The term ‘Kumari’ is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘young prepubescent girl’. A young Newar girl is presented as the “Living Goddess” known for the popular tradition of the Newars, the original inhabitants of Kathmandu valley. Kumari is believed to be the incarnation of Goddess Taleju.
History of the Kumari
The tradition of Kumari probably began in the Malla period in the 17th century particularly by the last king of the Malla dynasty, Jay Prakash Malla. There are a couple of legends that hint at the origin of Kumari culture. In due course, Shah King firmly followed the tradition of receiving blessings from her.
According to the first legend, Goddess Taleju in the human form would come to the chamber of the king Jay Prakash Malla in the palace and play a game called Tripasa with him. The Goddess was there to help him and to protect he kingdom. She was there to see only the king.
Once the wife of the king came to the chamber to see who the king was sitting within her absence and saw the Goddess Taleju. Being angry, the Goddess disappeared. Later, she said to the king that if he wants her to protect the country, he should search for her in the Newar Shakya community.
The second legend is quite unclear whether it si about Jay Prakash Malla or someone else. As the Goddess and the king were playing Tripasa together, the king showed a kind of lusty behavior to the Goddess. The furious Goddess then believed to be disappeared.
The three cities in the Kathmandu valley are originally the land of Newars. Considering these three cities as different kingdoms, they created ‘Kumari’ for each. The Kumari of Patan, the Kumari of Bhaktapur are important Kumari(s) beside the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu who is the most senior and famous all over the world. Trishna Shakya, a 3 years old girl is the latest Kumari of Kathmandu since 28 September 2017.
How long does she become Kumari?
Once she is appointed as ‘Kumari’ after the strict selection, the spirit of the Goddess Taleju is believed to have been instilled in her body. She does not go out of her residence except on the occasional ceremonies. She remains a goddess until she has her first menstruation.
The moment she enters in puberty or gets in her first monthly period, the Goddess of Taleju is believed to leave her body. Any kinds of serious illness or injury can also affect the continuation of Kumari. The spirit of the Goddess is believed to leave the girl’s body making her ineligible for remaining in the title.
How is Kumari selected?
The moment the existed Kumari becomes ineligible, the search for new Kumari begins. There are some criteria eh candidates need to meet to be the Kumari. Some of the basic criteria are given below:
- Body like a banyan tree
- Thigh like a deer
- Having eyelashes like a cow
- Twenty healthy teeth
- Blake hair/eyes
- 3 to 5 years healthy girl from Shakya family of Newar community of Kathmandu valley
Ensuring the basic physical qualities, the girl is taken to the courtyard of Taleju temple where she has to spend a night among the slaughtered heads of buffaloes and goats and masked men without any sign of fear.
If she passes all these strict tests, she is taken for ritual cleansing of her past life and embellished with Kumari clothes, jewelry and ornaments. And then she is put in the new house. But nowadays the modern Kumari lives with the family.
Superstition Prevailed in Kumari Tradition
After Kumari becomes ineligible due to menstruation or any illness, she becomes an ordinary child and is probably sent with her parents. In the past, the former Kumari was not supposed to get married have the superstitious belief that the man dies soon.
However, the modern former Kumaris have been living an ordinary life like any other girl in society. They get married and beget children as well.
What was the 2007 Kumari Issue?
In 2007, there was a scandal regarding the then Kumari and her visit to the USA. Sajani Shakya, the Kumari of Bhaktapur visited the US to attend the program of releasing a documentary. The elder council of the Newar community removed her from the title claiming it was a violation of Kumari tradition. Since the day of her appointment, she is not supposed to put her feet on the ground out of her residence. However, the public protests had forced the authority to reinstate her with a re-cleansing ceremony.