“Kumari Ghar” was built in the 18th century by King Jaya Prakash Malla and is situated inside the area of Kathmandu Durbar Square. The terms ‘Kumari’ and ‘Ghar’ refer to the virgin girl and the house respectively, ‘the house of virgin girl’ while getting their meaning together. Actually, a living girl lives there so it is named the “House of living goddess”.
Living Goddess "Kumari" of Kathmandu, Nepal
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Kumari goddess of Nepal
There are many myths and beliefs behind the invention of Kumari Ghar. Among them, once King Jaya Prakash Malla had maintained a sexual relationship with a pre-pubescent girl. Later on, the King felt guilt and established this house in order to get rid of such an offensive act. This building was renovated in the 20th century too and is rich in architectural parts.
The young girl ‘living goddess Kumari’ is worshipped as the incarnation of the goddess ‘Durga’ and even of ‘Taleju’ who is revered and worshipped by both Hindus and Nepalese Buddhists and this tradition is still kept on day by day.
Simply, there is the tradition of establishing a Kumari Devi in Nepal for a day only on special occasions, but in Kathmandu Valley, this is a prevalent practice. In order to be the goddess Kumari, the 4-5 years little girl must be from the Shakya family of the Newar Community of the Kathmandu Valley and possess some qualities of perfection according to the tantric ritual such as her eyes color must be black, her teeth should be twenty-two, her body like a banyan tree, chest like a lion, small sexual organs with well recessed, the hair must be black and straight, the voice should be clear and so on. Overall, she must be looking beautiful with the appropriate Horoscope.
A glimpse of the living goddess is believed to bring good fortune. So, most of the visitors including Nepalese and foreigners wait in the courtyard of Kumari Ghar for getting a glance at Kumari from the window. The sick and menstrual disorder people visit her in order to get rid of the diseases. The actions of the Kumari determine the prediction of the life of visitors. For example, if Kumari cries or laughs loudly, it is interpreted as a serious illness or death that will happen to the visitors. Similarly, the trembling action of Kumari shows imprisonment while picking an offing food denotes the financial losses of the visitors.
How is Kumari selected?
Once the priests select the candidate, she must undergo yet more rigorous tests to ensure that she indeed possesses the qualities that are needed to be the living vessel of Durga. For e.g. the little girl is released into the courtyard on the occasion of the Dashain festival at the Telaju Temple where the heads of sacrificed 108 buffaloes and goats are scattered here and there as well as the people with horrible demons masks are dancing and roaming the little girl. In such a situation the girl is tested on whether she shows fear or not. If she fears, then she will be boycotted and another Kumari will be selected through the same process. Unless the young girl fears, she is needed to pass another test i.e. she must spend a night alone in a room among the heads of ritually slaughtered goats and buffaloes without showing fear. If she gets passed even this test, then she must be able to pick out the personal belongings of the previous Kumari as her final test. Then, she is approved as the incarnation of goddess Durga and taken to the Kumari Ghar as the living goddess Kumari and lived there till she gets her first menstruation. After then, another Kumari will be chosen by the same process.
Apart from it, if the goddess Kumari gets ill or even any minor scratches that cause her to bleed physically. In such a situation also, the Kumari will be changed immediately. Though there are instances of many Kumaris who have been spending a successful married life, there is a belief that the Kumari should not get married coz her husband died soon and she becomes a widow.
Once the Kumari Devi is selected, all the responsibility for her taking care goes to the Guthi Sansthan (governmental funded office) during her tenure at Kumari Ghar. First of all, she needs to perform some ritual work with the help of a priest in order to get purified. Then she is established as a living goddess by possessing the previous Kumari’s belongings. She is always wearing a red dress with full make-up. Her family visits her rarely and the children of her caretakers from the Newari society can only be her playmates. In the past time, Kumari was not allowed to take education as it was believed that she is omniscient. But nowadays, a private tutor is selected for her education.
The living goddess Kumari is prohibited to come out of the Kumari Ghar. She is taken outside occasionally only on the lap of some selected people during the greatest festivals like Indra Jatra.
The life of Kumari is not as simple as other ordinary kids. Similarly, she is respected by everyone as a result we can see a crowd in her courtyard in order to take the blessing from her. Basically, she appears in the morning and evening at the middle window of Kumari Ghar. The Tourists are also permitted to go to the courtyard and visit her appearance, but taking the photoshoot of Kumari is strictly prohibited.
At last, Kumari Ghar is the most dominant visiting place in Kathmandu Durbar Square.