Anthropology: Nepal’s Royal Kumari Culture

Anthropology: Nepal’s Royal Kumari Culture

Have you ever heard of living goddesses? Yes, in Kathmandu valley you can find them. Kathmandu is the capital city of Nepal where you will find the omnipotent living deities. Most young and virgin Mewari girls are eligible to become Nepal’s Royal kumari. They enjoy a Royal life before they attain puberty. This age-old Nepal’s kumari tradition is not known to many. The tradition of living deity would appear strange to many. However, the Nepalis believe the slightest glimpse of kumari can bring them a fortune. They also believe kumari inherit the power of Teluja and Goddess Kali.

Anthropology: Nepal’s Royal Kumari Culture

The lifestyle of Nepal’s Royal Kumari

After becoming a kumari, the life of these young girls changes completely. Only for ceremonies, Nepal’s Royal kumari can leave her palace. Moreover, her parents cannot visit her often. Members from the caretaker’s family can be her playmate. Nepal’s royal kumari is supposed to wear red clothes all the time. Additionally, the red-eye on the forehead should always be present. Whenever she visits an outside palace, she must use her golden palanquin.

Some Superstitious Belief

  • She won’t put her feet on the ground. Only when Taleju leaves her soul she would walk around the courtyard (Durbar Square) of the palace. Even the president and prime minister touch Nepal’s royal kumari’s feet to seek blessings.
  • For some people for good fortune, getting a glimpse of Nepal’s Royal Kumari is very auspicious. Hence, you can find a lot of people gathering in the courtyard and wait anxiously to view her through her window
  • Both the Hindus and Buddhists worship the living deity. Moreover, there are some fortunate people like high post officials or bureaucrats who get the opportunity to seek their blessings from the kumaris seated within the chamber. An inclined iron seat is generally used for the kumaris
  • People believe Nepal’s royal kumari has a special power to predict illness. Her predictions for the visitors are expressed as gestures she exhibits. For that reason, her actions are kept under close watch

Signs and Their Meaning

  • Loud Laughter or crying symbolizes serious illness and near-death
  • If she is rubbing eyes it symbolizes imminent death
  • You can face imprisonment if she is found to be shivering
  • If she is picking at food offerings that symbolizes the financial loss

Criteria for Selecting Nepal’s Royal Kumari

The selection procedure of a living goddess is quite elaborate. Most seniors are assigned the responsibility of selection. They are Buddhist Bajracharya, Chief Priest, Royal Astrologer, Priest of Telaju are responsible for selecting the kumari (virgin). They found Nepal’s Royal Kumari a healthy girl child, without any cuts or scar on the skin, intact teeth will be the best fit. Once selected the kumari has to pass a test of 32-body perfection. A ritual is known as “Battis Lakshan”.

Criteria for 32 Body Perfections -some sample

  • She should have a banyan like body
  • Her eyelashes would be like that of a cow
  • She should have a conch shaped neck
  • Her voice must be as sweet as a duck
  • She must have a chest like a lion 
  • She must not be bleeding, etc.

Loss of Throne

Hindu and Buddhists believe that kumaris are symbols of pureness. Like a God, in Human sole, she embodies the power to protect. As it has been mentioned earlier, Nepal’s royal kumari should have no blood loss from her body should be pre-pubescent. Search for a new kumari (virgin) starts as soon as the reigning kumari reaches her adolescence and starts menstruating. She becomes impure to continue as a human deity. She gets dethroned and a new kumari takes her place.

However, the dethronement can happen in any kind of blood loss from the body. So, utmost care should be practiced to retain holiness. Otherwise, if dethroned, the kumari will be subjected to normal life no more royal stature. 

Kumari House and Life of Nepal’s Royal Kumari

It may sound luxurious to live a royal life. However, the truth is the opposite. It’s very difficult to live life in seclusion. Further, those who become kumaris are young girls who have to leave their parent’s house at a very young age. There are no avenues for education ie. schools and socializing. It might be a proud affair of parents to give birth to a daughter so famous at a young age. However, they might be feeling sad to stay away from their daughter. Strict and conservative tradition becomes monotonous. Yearly 13 times the parents can have a glimpse of their daughter when she is out of Kumari House. Otherwise, she spends her day in a poorly lit room attending visitors or worshipping.

