A fine black eyeliner stretched through the eyelids, a reddish tinge all over the forehead, with a thin yellow tinge around it, kalki-shaped ornaments adorned on the head, gold-silver tika and traditional dress etc. represents the Living Goddess Kumari of Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur etc. Kumari is worshipped as a living goddess in Nepal mainly by Newars. It is the historical tradition of paying homage to the girls before pubescent period. During the Indrajatra, an ocean of people rises in the squares, alleys, and streets of the valley to visit the Kumari, kept in chariots. The Newari instruments, Bhairav, Mahakali and Lakhe dances and various rituals performed on this occasion show the curiosity and attraction of the people towards the ‘living goddess’. It also lists many stories and histories associated with the Kumari tradition.
Living Goddess Kumari combines the culture, history, and faith of Nepal. It consists of mysterious traditions on the one hand, and legends associated with religious tolerance on the other. No matter what supernatural statements are there regarding how the practice of Kumari began, religious and social beliefs seem to be at the heart of this faith. The sharpness seen in the eyes, the energy seen in the body, the faith seen in the action and the patience reflected in the behaviour of a Kumari, who is revered as a deity, is unique. Belief in divine power is differentiated by these variables of action and reaction.
Kumari is considered as Goddess Taelju Bhavani according to Buddhist rites. The temples and Buddhist monasteries are equally visited by the devotees of both Hindu and Buddhist sects. Buddhists worship the Living Goddess Kumari as Bajradevi and Hindus worship her as Bhavani. Nevertheless, Buddhists and Hindus both pay homage to the living goddess Kumari.
The living goddess Kumari of Kathmandu Valley leaves the Kumari house 13 times a year. During Rato Machhindranath Jatra, on the day of dropping coconuts, Kumari is taken to Lagankhel. The Kumari, adorned with all the ornaments, is carried to the place where the chariot is pulled by a red umbrella. On the day of the Bhoto Jatra of Rato Machhindranath Jatra, Kumari is taken to Jawalakhel. People called the Kumari during jatra to avoid the problem in the procession.
Cultural Unity Between Hindu & Buddhists
The unconditional love of Shah dynasty towards Kumari from the Malla Kal time frame and the effort and dedication of conducting the historical culture of the Kumari selection and worship can be regarded as the pristine and unexplored culture of Nepal. Be it kings or government’s people or locals, everyone worships Kumari with the same level of enthusiasm. The culture of organizing the Kumari Jatra and receiving offerings, tika and blessings from the Goddess Kumari during the biggest Nepalese festival – Dashain is one of the rare and century old festivals of our nation. Besides these, this historical tradition has also increased the harmonious relation between Hinduism and Buddhism. Goddess Kumari is working as the meeting point between different religions. As a result, the significance of Living Goddess Kumari has been popularized even more and has sacrificed a lot in bringing cultural unity and religious tolerance between Nepalese.
Although this is not the root cause of the Kumari tradition, cultural scholars and historians claim that Kumari worship existed in one form or another before the Middle Ages. The Tantric tradition of worshiping the living Goddess Kumari is believed to have been first started by Buddhists in the valley. In the Lichhavi period, during the reign of King Mandev, it was customary to keep Kumari in different places of Kathmandu and worship them. Even now, it is customary to worship Kumari in 32 Newari communities of Kathmandu. Apart from that, Kumaris are also worshiped in the Newar communities of Sankhu, Bungmati, Banepa, Dhulikhel, Trishuli and Palpa.
Among all the Kumaris worshipped in Nepal, the Kumari of Basantapur has more facilities and is gaining much worship, puja, and respect. However, the other Kumaris of Kathmandu valley like Bhaktapur and Patan are not treated and respected like her. There is a reason behind this. After conquering the valley, Prithvi Narayan Shah came to Kathmandu. It was the day of Kumari Jatra, so he received the tika and blessings from the Kumari of Basantapur. It was the day of celebration and happiness so keeping this in mind Prithvi Narayan Shah decided to always conduct the Kumari Jatra.
Because of this reason, Shah Dynasty Kings were so faithful towards the Goddess Kumari. Onwards then every King started to organize and celebrate the Kumari Jatra every year. It was the practice and rules for the mandatory visit of the King to the Basantapur Gaddhi and receiving tika, blessings and offerings from the Kumari. Slowly, every locats be it of Hindu or Buddhists, starts to worship her as a result Kumari of Basantapur is popularly known as ‘Princess’.
It is said that Jayaprakash Malla established the practice of Kumari in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur. King Jayaprakash Malla practiced the custom of keeping a separate Kumari as the original Kumari. The national Kumari, who was selected from the Shakya family with 32 traits, is kept in a Kumari house near the Durbar Gaddi Baithak of Hanumandhoka. The Kumari house was built by King Jayaprakash Malla. Tantric worship is performed in this house, which is built by completing all the methods of architecture. There are two lion statues at the main entrance of the Kumari Ghar and a statue of Mahishamardini Durga is placed on the pylon, which is considered to be the symbol of the Kumari.
This unique and mysterious tradition of living deities in the world exists only in Nepal, which can give a new identity to Nepali art culture and tradition in the world. If the ‘Kumari Brand’ can be explained to the connoisseurs, scholars and tourists, the attraction towards it can increase. There has been a lot of research on the Kumari as a living goddess. Mary Slusser, a scholar who has studied the culture and traditions of the Kathmandu Valley for a long time, has also pointed out the possibility of creating a magnetic interest in the Kumari tradition and the history associated with it.
-By: Kusum Kharel for Land Nepal