Just like any other religion, Buddhism and Hinduism come with both pluses and minuses and we just need to work with pluses and ignore negative aspects most of the time. But, there are some traditions about which, well, you just don’t know. We at Team Sivalya think that the tradition of Little Living Goddesses of Nepal is one such tradition. We have had a team debate and still can’t decide, so read along and drop some comments on what you think about it?
Chosen at a very young age, Nepal’s Living Goddess lives in a small medieval palace on Kathmandu’s Durbar Square. To Nepalis she is the embodiment of Devi (the universal goddess) and is chosen from a caste of Buddhist goldsmiths to watch over the country and protect its people. Although from a Buddhist family, she is revered and worshipped both by Buddhists as well as Hindus. She lives an isolated and secretive existence and is rarely seen in public, deprived from friends, school, and a regular childhood every other little girl is entitled to. She is not allowed to go outside of her palace, except few times a year in a religious procession of holy festivals with huge pomp and show.
Her feet are never supposed to touch the ground and she is pretty much carried everywhere in arms of her caretakers, usually her parents. Even inside her palace home. There is a customary dress up session every day, in an elaborate gold and red dress, as she is an embodiment of Goddess Durga. Her mother and aunts learn the art of traditional makeup after she’s chosen through practice.
The word “Kumari” means “unmarried girl” or “virgin” and to be chosen, she is tested for 32 very specific physical attributes, including “eyelashes like a cow,” “thighs like a deer,” and a “voice as clear as a duck.” She is also put through a secret test for signs of fearlessness and serenity and her astrological chart must be considered favorable to the King of Nepal’s. She must relinquish her position to a new Goddess, once she reaches puberty.
She is considered extremely auspicious and current and previous kings all take her blessings before any new project. The power of the Kumari is perceived to be so strong that even a glimpse of her is believed to bring good fortune. Crowds of people wait below the Kumari’s window in the Kumari Chowk, or courtyard, of her palace, hoping that she will pass by the latticed windows on the third floor and glance down at them. Even though her irregular appearances last only a few seconds, the atmosphere in the courtyard is charged with devotion and awe when they do occur. The better better connected petitioners visit the Kumari in her chambers where she sits upon a gilded lion throne to seek her blessings.
The other side of thought process, thinks of these little girls as being exploited in the name of culture and religion. Rules for whole process are usually made by men, with little regards for little girl involved in all of this. She is chosen, prayed to, lifted to a life of enchanting greatness and then unceremoniously set aside. Unlike the similar process in nearby Tibet, where successor of Dalai Lama are chosen from amongst little boys who lives his entire life as a Dalai Lama, Goddess Kumari lives this life only till she reaches puberty and no more than 16 years of age in case her periods are delayed.
Life after being a living Goddess proves to be really hard for these girls. As chronicled in numerous stories by acclaimed writers, many of them have said that it’s difficult for them to return to a normal life. As a Kumari, they lived in a temple palace, are carried on a chariots during festivals and worshipped by thousands of Hindus and Buddhists. But later on, the rank of ex-goddesses reduces them to status of a mere mortal. As Kumaris are confined to their houses or temples and are subject to strict daily rituals, some activists claimed it to be a form of child labour, hindering their freedom and education.
Chandra Bajracharya, pictured here was once a living Goddess. Becoming a human, according to the Ex-Goddess, was demanding. At 16, she still couldn’t navigate her neighbourhood and her mother walked her to school. She also had problems with classmates and teachers. Bajracharya is now a business student at Kathmandu University. She hopes to become a banker. She concurred that the Kumaris should be entitled to formal education, and there should be more focus in developing their social skills. She took pride in becoming the first Kumari to sit the school-leaving certificate exam. But despite her subsequent difficulties, she said that to have been a Kumari was “a blessed life.” “Being a Kumari was a matter of great pride and respect for me and my family,” Bajracharya said.
And herein lies the debate. Is this process of worshipping Living Goddesses in Nepal, a good thing as it provides a glimpse of divinity to a little girl child and benefits her for life. Or is it an age old custom which is past it’s significance and should be done with. We at Team Sivalya can’t decide. Do comment in the section below and let us know what you think?!?