepal is the tradition nurtured with vigor today. To Newar Buddhists, the kumari is regarded as the embodiment of the supreme female deity Vajradevi, a Buddha. To Hindus, she incarnates the great goddess Taleju, a version of Durga.

Today there are just ten kumaris in Nepal, nine of them in the Kathmandu Valley. They’re still selected only from families attached to certain bahals, or traditional courtyard communities, and all their ancestors must have come from a high caste. Being chosen for the position is regarded as the highest honor, one that can bestow innumerable blessings on a kumari’s family. So despite the financial burden and personal sacrifices involved in maintaining a young girl as a living goddess in the modern world, and the challenges of her rehabilitation once she reaches puberty and has to live a normal life again, certain families are still prepared to put their daughters forward for selection.

In Patan only girls from the Buddhist lineage of Hakha Bahal are eligible to become kumaris, and in the end it was the persuasive powers of the bahal elders, and the desire to continue tradition, that won the day.

In medieval times almost every town in the Kathmandu Valley had its own kumari. In the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Patan there was one for almost every locality, as well as a special “royal” kumari, worshipped by the former Hindu kings. Many traditions have since disappeared, some only in the past few decades. In Mu Bahal, a courtyard community five minutes’ walk north of Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, devotees have been worshipping an empty throne since their last kumari retired, in 1972. The Patan Kumari is a royal kumari, representing one of the living-goddess traditions in the valley. In recent years the tradition has come under criticism from human rights activists who say it’s a form of child abuse that hinders the girls’ freedom and education and is especially detrimental to the royal Kathmandu and Patan kumaris, who must observe strict rules of purity and segregation.

But in 2008 Nepal’s supreme court essentially rejected a Newari woman’s petition against the tradition, citing its cultural and religious significance.

(AFP adds: In 2008, Nepal's Supreme Court ruled the living goddesses should be educated and they are now taught inside the palace where they live and are allowed to sit their exams there.)

Ananta Jwalananda Rajopadhyaya, the head priest of the Taleju Temple—which adjoins the old royal palace where Patan’s kings used to worship the royal kumari as their lineage goddess, Taleju—is waiting in the courtyard. This is the first time, the 77-year-old priest tells me ruefully, that there have been only two candidates for the final selection. It would be auspicious to have three. He blames family planning for the dwindling pool of eligible girls to select from and says parents are also becoming more reluctant. “People are not used to following the religious disciplines these days. They are becoming distracted by other things.”

Rajopadhyaya regrets that few people today know how to identify the 32 lakshina, or signs of perfection. Traditionally priests examined the candidates to identify these signs—thighs like a deer, chest like a lion, neck like a conch shell, body like a banyan tree, a gold complexion, the soft voice of a duck, and so on—which are indicative of a bodhisattva, or enlightened being. “Nowadays,” he says, “we simply ask the parents to make sure their daughters are healthy and have no blemishes or birthmarks. Then we check their horoscopes.”

Every Newar has a horoscope, drawn up at birth by an astrologer. A hand-painted scroll of complex tables and diagrams kept in a strongbox in the family worship room, the horoscope bears a person’s private birth name and the astrological signs believed to influence his or her life. A candidate’s horoscope must have no inauspicious indications. The most favorable sign for a kumari is the peacock—symbol of the goddess.

(AFP adds about the Kathmandu kumari: Selection criteria for aspiring Kumaris is strict and includes a number of specific physical attributes such as an unblemished body, a chest like a lion and thighs like a deer. Even if a girl fulfils all the physical requirements, she must then prove her bravery by not crying at the sight of a sacrificed buffalo.)

Customs, legends

From Tryst with the gods, by Vijay Jung Thapa January 31, 1997 India Today


Taleju, the protective deity of Nepal, in one of its numerous forms, is menacing: the embodiment of all horrors of the mortal mind. According to legend, many centuries ago she befriended a Nepali king and would often come in the form of a stunningly attractive woman to play dice with him.

