Among the must-see tourist attractions in Kathmandu is the Kumari Bahal (House of the Living Goddess). It is where the Kumari lives, and is situated in the Kathmandu Dubar Square. There are several living goddess in Nepal, but the one in Kathmandu is the one and only Royal Kumari. And of course, like many other first-time tourists in Kathmandu, Yik and I went to pay the Royal Kumari a visit 8)
While one must obtain a permission in order to get close to a living goddess for her blessings, it isn’t too difficult for visitors to catch the glimpse of the goddess. Once a while, when the crowd waiting outside her house is getting larger and larger, the goddess will show up behind the richly crafted window frames of her house for a very few seconds. She won’t say anything, but just a glimpse, and the crowd will be satisfied.
When I saw the goddess, I must admit that I was a bit disappointed. “That’s it?” I thought to myself after the little girl showed up behind the gold colored window, somewhat aloof, and glance down at us for a few seconds. I guess I just expected something different, since the title – the Living Goddess – itself sounded very exotic already.
But after more thoughts on this, I have found that there really isn’t much for me to expect from the Kumari. She is merely a little girl who got nominated by her family for the selection of kumari at the age of four. And since her installment in July 2001, she has been locked up in the house (except for several occasions every year) and worshipped – has her feet touched and kissed – by thousands of people for good fortune thru the years.
I suddenly feel sad for this goddess (btw, her name is Preeti Shakya). She cannot even live with her family and play like all other kids do. Her family can visit her, yet only in a formal capacity. As her playmates, all of them are carefully picked from a small pool of Newari children from her caste. And who would truly like to play with a kumari when one must always surrender to her whatever goodies one has that she may want? Or play whatever games or let her win in the games as she wishes?
I bet the goddess probably feels very lonely sometimes.
As for education, while many kumaris attend school, this Royal Kumari receives her education via private tutors in the Kumari Bahal. In fact, this goddess is not allowed to leave her palace except for a few ceremonial occasions. And when she leaves her palace, she must be carried or transported in a palanquin. For her feet, like all other parts of her body, are sacred and cannot touch the ground. And on top of all these, she has all the ceremonial duties to carry out, and all the rigid rules and customs to follow.
A kumari’s reign ends and reverts to being a mere mortal once her menstruation starts. But can a kumari really get back to a “normal” life? While I respect others’ religious traditions, including those of Hinduism and Nepali Buddhism, I can’t help but question if this is a form of child abuse in the name of religion? What is too much? When is stretching too far? Sometimes it’s very difficult to draw the line…
Here is a good video on youtube about the living goddess.
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