Kumari: A Rich Tradition in Nepal

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The living Goddess of Nepal: Kumari in Indra Jatra

Who does not want to be the incarnation of Goddess? In Nepal we celebrate the joy of a tradition that beholds the Power, Pageantry and Beauty. It’s a rich tradition: KUMARI and once a year we enjoy the festive Kumari Jatra. A precious word Kumari refers to “Virgin Goddess” in Nepali as the incarnation of Talegu Goddess and has been worshipped for centuries.

Even my blog is named after this wonderful tradition. Interestingly I belong to the same community from where the Royal Kumari is always chosen, Shakya/ Bajracharya Clan. The Kumari is young girl who must have the 32 perfections of the goddess in order to be a Royal Kumari. This unique tradition actually is a good example which represents a combination of both Buddhist and Hindu culture.

But still…….through gender lens the young girl is still a child who is imposed with feminine qualities. The list of qualities to be a Royal Kumari: she must have perfect health without any serious illness, fair skin, black and straight hair, big expressive eyes, a deep voice, and long arms, dedicate and soft hands and feet, no body odor and the most important is she must not have shed any blood. It is believed when a Kumari has her first menstruation; she loses her divine power and is returned to life as an ordinary girl. This clearly indicates the natural process Menstruation marks impurity.

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Girls performing cultural dance” Kumari Nach”

In traditional Nepali society Hindu girls must stay inside a closed room for twelve days after their first menstruation, avoiding contact with male members and even sunlight. At the last day, the girls have to perform specific rituals to return to ordinary life. This is a tradition that has been continued for centuries.  To become the Royal Kumari the young girl has to undergo many tests. Like her horoscope is compared and matched with the King as the Kumari has significant role in relation to the King.  Even though Nepal is no more Monarchial system the tradition is continued with pride.

The Kumari has to live in isolation from her family in a magnificent temple where she performs her daily rituals which is popularly known as “Kumari Chhen” (Kumari House). Her actual family has to treat her with respect and maintain a distance as she is no more ordinary girl. Also it is believed the Kumari’s feet must not touch the ground, if it happens it is considered to be impure. Only fifteen days a year when the Royal Kumari comes out from her temple for festivals. Even if she appears outside the temple in non-festival occasions, the Kumari is carried in a covered palanquin.

There is always two side of coin. In one side the young girls in Nepal treated as the incarnation of Goddess and in other side she is dethrone because of her first menstruation. There is no information available on the impact of this experience on the girls who have held the position but it is clear that they lead very restrictive lives. They lose their childhood and are denied the rights delineated in the Convention on the Rights of the child. In the past, they were denied any education but in recent years their education is undertaken by private tutors. The state has given the provision of a State pension each month for the Kumari who is dethroned.

The popular belief was that a man who marries a Kumari is destined to die early and there was speculation that girls who have been Kumaris are deprived of marriage and motherhood. Recent evidence has shown that some former Kumaris have been married and have had children too.

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