There are three kinds of intelligence: one kind understands things for itself, the other appreciates what others can understand, the third understands neither for itself nor through others. This first is excellent, the second good, and the third useless.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Nepal - Day 11

The living goddess. One of those cultural things that you come across that simply blows you away. The Kumari Devi is a young girl who lives in a building known as the Kumari Ghar which is right at the very heart of Durbar Square.
It’s very hard to explain just what the living goddess is, but the title should be pretty self explanatory. The first settlers of
Nepal were the Newars and they were firm, absolute believers in the existence of the living goddess. Over time it has become a religious tradition that has grounding in not just Hinduism but Buddhism as well. Basically it is believed that a spiritual form of the goddess Durga inhabits a child within Nepal. The child is always female, always prepubescent and always perfect. The spirit of the goddess remains in the child until she passes her first monthly blood, upon which moment the power leaves her and she becomes a normal child again.

It’s the selection of the goddess that fascinates me though. It is a highly elaborate tantric ritual made up of layer upon layer of tests. After the preliminary test that questions the young girls 32 attributes of perfection - including the colour of her eyes, the shape of her teeth, the sound of her voice and her horoscope. The 4 to 7 year old girls from the Sakya (the tribe to which the Buddha was born) community are made to confront a goddess in a darkened room. The sight of the Buffalo heads scattered around, the demon like masked dancers and the terrifying noises they encounter scare some of the innocent and younger girls, but the real goddess is unlikely to be frightened. So the one who is calm and collected throughout the tests is the only girl who is entitled to sit on the pedestal for worship as the Living Goddess. Then as a final test similar to that of the Dalai Lama, the Kumari then chooses items of clothing and decoration worn by her predecessor. From that point on the living goddess is more or less confined to the Kumari Ghar, only coming out for religious occasions. She is coddled and nursed for the next few years for any bloodshed, even a minor scratch can make her unsuitable for worship. Once she starts her periods she is essentially discarded and married off. Problem is it is incredibly unlucky to marry an ex-kumari and Sharma informs me the even to this day, no man who has married one has lived longer than five years into the marital period. Weird.

Unfortunately we weren’t allowed in the inner shrine of the Kumari Ghar but we were allowed into the gorgeous gardens at the back. We also weren’t allowed to photograph the goddess herself although I did see her. It was odd really, she was leant on the edge of the first floor banister just watching the world go by and she looked so calm and tranquil. When she notice me staring at her she just gave me a dismissive wave and carried on surveying the gardens. Is she a goddess incarnate? Hell I don’t know, but there was definitely something about her, something not quite normal, something calm and wise about the way she looked at things, about the way she looked at me. Even after those brief few seconds of eye contact, I wouldn’t have said she was an eight year old girl, but maybe that’s just my imagination.

This is the Kumari Ghar from the outside

Inside the door of the Kumari Ghar


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