Origin of Nepal’s Royal Kumari

If you visit the Durbar Square in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, you may be fortunate to have a glimpse of the living Goddess Kumari. The tradition of living Goddess worship was inherited by Shahs and Mallas. The beautiful Newari girls below three years of age were chosen. They were regarded as the incarnation of Goddess Taleju. The Newari mostly resided in Kathmandu were religious at heart, and organized religious festivals at large. Hence, girl children from that clan can only be chosen as Nepal’s Royal Kumari. 

From the 17th century, the Malla king innovated the tradition. To honor the live deity of Goddess Taleju the institutes a huge ceremony. Later the Shah kings adopted the tradition. As per legends, king Jaya Prakash Malla tried to lure the young living Goddess. Goddess Taleju appeared before him and warned him. The Goddess also declared she would reside within Nepal’s Royal Kumari.

History has it that King Prithvi Narayan Shah ousted the Mallar dynasty and established one of his own the Shah dynasty, but all traditions remained the same. the towards them kumaris. Till 2008, it can be stated that King Shah visited Darbar to seek the blessing of Nepal’s Royal Kumari and sought good luck.

The divine of Nepal’s Royal Kumari can be concluded with the devastating earthquake. Hoses, land, and temples were destroyed in and around Nepal. Especially Kathmandu, which recorded the maximum loss. But the Durbar and Kumari were left unharmed.

Best Time To Visit

In August or early September, the Indra Jatra is a pompous festival that is celebrated in Kathmandu. It would be a spectacular scene to visualize Nepal’s Royal Kumari boarding in a chariot and traveling through the narrow lanes of old Kathmandu. Millions of followers and devotees gather to visualize the gorgeous procession. Would you like to participate? It would be worth visiting. Besides, the beautifully decorated chariot of the kumari, the chariots of Lords Ganesh and Bhairav gets pulled. Masked people dance along the procession. It is worth viewing.

Nepal's Royal Kumai

Reason Why Nepal’s Royal Kumari 

Throughout Nepal Kumaris can be found, Areas like Patan, Bungamati, Bhaktapur, Kathmandu, and other Newari communities have their kumaris. Further, Kathmandu’s kumari also known as Royal Kumari is the superior most in comparison to others. The reigning kumari is Trishna Shakya. On 27th September 2017, she took over the position from Matina Shakya. To become a living Goddess she quitted her parents. As well as twin brothers at the age of three.

Myths About Nepal’s Royal Kumari in Hindu/Buddhist Mythology

The myths of Hindu mythology have a long cultural and traditional bonding. In the writing by Isabela Tree about Nepal’s Royal Kumari, she explains the existence of kumari tradition within Hinduism from pre-Vedic time. The age-old Hindu mythology Mahabharata has mentioned Kumari as Durga who killed the demon king Mahisasur. Moreover, the 8th-century Buddhist manuscript mentions the living Goddess the Kumaris.

Cultural history can make you aware of the mythological beliefs about the kumaris. There are three myths:

  • First the Mallya king Jayaprakash Mall used to play dice with Taleju every night. One day Jayaprkash’s wife realized the truth. This incident angers Teluja and she refuses to return. Moreover, she proposed to pick a virgin girl from the Newari cult. Furthermore, she proposed to reside in the form of kumari. Also, it would protect the country.
  • Second, there is a myth that around the 16th century the Malla king Trailokya was in a discussion about the country’s welfare with Teluja. At the same time ]they were playing dice. Meantime the Malla king tried to molest her. Goddess Taleju got angry and left never to return. Later on, Trailokya underwent self-realization, and to express regret tradition of kumari worship was introduced
  • A third myth was about the Malla king in the 17th century i.e. Pratap Malla. It is believed that the king used to play dice in secret. Goddess Taleju used to accompany him. One day thought of sexual desire for the Taleju Goddess emerged. That very night in his dreams Taleju appeared and suggested to find a perfect girl child from the Shakya cult and worship her as Kumari.