One day a princess interrupted them. Infuriated at being seen by another mortal, Taleju vanished. But after much pleading by the king she relented, and said she would guide him on the condition that he could no longer see her. From then on, Taleju's spirit is brought to life in the form of a virgin girl.

Michael Allen, an anthropologist who has studied the Kumaris, writes: "There is always the implication...that the king developed a strong desire to sexually possess the goddess." That's why, reasons Allen, the Kumaris are always virgins, a far cry from the saucy, dice-throwing Taleju of legend.

Yet, embodied in this tiny girl are all the supernatural powers of the dreaded Taleju. Udhav Karmacharya, the head priest of the huge Taleju temple in the late 1990s, where even today the king is not allowed entry, said: "All Kumaris have latent powers that manifest at any time." He recalled an incident when King Tribhuvan went in for his yearly blessing from the Kumari.

The girl, supposed to anoint the monarch's forehead with vermilion, instead tried to place it on the head of the young crown prince. Karmacharya's father, then head priest, had to literally force the girl's hand onto the king's forehead. It was a bad omen. Six months later, King Tribhuvan died and his son succeeded him.

The Kumari cult comes wrapped in numerous such tales. One of the Kumaris – who was born in and was Kumari in the 1930s - chipped a tooth. Three days later, a huge earthquake shook Kathmandu. Another,

Anita, fell violently sick in 1979, which was a time when the Shah monarchy was in crisis. The royal palace sent the king's physician, who could do little ([how could he] cure a goddess?).

A tantric was also summoned, but he died in the night before completing his incantations. Miraculously, she came around just as the threat to the king was diminishing. "The Kumari feels and experiences what the kingdom is going through," says Karmacharya. Superstition cuts both ways: it may help the kingdom, but it definitely hurts a former Kumari.

How the Kumaris are chosen

Nanimayya was four when her parents were informed that she was a Kumari candidate. All Kumaris are chosen from the Buddhist Sakya community of goldsmiths. A special council starts the search, guided by a list of 32 - sometimes bizarre - attributes: a neck like a conch shell; a voice like a running stream; cheeks like a lion; skin the colour of gold and soft as a duck's.

Once the candidates are shortlisted, the royal astrologer determines who is most compatible with the king. Finally, the chosen one has to go through the ultimate, somewhat nightmarish initiation rite: sit in a dark room full of 108 slaughtered buffaloes and goats, the floor shining with blood, each head illuminated by a lamp. The test of a true Kumari: she doesn't run. Even if later, some wish they should have.

Attire

She is dressed in brilliant red cloth bordered with gold brocade, hair pulled back tight, forehead painted in emphatic black and white, bright vermilion around a third eye in the centre, and a crown of jewels on the head. Surrounded by burning bowls of camphor and devotees seeking her blessings, she sits calmly - immaculate, unperturbed and imposing. A goddess.

Formal schooling

In Nanimayya’s time, Kumaris weren't educated. The reasoning was damning: how can you teach a goddess anything that she already doesn't know.

By the 1990s Kumaris were given rudimentary schooling, though sadly there is a belief that teaching a goddess can lead to blindness. All that she earns as offerings during her reign go to the Kumari Ghar, the temple-cum-palace trust. It was the same even in the 1990s, though by then the government started giving a monthly sum of NR 1,000, (Indian Rs.640 at the 1997 rate), to unmarried Kumaris.

How Unika Vajracharya became the Patan Kumari/ 2015

Isabella Tree | Meet Nepal’s Living Goddesses | June 2015 | National Geographic


Unika Vajracharya is [in early 2015] six years old, a simple schoolgirl. I ask her what she’ll do if, later today, she’s chosen to be a kumari, or living goddess, a role that will bring people to their knees before her.

“I’ll keep quiet,” she says. “I won’t be allowed to go to school. I’ll study at home and receive worship every day.”

