Home Culture Living Goddess Kumari: Epitome of Divinity, Purity & Power
July 14, 2019

Living Goddess Kumari: Epitome of Divinity, Purity & Power

  • HB Kham
Living Goddess Kumari in Nepal
Devotees carry Nepal’s living goddess, locally known as Kumari, for a chariot procession during Indra Jatra festival, in Katmandu, Nepal, Sunday, Sept.11, 2011. Indra Jatra marking the end of the monsoon season is celebrated to worship God of rain Indra. (AP Photo/Binod Joshi)

“Living goddess Kumari’ is considered to be endowed with the spirit and divine powers of the goddess Taleju. That’s why even powerful kings and queens used to bow before the Royal Kumari at the national festival of Indra Jatra to get her blessings.

A young virgin girl from the Shakya clan suddenly gets elevated to the position of “Living goddess –Kumari” is an age-old traditional culture in the Newar community.

It is said that this tradition is being observed for over 2300 years. Some people say that this tradition dates back to the 13th century. The word “Kumari” means virgin.

Taleju goddess is considered to be the custodian of royal lineage and virgin mother of the world. Interestingly enough, what is surprising here is that although goddess Taleju is a Hindu Goddess, a virgin girl, who takes the position of a Kumari by birth is Buddhist.

Therefore, the ancient tradition of worshiping a virgin girl in the form of Kumari goddess is a symbiosis of both Hindu and Buddhist religious practices in Nepal.

Selection of Kumari:

A young virgin girl who has not yet reached the age of menstruation from Shakya clan, having 32 perfections of the goddess are considered as pre-requisite, for a young girl to be elevated to the position of a Royal Kumari or goddess Kumarif for worship. These 32 perfections include the following traits;

  • Sound in health with no suffering of ailments
  • Unblemished skin
  • Black hair
  • Big eyes
  • Sonorous voice
  • Slender arms
  • Delicate hands and feet
  • No bad body odor
  • Must not have shed any blood

On the first day, she goes through her menstruation, she loses her power of divinity. This follows two week’s rituals with the priest before she could return to her normal life.

Goddess Kumari lives in a three-floored wooden house known as Kumari Ghar or Kumari House located on the southern end of Basantapur Durbar Square. It is also a tourist spot.

Kumari goddess is worshipped as the goddess of wealth during the festival of Tihar. The clothes and ornaments of Kumari are handed down from one kumari to the next. The Kumari usually uses a red tika on her forehead just above her third eye.

There are several folk legends and myths about the origin of “Kumari” which are illustrated below.

Legend 1:

The first legend says that stunningly gorgeous goddess –Taleju used to meet King Jaya Prakash Malla- in his royal chamber in the midnight to play the game of dice (Tripasa).

Taleju had asked the king to maintain the secrecy of their clandestine meeting. However, one day the King’s wife stealthily followed her husband and saw the meeting of goddess Taleju and Jaya Prakash in the chamber.

On seeing King’s wife in the chamber, the goddess Taleju in an outrageous mood disappeared from the scene. The king looked very remorseful on the disappearance of the goddess Taleju.

The next night, the goddess Taleju appeared in King’s dream and told him that she would be incarnated as a living goddess in the form of children in the Shakya clan.

The Malla king then initiated the rigorous search for children, who were endowed with the true spirit of goddess Taleju. Then, it began the ancient tradition of “goddess Kumari”. The King also constructed the house for kumari known as “Kumari Ghar”.

Legend 2:

According to the second legend prevalent among the community of Newar, most of the kings of the ancient time used to play dice with goddess Taleju. One day when King Jaiprakash Malla was playing dice with goddess Taleju in his private chamber at night, the king wistfully cast an amorous glance at the beautiful and elegant goddess Taleju. The king even attempted to seduce her through his amorous approach. The infuriated goddess Taleju suddenly disappeared from the room. The king was poignantly disappointed at this. The next moment, the king heard a voice that said, “You have sinned by making amorous advances towards me. So, you will never see me in my original state again. You will pay the penalty of death for this crime. However, if you wish to repent for your misdeed, build a temple for me wherein I will continue to reside in the form of a virgin girl.”

Legend 3:

The third legend says that a young girl was exiled from the kingdom of Jay Prakash Malla. The girl was banished, for the simple reason that the spirit of goddess Gurga had entered into her body. When the queen came to know about the miserable condition of the girl, she was angry and asked the king to bring back the banished girl and reinstate her in the kingdom as the living reincarnation of goddess Durga. So, the tradition of worshiping the living goddess in Malla kingdom began.

Legend 4:

The fourth legend says that King Trailokya had made a sexual and amorous approach towards goddess Taleju while playing dice in the night time. This act of the king outraged the goddess Taleju. She disappeared and never returned to him again. King Trailokya pleaded her again and again through his prayers to return. At last, she agreed to return in the form of a virgin girl from the Shakya clan. Thus began the tradition of goddess Kumari.

Legend 5.

The fifth legend has it that a king was very immoral. He used to seduce young girls. A young girl died during the intercourse with the king. The incident affected the king very much. The guilt-ridden king repented that the girl had returned to her original state of the spiritual goddess. He then started the tradition of creating living goddess Kumari to perpetually remind humanity about the sacred nature of young girls’ purity and virginity.   Even today when a mother sees a dream about a red snake, it is believed to portend that one day her daughter would be elevated to the position of a goddess Kumari.

Legend 6.

Another legend has it that Jai Prakash Malla was instrumental in establishing the tradition of Kumari Jantra and Kumari Ghar after goddess Taleju appeared in his dream and told him, “You will lose the state shortly and another dynasty will overcome your rule. If you want to prolong your rule for a few more years, then build a house for me and start a tradition of Jatra.” The kind did everything according to what was told to him in his dream by goddess Taleju. So, the tradition of Indra Jatra and Kumari House and goddess kumari began.

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