Culture Of Worshipping Nepal’s Royal Kumari

The tradition of worshipping Sakaya virgin girls was introduced by the Vajrayana sect from Mahayana Buddhism as per the cultural history. More details of worshipping Kumaris, the living God can be found in Jagad Darpan. Further, the red color symbolizes power and energy. So the Kumari should be well dressed in red attire. Her hair should be tied to a top knot. Her forehead should be red with vermillion. 

Interestingly, she cannot touch the ground. Deviation from stipulated rules will lead to dethroning. For example the kumari at Bhaktapur, Sajani Shakya who went to the US for reasons of shooting a documentary on kumari culture. She was just ten years old. In 2007, the Elder Council removed her with the inclusion of a new Kumari.

Furthermore, any kind of blood loss is considered unholy. The culture of worshipping a kumari ends when the girls start menstruating. She becomes impure and loses her post. It is belief but a tragic consequence, if a kumari marries her husband will die.

Human And Child’s Right Activists on Nepal’s Royal Kumari

The ancient practice of kumari tradition was most strict. Especially the strict, no facility kumari Ghars (virgin house). The kumari’s had no exposure to education or getting social knowledge. The main trouble was noticed after their dethronement. Getting adapted to surroundings became tough. This issue got relaxed after the child and Human rights departments intervened, Private tutors were arranged for education. Today the kumaris have access to internet connection and reading magazines that keep them updated about world news. Nepal’s Royal kumari of today can appear in national exams with invigilators at home itself. 

Nepal's Living Goddess, the Kumari Devi, 9, observes a chariot festival in Kathmandu on March 29. The goddess is worshipped by both Hindus and Buddhists. She's selected as a young child and lives an isolated and secretive existence and is rarely seen in public. Her historic home survived last month's earthquake with only minor cracks. She's being held by her caretaker Gautam Shakya.

Women’s Liberation and Nepal’s Royal Kumari

The constitution of Nepal commits equality in gender in comparison to the old tradition and culture of Kumari worship. The kingship of yesteryears had introduced such cruel tradition. For selection purposes besides the 32-physical identification criteria, the little girl children were subjected to spend a night with heads of sacrificial goats and cows. These rituals were found strictly against a girl’s freedom of choice by the Humanity and child rights activists.

The woman from Modern Day Nepal

The transition of women is prominent in Nepali society. The success of Nepali women is now equivalent to their male counterparts. Women in recent times have abolished the concept of male domination. Even the age-old Nepal’s royal kumari strict and segregating lifestyle has been relaxed. 

Mrs.Swapan Kumar Mall a former lawmaker and human rights activist commented the culture has provoked supremacy in Kumaris. They have begun to believe they are superior power as all bow to her.

Tips to Visit Nepal’s Royal Kumari

  • In Kathmandu, visit Durbar Square to meet the living Goddess
  • Entry is free
  • Photography inside the courtyard is strictly prohibited
  • Old wooden carvings of deities and Nepaly symbols are attractive
  • The divine inheritance and relics have disappeared living the kumari and caretaker alone
  • In general, the kumari appears in the window twice daily. If the visiting time matches you can get benefitted and visit for free. Or else pay extra for some special facility.
  • August or early September is the best time to visit. The Indra Jatra festival of Kathmandu is worth participating
Nepal's Living Goddess

The anthropologists believe the introduction of Nepal’s Royal Kumari is nothing but a story of myths. Nepal’s Royal Kumari is the brainchild of strong beliefs of Hindus and Buddhists who took ancient deities as a strong reason to build faith. Based on superstition and myth the living Goddess worship became an ancient tradition. Recently the ancient tradition has got identified as violating Human as well as Child rights. Moreover, discrimination of genders got portrayed. The ill fates of the Newari girls who were subjected to become Kumaris can face stricter systems as experienced before.


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