Unika is a Nepali from the Newar ethnic group. She lives in Patan, officially known as Lalitpur, a city of 230,000 people of mainly Buddhist influence in the fertile Kathmandu Valley, in the foothills of the Himalaya. The Newars pride themselves on being the custodians of culture in the valley, and an agelong cornerstone of their culture is the worship of little girls as living goddesses.

The selection process involves a secret ritual from which even Unika’s parents will be barred. Is she nervous? I ask. “No,” she says, brightly. “Just excited.”

This is Unika’s second time as a candidate for kumari. She was two years old the first time, too young to remember the esoteric rituals of the selection process. It’s partly Unika’s own eagerness that has persuaded the family to put her forward again. She longs to dress up like a kumari, her hair bound into a topknot on her head, thick kohl lines drawn around her eyes right up to the temples, and on festival days, a red tika painted on her forehead with a silver agni chakchuu—the third eye, known as the fire eye—staring out from the center. This desire to wear the kumari ornaments is in itself considered something special, a sign perhaps that fate, or karma, is pulling her.

Unika’s grandmother Masinu worries that the little girl will be disappointed if she’s not chosen this time. “My hopes are with her. I don’t want her to feel sad.”

It’s a short walk to Hakha Bahal, the courtyard where for centuries members of her extended family have lived and gathered for religious rituals and festivals and where the first part of the selection will take place.

The courtyard of Hakha Bahal, with its towering pagoda roofs, wooden resting platforms, and repoussé bronze shrine to the Buddha Akshobhya—now encased in an ugly antitheft metal cage—is crowded by the time Unika, [her female relatives], and I step inside. Amid the throng of local spectators and well-wishers is three-year-old Anjila Vajracharya. She’s the only other kumari candidate, and she’s dressed for the occasion, perhaps optimistically, in red, like a kumari.

Rajopadhyaya takes the two girls behind a closed door in a corner of the courtyard for the secret first step in the selection. This is intended to whittle down the number of candidates to three. But since there are only two girls, it’s just a formality, over in minutes.

The final selection is made by his wife, Maiya, at their house, a concrete building under construction in the neighborhood of Pim Bahal, to the north of Hakha Bahal.

Having prepared herself through meditation, Maiya is waiting in an empty room upstairs, lamp, waterpot, garlands of flowers, puja trays, bowls of curd, leaf plates of beaten rice, known as baji, and other ritual paraphernalia laid out on a part of the concrete floor that’s been smeared with a purifying mixture of red clay and cow dung. The girls, separated from their mothers, are seated on red cushions facing her. Little Anjila is excited and leaps from her cushion to Unika’s and back again. Unika sits rock still, but her eyes dart about the room. All the onlookers, including the two candidates’ mothers, are directed to leave. Only Maiya and an assistant, a daughter-in-law, remain inside with the candidates.

Moments later we hear Anjila begin to wail. By the time the door is opened again, she’s hysterical and rushes to her mother. Unika remains perfectly composed on her cushion. There’s an air of release after the agonizing suspense.

With growing aplomb, the kumari-elect begins to receive offerings from her well-wishers as, one by one, they kneel and bow their foreheads to her feet. From now on, she’ll no longer be known as Unika but Dya Maiju—Little Girl Goddess. It’s not only her steady demeanor that confirms for the supplicants the presence of the goddess within her. Much to the priest’s gratification, her horoscope, scrutinized moments before the ritual began, bears the portentous sign of the peacock.

Patan’s new living goddess: The kumari’s eyes flashed as I entered the puja room. She was sitting on the golden throne, silver staffs of office on either side, a canopy of golden cobras spreading their hoods above her head, protecting her as they’d once protected Samita, Chanira, and generations of previous kumaris.

The face in front of me was familiar as Unika’s, but it was hard to believe this was the little girl I’d met on her way to the selection five months before. Her gaze bored into me with an aura of imperiousness that made me feel like a child myself. Around her neck hung a silver amulet. Her feet, adorned with silver bell anklets and stained with vermilion, rested amid rice and flower petals on a bronze offering tray. Kneeling on the rice mat before her, I offered a coloring book, crayons, and a modest donation of Nepali rupees. Deftly, she dipped her fingers into a dish of vermilion paste at her side, and I craned forward to present my forehead for her blessing.

