Kumari (The Living Goddess)
Not only does Nepal have many gods, goddess, deities, Bodhisattvas, avatars and manifestations, which are worshipped and revered as statues, images, paintings and symbols, but it also has a real living goddess.The Living Goddess, a young Newar girl with no blemishes is chosen to represent the Goddess Kumari as an incarnation of Goddess Taleju, the tutelary deity of the Malla dynasty and the Shah dynasty which inherited the tradition. The Living Goddess is worshipped with great reverence and even the Shah Kings followed the tradition of receiving tika and blessings from her. Dating back to the 17th century, the practice was institutionalized by a Malla king.
Legend has it that King Jaya Prakash Malla under the influence of alcohol, while playing a game with the visiting Goddess Taleju in the form of a human, started lusting after her. This offended the goddess and she ordered the king to make an oath that he would select a virgin girl within whom she would always reside. The tradition has been an integral part of both Hinduism and Buddhism, a tradition which continues till date.
The predominance of the Kumari cult is more distinctly evident among the Newar community inside the Kathmandu Valley as she has become an inevitable feature of their worship almost in every Vihar and Bahal and including the nooks and corners of Newari settlements. However, it was the Vajrayana sect of Mahayana Buddhism that was responsible for establishing the tradition of worshipping a girl from the Sakya community as the royal Living Goddess. The selection of the Living Goddess is a highly elaborate tantric ritual. There are certain tests a girl has to pass to be the Living Goddess, like the 32 attributes of Perfection, the color of her eyes, the shape of her teeth and the sound of her voice, even the alignment of stars in her zodiac sign plays a significant role. The girls from the Sakya community are made to confront a goddess in the darkened room. The sight of the Buffalo heads scattered around, the demon- like masked dancers, the terrifying noises. Most of the girls do not make it through. As believed all these tests will not effect the real goddess, so the one who is unscathed through the whole ordeal is the one who is entitled to sit on the pedestal for worship as the Living Goddess. Then as a final procession is similar to that of the Dalai Lama, the Kumari, chooses items of clothing and decoration worn by her predecessor.
The god-house “Kumari Ghar” is a storeyed-house of magnificent intricate carvings where the Living Goddess performs her daily rituals. During her tenure in the god-house, Guthi Sansthan, the government trust fund bears her entire expenses including that of her caretakers. Under normal circumstances, her days in the god-house come to an end with her first menstruation.
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 for three days. It is really a grand gala where thaousands’s of people throng in and around the Kathmandu Durbar Square to pay their homage to the Living Goddess.