When we were in Nepal on our first RTW we learned that the people have a fascinating tradition. They select and worship “Kumari” – young, pre-pubescent girls who are believed to be the manifestations of divine female energy. To the Nepalis, they are living goddesses.
Although there are several Kumaris throughout Nepal, the best known is the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu, and she lives in a palace in the center of the city.
The selection process for her is incredibly rigorous. Candidates must be Buddhists from the Newar Shakya caste (Buddha’s clan of silver and goldsmiths). Any girl considered must be in perfect health with no physical blemishes. She can never have shed blood or had any diseases. And she must not have lost any teeth yet.
If they pass that test, the girls are then examined for the “32 perfections of a goddess” such as:
- A neck like a conch shell
- A body like a banyan tree
- Eyelashes like a cow
- Thighs like a deer
- Chest like a lion
- Voice soft and clear as a duck’s
In addition, her hair and eyes should be very black, she should have dainty hands and feet, and a set of twenty teeth.
For the girls who pass these tests, the selection process becomes even more daunting. One test involves spending a night alone in a room among the heads of slaughtered goats and buffaloes … without showing fear. Yikes! These girls are some very tough cookies.
LIFE OF THE ROYAL KUMARI
Once selected, the Kumari’s life will never be the same. Those who believe in the concept say she lives a divine life. Detractors claim she is under house arrest for 10 years.
“She will leave her palace only on ceremonial occasions. Her family will visit her rarely, and then only in a formal capacity. Her playmates will be drawn from a narrow pool of Newari children from her caste, usually the children of her caretakers. She will always be dressed in red, wear her hair in a topknot and have the agni chakchuu or “fire eye” painted on her forehead as a symbol of her special powers of perception.” –Wikipedia
She holds daily audiences, drawing anxious petitioners ranging from commoners to government officials, all hoping to be touched by her special healing powers and divine grace.
Contrary to behavior we’ve seen in kids around the world, if the Kumari remains silent and impassive throughout the audience, her devotees are thrilled. This is the sign that their wishes have been granted.
In the past, the Kumari received no education because she was considered to be all-knowing. Fortunately, this practice has changed and she is now allowed to attend public schools or hire a tutor.
LIFE AFTER ROYALTY
Once the Kumari hits puberty, her life shifts radically. She becomes mortal again and is ousted from office. She must sink or swim in the real world. Her biggest challenge: finding a husband!
Popular superstition says that a man who marries a former Kumari is doomed to die within six months by coughing up blood. Needless to say, this prediction adds a whole new dimension to dating!