After the reign, the pain begins

from Tryst with the gods, by Vijay Jung Thapa January 31, 1997 India Today


"Being Kumari isn't bad, but back in the real world time has left you by."

"Sometimes I Wonder If Being A Kumari Was Lucky"

With the first menstruation, the spirit of Taleju starts leaving the body. And the troubles begin. The way is then "littered with thorns," Nanimayya would say. And all the demons of the mind gang up against you. She said that former unmarried Kumaris were far better off than she.

The plight of cast-off deities is a recurring theme with families of former Kumaris.

Former Kumaris are acutely conscious of how tough life gets once you aren't a goddess. They talk about the need to forge ahead, to accept reality in a place where the shadows of the past don't hover, memories don't haunt and they can again discover a sense of life.

Once cocooned and cosseted in the palace, later they are suddenly forced to find their way in a society that changes almost overnight from grandly medieval to starkly 21st century. They are left between two worlds, growing up extremely withdrawn, their former fame setting them apart, their present trauma making them lonelier still.

Marriage becomes elusive

One of the more suffocating aspects of the Kumari cult is the myth about marriage. When Anita today was a pretty young 22-year-old, her parents needed to look hard for a suitor.

An incarnation of Taleju, even a former one, for most, is difficult to take on as a life partner. Ask Nepalis where former Kumaris end up and many will tell you: as prostitutes or withered spinsters. "Marry one and you'll die," says one, half-mockingly. Myths are difficult to counter.

One former Kumari, Sunina Sakya, got married in the 1990s, concealing the fact that she had been a goddess. No longer a secret, there was marital tension and she refused to speak about her Kumari days.

Hearing all this, Anita - characteristically shy – would say that she did not want to get married. She was a misfit - no friends, did not go out, could not keep up with studies, and had failed her Class X examinations thrice. "Sometimes," she sighed, "I wonder if being a Kumari was lucky..."

"At my age I recall the happier times as a Kumari. It was like being a Goddess."

Fond memories, too

All former Kumaris, though, do retain some fond memories of their time as Kumaris. And with the passage of time, some of the pain dims and confusion turns to clarity. Hiramayya Sakya even forgot the more difficult parts of her life. She would recall the more happier times of playing with the pigeons, bright wings of light, spicy food or light-hearted banter in the Kumari Ghar.

The tough times - marrying late and after much difficulty, not being educated, starting out poor - have been reasoned away as lessons of life. Now, looking after her ailing husband, her grandchildren around her, she is at peace with her tryst with divinity. Though even after seven decades, some memories still shine brightly. "It was," she says simply, "like being a goddess".

A burden on the kumari’s family

Isabella Tree | Meet Nepal’s Living Goddesses | June 2015 | National Geographic


A kumari is an onerous responsibility for all, one that would weigh heaviest on [Unika Vajracharya’s father] Ramesh as the family’s breadwinner. She must wear special clothes and makeup every day and have new festival dresses made of expensive cloth at least twice a year. A room in the house—a precious commodity in the overcrowded city—must be set aside as a puja, or worship, room with a throne where the goddess can receive devotees. The family must perform nitya puja—daily worship rituals—before her every morning. She cannot go outside, except on festival occasions, and then she has to be carried, either in someone’s arms or in a palanquin, so that her feet don’t touch the ground. She can eat only certain foods and no taboo items, such as hen’s eggs or chicken. Everything in the house has to be kept ritually pure. No one in contact with her can wear leather. Above all, the kumari must not bleed. It’s believed that the spirit of the goddess, the shakti, that enters the girl’s body when she becomes a kumari, will leave her if she loses any blood. Even an accidental graze could end her reign. A living goddess is always dismissed when she gets her first period.

