Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Time for a NEW Living Goddess

This is serious stuff and important to many people in Nepal.

The search has begun to replace the current Kumari, or "living goddess." She is considered by many as an incarnation of the powerful deity Kali and is revered until she menstruates, after which she must return to the family. Many Nepali Hindus and Buddhists consider Kumari as an embodiment of Taleju Bhavani, the goddess of strength.
The current Kumari, Preeti Shakya, is now 11 years old and should retire during the annual Hindu festival of Dasain in October. "If we don't change her now, we'll have to wait until next year which could be late," said Deepak Bahadur Pandey, a senior official of the state-run Trust Corporation that oversees the country's cultural matters. "If the girl starts menstruating while serving as Kumari, it is considered inauspicious," Pandey told Reuters on Tuesday. Astrologers are consulting horoscopes of candidates from Buddhist Shakya families to replace her. Traditionally it was believed that the girl's horoscope should be in harmony with that of the king of Nepal (except this is no longer a requirement since there is no longer a King!) The girl who is chosen as the new Kumari must possess 32 attributes. Not too different than the choosing of a new Dalai Lama.

Once chosen, Kumari lives in the Kumari Ghar, a wooden temple in Kathmandu's Durbar Square...right around the corner from the guesthouse where Carly and I stayed. Here's a photo of her digs. She appears at these windows during festivals and on other occasions. Foreigners are barred from the upstairs chamber of Kumari, a leading tourist attraction.
On Indra Jatra, in September, the Living Goddess in all her jeweled splendor travels through the older part of Kathmandu city in a three tiered chariot accompanied by Ganesh and Bhairab each day for three days. It is really a grand gala in which people in their thousands throng in and around the Square to pay their homage to the Living Goddess.
Up until now, one of her main functions was to bless the king. This tradition began with the first king of the Shah dynasty, who annexed Kathmandu in 1768, received a blessing from the Living Goddess. Now that the monarchy has been abolished and the King is no more, what's a living goddess to do?


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