Hindu priests carried a three-year-old girl away from her family today in Kathmandu.
They took the girl, Trishna Shakya, to a temple in center of the capital city. There Hindus and Buddhists alike will revere her as a Kumari, the living incarnation of the divine feminine.
When a Kumari reaches puberty, the priests look for a new one. Trishna was one of four final candidates to fill the post. Priests studied her horoscope, checked to make sure she had perfect teeth, no scars, and a checklist of other qualifications before declaring her the living goddess.
Worship of the Divine Feminine in Nepal
Nepalese devotees recognize the divine manifested in every living thing, as well as inanimate objects. A statue of a specific goddess, therefore, incarnates that particular deity. A Kumari is similar: a living person in whom the goddess is recognized and adored. More specifically, she is the four-headed, ten-armed goddess Taleju Bhawani, incarnate.
Kumari candidates must fulfill the goddess’s “32 perfections.” These include a neck like a conch shell, a body like a banyan tree, eyelashes like a cow, thighs like a deer, a chest like a lion and a voice soft and clear as a duck’s.
The rigorous 21 day selection process corresponds with the festival of Dashain, one of Nepal’s major religious celebrations. It included tests and trials for the young candidates, including spending a night amidst the severed heads of ritually sacrificed goats and buffaloes.
The successful candidate will live under the watchful eyes of a team of caretakers in the ancient palace. She will only leave the temple 13 times per year for festivals and holy days.
A Kumari Ends Her Career at Puberty
Tradition holds that the goddess leaves the Kumari in the event of a major illness, heavy blood loss, or at the onset of menstruation.
“It is our tradition that after the living goddess reaches age 12 we have to find a new one and the search begins. We have to make sure that the goddess is suitable to bring good fortune for the country,” a priest named Gautam Shakya told the Associated Press. He was one of the priests who chose Trishna as the next Kumari.
Trishna Shakya Leaves Home for Temple Life
As Trishna left her house, carried by priests and dressed in scarlet and flowers, hundreds of people lined up to catch a glimpse of the girl. They brought offerings of sweets, eggs, chocolate and fruit.
The priests drove her to visit smaller neighboring temples before taking her to the temple palace where she will reside for the rest of her childhood years.
Trishna’s parents expressed pride, but were also emotional about their daughter leaving home. “She is going to be the living goddess, said her father, said Bijaya Ratna Shakya. “She is just not our daughter but the living goddess of the whole country. I am happy but at the same time I feel like crying.”
“She will take her place on the Kumari’s throne after we perform prayers and tantric rituals,” said priest Uddhav Man Karmacharya.
An Old Himalayan Custom Continues
Some child rights activists have criticised the practice of Kumari. Nevertheless, the custom has continued since its relatively recent inception in the 17th century.
In 2008, Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled that Kumari should receive an education in the palace. They also judged that Kumari should be allowed to sit for exams.
Trishna’s predecessor, 12-year-old Matina Shakya, was selected by the Maoist government after the end of Nepal’s monarchy. She has now retired, carried out the back door of the temple on a palanquin by her family and followers.