Ramesh also is worried about his daughter’s future should she be chosen. She’s expected to return to normal life, but after years of pampering and seclusion, the transition from goddess back to mortal can be difficult. Then there are the dark rumors about the marriage prospects of former living goddesses. “Men are superstitious about marrying ex-kumaris,” Ramesh says. “They believe terrible accidents will happen to them if they try.” The spirit of the goddess may still be strong in a former kumari, it is said, even after the diffusing rituals she undergoes upon her dismissal. Some believe that snakes issue from the vaginas of former kumaris and devour the hapless men having intercourse with them.

“It’s not true, these rumors about husbands of ex-kumaris dying,” Chanira [a former kumari] said. “It’s a myth that is always repeated in the media.” In fact nearly every former kumari of marriageable age, whether in Patan, Kathmandu, or anywhere else in the valley, is married.

Unika’s father, Ramesh, who runs a small shoe shop, has other concerns [as well]. “I’m worried about the costs,” he tells me. “And the purity restrictions that would be imposed on the family.”

Four kumaris—in Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur, and Nuwakot, a fortress on the trade route into the valley from Tibet—receive government support in the form of a monthly stipend while in office and a pension for life when they retire. In real terms, though, the value of this grant barely covers the cost of clothes and worshipping materials.

“Being kumari is a gift. I feel blessed that I was chosen,” Chanira [a former kumara said]. “But there are things that should be improved for the welfare of the kumaris. Like greater financial support from the government to cover the expenses of rituals and the goddess’s education. And counseling to explain how her life will change after she finishes as kumari. I’d like to see a support network of former kumaris helping those who’ve just been dismissed. I’m worried that if we don’t see these changes, we may lose the tradition altogether.”

‘Cast-off [former] deities’

Hiramayya

Born 1920

She succeeded in preserving only the happier memories of her few months as Kumari - a bad case of acne was a sign that Taleju had abandoned her. Hiramayya would tell her granchildren stories of the days she was a goddess. In her seventies there was a serenity and acceptance that comes with age, the inevitabilty of fate: "The gods willed it (her being a Kumari). It was a chance of being one with Him."

Nanimayya Sakya

Born in 1954

By the time she was in her 40s, Nanimayya Sakya struggled hard to make both ends meet as a pharmacy shop owner.

"We are suddenly left with nothing," she would say.

In a torn folder, in an old file box, Nanimayya kept some of the mementos of her Kumari days. A yellowed photograph, an old newspaper article, some gold brocade - all kept away from her husband who hated being reminded of that phase in her life. So did she, bitter for decades after ceasing tobe a Kumari. "While as Kumari everything was wonderful, later things became so tough, so difficult to overcome."

She married a man who did not like her talking about her Kumari days. She ran a small chemist shop, filling out prescriptions, or just doing the usual household chores. She craved the ordinary. She had two daughters. When they were small, the priests came asking for Kumari candidates - she shooed them away. "All the problems came back to me...I decided it wasn't worth it for my daughters."

Sunina Sakya

She did not like talking about her Kumari reign. Some details about her are given in this article.

Anita Sakya

Born in 1975

For Anita Sakya the early years of her life seem "wasted" as she, in her 20s, struggled to get into university. Nobody has given much thought about what would happen to them once the goddess returns to ground.

Anita was pretty. In her early 20s she liked make-up. It was like a hangover from her Kumari days: she loved to line her eyes with kohl. At home Anita was still treated like a goddess, often not allowed to sit on the floor. She became moody, withdrawn and going outside meant the rooftop. She did not like to go out. People recognise her. A reminder of the past. She did not like that

Rasmila Sakya

Born c.1981

She was a living goddess from 1984-92.

From age three, for eight long years, she was worshipped as the Royal Kumari of Nepal. Always on display, she lived inside the red-brick palace with intricate wood carvings of almost every god in the Hindu pantheon. But she was the one pampered and feared the most.

