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Kumari in Kathmandu - Nepalese living goddesses

In Nepal, they have living goddesses called Kumari. A special fate awaits them.
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Kumari in Kathmandu - Nepalese living goddesses is written by Tania Karpatschof

Nepal - Kumari in Kathmandu, dolls - travel

In Nepal, they have living goddesses

Nepal is a super exciting country. As you know, it offers good hiking opportunities, but there are also many different and exciting things about the country. The living goddesses of Nepal, Kumari in Kathmandu, are uniquely Nepali and something that not many people know about.

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Nepal - Asia - Kumari in Kathmandu - girl - traveling

Kumari in Kathmandu - Nepal's holiest girl

"Just a minute", we are told in a convoluted English as we take a seat in a small waiting room. The walls are painted in a very light green color, on the floor is a colorful worn carpet. Here is spartan, worn, dirty, with a slightly spicy foreign scent. Only a crooked, worn, sad curtain separates us from our encounter with the 'Living Goddess'.

Excited, we sit in the 'waiting room', where there are pictures of a little dark, pretty, five-year-old girl with a big smile. A couple of dolls and other toys are on display in a display case. 

Finally we hear voices behind the curtain and we are waved in to the little girl. She is waiting for us, sitting on a low gold chair in the middle of the spartanly decorated room. She is wearing red clothes, heavy gold jewelry, her hair is set up in a tight top knot, and she wears a velvety heavy black makeup around her eyes. 

She is pale and quiet and looks us straight in the eyes as she blesses us with a red powder stirred up with rose petals and rice and which she places right in her forehead. It feels cold and sticky, but the blessing fills the body with a warmth and the feeling that we are now elevated above the sins of the past and coming calamities.

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Chosen as goddess

At an age where most girls are in the process of learning to say their own names, running around on their own two legs, playing with dolls and learning to hold a spoon, a group of little girls in Nepal chosen as the living goddesses responsible for protecting the entire nation from accidents and disasters. The living goddess - or "Kumari" - is a human incarnation of the Hindu goddess Taleju Deva; a god in human form worshiped by the Nepalese since 1757. 

To be chosen as the living goddesses of Nepal, potential candidates must complete a series of tests. Their body must be flawless and otherwise meet a wide range of requirements. She must have a 'radiant skin' without marks, spots or scars, a breast like a lion, a neck like a conch, eyelashes like a cow, body like a Bayan tree, thighs like a deer and a voice clear and soft like a duck.

She must have black straight hair and dark eyes. Delicate and soft hands and feet, A small and moist tongue and her sexual organs must be small and shapely and she must not have lost any teeth.

Her personality is tested by the 'test of fashion', a series of blood-dripping and terrifying experiences with half-dead, bloody animals, darkness and eerie screams. She must walk barefoot and alone through a room covered with severed heads of goats and buffaloes lit only by candles, while men dressed as demons leap and howl in the shadows.

According to tradition, she must spend the night alone in the room. And only if she shows no fear and neither screams nor cries is it said that the goddess has accepted her as a temporary home.

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Kumari in Kathmandu, temples, monks

A gilded prison - life as Kumari in Kathmandu

The moment she is elected and enters the house of the Kumari, her life changes drastically. The coumarin lives more or less in a gilded prison. She moves from her family into a palace where specially selected 'aunts' are set to look after her and make sure she adheres to the series of restrictions that must be followed in order for her to maintain her ritual purity and continue to serve as Kumari.

A little carelessness can easily lead to the loss of her divinity. Loss of blood from the body through injury or menstruation is considered as a sign that Kumari's body has been abandoned by the goddess Taleju and she will be immediately retired from her position as Kumari.

She only leaves the house 13 times a year at very special religious festivities, where she is carried or driven in a tub, as her feet are not allowed to touch the ground.

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Is Kumari a human rights issue?

Most Kumari are appointed at a time when they neither understand nor have the opportunity to decide if they want to spend their childhood as goddesses, and where children usually make new friends, learn new things, become curious about life and the world and start their mental development.

To maintain her purity, she has kept isolation from the outside world. For years, she spends her childhood giving blessings and attending religious festivals. Due to this isolated life, the former Kumari girls lack basic social skills and knowledge of the society they will later go out and be a part of. Stubborn myths about an early death for men who marry a Kumari further make it difficult to get married.

Returning to a normal life as a former goddess is therefore not easy. Nepal's human rights and children's activists have argued that the Kumari are confined to their houses or temples and are subject to strict daily rituals and should therefore be seen as a form of child labor. 

In 2008, the Supreme Court of Nepal ruled that the Kumari institution is of crucial cultural and religious importance to Nepal as a nation. However, the court also demanded reforms, so today the conditions for the Kumaris have improved a bit. They have been assigned a private tutor and have gained access to the internet, television, books and magazines. It is a step in the right direction to ensure a better future for the Kumaris after they lose their divinity.

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If you want to experience divine Nepal , then Kumari is obvious to keep in mind.

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About the travel writer

Tania Karpatschof

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