An angry squeal would convince startled devotees that she was predicting imminent doom, a good-natured laugh, peace and prosperity. Every natural calamity would be attributed to her wrath and a bout of illness would foretell more.

And, once a year, the king of Nepal would bow down to the fidgeting girl-goddess - as he still does - to seek permission for another year of reign. For most Nepalis, this tradition, an amalgamation of myth and reality, remains a living and intrinsic part of their culture.

Then somebody else became a Kumari. After the end of her reign, the free fall from goddess to ordinariness was devastating. Years of being ogled at resulted in her being bitterly shy and, often, depression - pining, brooding over the past - left her wandering from room to room in her family's small house, buried in the labrynthine alleys of old Kathmandu.

As a Kumari she had no family, ate when she wanted to (who can deny a goddess?) and was carried everywhere. Back home, she had to grapple with reality. "She didn't even understand who we were and how to address us," said Pragyadevi, her mother. Rasmila made an effort to make friends, pick up the strands of her life and get good grades at school - but the past was never too far away.

Rasmila became an absolute antithesis of Taleju, the fierce demonslaying goddess of whom she was once a living incarnation.

Among her chattering happy family, Rasmila was particularly distant, lonesome. Often, she asked her mother in anguish why she ever became a Kumari. In an ironic twist of fate, she was chosen over her younger sister. At the age of 16 she was only in class eight. Children at school made fun of her, but the flip side was that the principal bowed to her.

What former deities do when their reign ends

Isabella Tree | Meet Nepal’s Living Goddesses | June 2015 | National Geographic


Samita Vajracharya, the outgoing kumari, had been conspicuous by her absence at the gathering in Hakha Bahal [when her successor Unika Vajracharya was chosen]. Though her house overlooks the courtyard, she had been too shocked by her dismissal five weeks earlier, following the start of her first period, to make an appearance.

Months later I met with 12-year-old Samita in her friend Chanira Vajracharya’s house on the busy main road, just yards from Hakha Bahal. Chanira had been the Patan Kumari before Samita. Their families had always been close, and their shared experience as living goddesses had brought Chanira and Samita closer still.

Samita, a talented player of the sarod, a type of lute, had just come from a music lesson. She was accompanied—as always—by her mother, because crowds, traffic, public transport, noise, uneven pavements were all too daunting for her on her own. Strangers also were unnerving. Although she smiled as I asked questions, her lips remained firmly sealed.

“As a kumari, you never speak to outsiders,” Chanira explained, while Samita stared resolutely into her lap. “It was a year or so before I could manage a conversation with someone I didn’t know. Even now, at college, I find it hard to stand up in front of the class to present my work.”

Chanira, 19, is studying for a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Kathmandu University School of Management. Tutored at home by teachers who gave their time for free while she was the kumari, Chanira had been given her “school leaving certificate,” graduating with distinction. Bright, expressive, impressively fluent in English, it was hard to imagine she’d ever been at a loss for words.

“I was 15 when I got my period, so I was waiting for it to happen,” Chanira said, “but Samita was only 12, so it was more of a shock. It’s a really emotional time. When you give the goddess’s ornaments and throne to someone else, it feels like someone has died. You’re in mourning.”

What was it like for Samita when she was dismissed? I asked. Chanira repeated the question softly in Newari for her friend, painstakingly translating her whispered responses.

For Samita, the weeks directly after the appointment of her successor had been exceptionally painful. Ideally a kumari should live next to her ancestral courtyard. Unika’s family had stayed with Samita’s for a month while accommodations were made ready for them next door. Every day Samita had watched devotees queuing in the family sitting room, while another little girl took up the throne in her old puja room.

Now Unika and her family—and the kumari throne—had moved to the house next door. Samita was at school and making headway. She had friends, some of whom had visited her throughout her three and a half years as the kumari. But she still dreamed sometimes that she was the kumari—dreams from which she would wake up with a pang of regret.

Unscathed by the April 2015 earthquake

Keshav Pradhan, The Times of India, May 03 2015


April 2015’s earthquake could not change the daily worship of Kumari, Nepal's living virgin goddess, though her temple was located in the otherwise devastated Basantpur Durbar Square.

Kumari Ghar, a three-storey architectural marvel, stood unharmed in the midst of the rubble of temples and palaces.

Most temples that towered over Kumari Ghar -Kasthamandap which gave Kathmandu its name, Dusavatar, Maanju Deval (Shiva), Narayan, and Krishna temples - disappeared. The Swet Bhairav idol collapsed.

However, in Kumari Ghar no one was hurt

“Kumari Ghar withstood the earthquake because of Kumari's powers,“ said 48year-old Gautam Shakya, an 11th-generation caretaker of Kumari. At the time of the quake, Kumari was blessing devotees on the first floor of the wood-and-brick house. Tourists, mostly Chinese, were on the ground floor. “Kumari Ghar started swaying. After the tremors, the temples and palaces all around were in ruins, 88 people lay dead outside. Nothing happened to Kumari Ghar or the devotees and tourists inside.“

A guide asked the tourists to think of Kumari and hold on to the wooden pillars tight, recalled Gautam Shakya.. After the visitors left, Kumari, a sevenyear-old girl, was brought to the ground floor. Her darshan [beholding her in person] was stopped for some time.

However, every morning, karmacharyas (Newar priests) from Taleju Temple continued to arrive with offerings of flowers, akshata, dhup and samaya baji (typical Newari prasad).

Two lion statues guarding the entrance continued to stand as before. Outside Kumari Ghar, wooden beams and planks used for making Kumari's rath during Indrajatra, a festival that precedes Dussehra by a month, remained intact.

Barring the chipping of some slabs at its base, Taleju Temple was not damaged.


National Geographic’s EDITOR’S NOTE: [After] the earthquake struck Nepal on April 25… The kumaris in the Kathmandu Valley survived the disaster and the severe aftershock on May 12, as did their residences in Kathmandu and Patan. But buildings and temples came down all around them. The former kumaris featured in Isabella Tree’s story also survived.

Patan Kumaris

These are the names of some 21st century kumaris. Additional information about previous kumaris, and their reigns, even about a single kumari, may please be sent as messages to the Facebook community, Indpaedia.com. All information used will be gratefully acknowledged in your name.


Chanira Vajracharya

Samita Vajracharya (? - 2015)

Unika Vajracharya (2015-)

Kathmandu kumaris

These are the names of some 20th and 21st century kumaris. Additional information about previous kumaris, and their reigns, even about a single kumari, may please be sent as messages to the Facebook community, Indpaedia.com. All information used will be gratefully acknowledged in your name.


Hiramayya

Nanimayya Sakya

Sunina Sakya

Anita Sakya

Rasmila Sakya

Matine Shakya (2008-17)

Trishna Shakya (2017- )

2017: Trishna Shakya

Nepal names 3-year-old as new 'living goddess' | Sep 27, 2017|AFP


HIGHLIGHTS

Trishna Shakya was selected from among four candidates, Uddhav Man Karmacharya, a Hindu priest who attends to the Kumari. said.

The outgoing Kumari, Matine Shakya, was anointed in 2008 at the age of three


Trishna Shakya will be taken from her family home to live in a palace in Kathmandu's ancient Durbar Square where she will be cared for by specially appointed caretakers.

Shakya —like her predecessors, belongs to the Newar community indigenous to the Kathmandu valley — will only be allowed to leave her new home 13 times a year on special feast days.

She will be paraded through Kathmandu in ceremonial dress and elaborate makeup to be worshipped.

When outside, the Kumari — who is considered an embodiment of the Hindu goddess Taleju — is carried because her feet are not allowed to touch the ground.

But the number of girls being put forward by their families to be selected as a Kumari has dwindled in recent years.

See also

Kathmandu, 1908

Kathmandu: What the 2015 earthquake destroyed

Kumari/ Taleju (living goddess): Nepal

Nepal earthquake: 2015

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