While there are several Kumaris throughout Nepal, with some cities having several, the best known is the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu, and she lives in the Kumari Ghar, a palace in the center of the city. The selection process for her is especially rigorous. The current Royal Kumari, Matina Shakya, aged four, was installed in October 2008 by the Maoist government that replaced the monarchy. Chanira Bajracharya, as the Kumari of Patan is the second most important living goddess
A Kumari is believed to be the bodily incarnation of the goddess Taleju (the Nepalese name for Durga) until she menstruates, after which it is believed that the goddess vacates her body. Serious illness or a major loss of blood from an injury are also causes for her to revert to common status.
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. Upon passing the preliminary test, this is merely concerned with their 32 attributes of perfection, including the colour of her eyes, the shape of her teeth and the sound of her voice. Her horoscope must also be appropriate. The 4 to 7 year poor 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 theyencounter scare some of these innocent babies. The real goddess is unlikely to be frightened, so the one who is calm and collected throughout the tests is the only girl who is entitled to sit on the pedestal for worship as the Living Goddess. Then as a final test similar to that of the Dalai Lama, the Kumari then chooses items of clothing and decoration worn by her predecessor.
The god-house Kumari Ghar is a store-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, but if she turns out to be unlucky, as they say, even a minor scratch on her body that bleeds can make her invalid for worship. She then changes back to the status of normal mortal and the search of a new Kumari begins. It is said to be unlucky to marry an ex-Kumari.
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 each day for three days. It is really a grand gala in which people in their thousands throng in and around the Kathmandu Durbar Square to pay their homage to the Living Goddess. During this festival she also blesses the King in keeping with the tradition in which the first king of the Shah dynasty, who annexed Kathmandu in 1768, received a blessing from the Living Goddess.
The worship of the goddess in a young girl represents the worship of divine consciousness spread all over the creation. As the supreme goddess is thought to have manifested this entire cosmos out of her womb she exists equally in animate as well as inanimate objects. While worship of an idol represents the worship and recognition of supreme through inanimate materials, worship of a human represents veneration and recognition of the same supreme in conscious beings.
In the Shakta text Devi Mahatmyam or Chandi, the goddess is said to have declared that she resides in all female living beings in this universe. The entire ritual of Kumari is based on this verse. But while worshiping a goddess, only a young girl is chosen over a mature lady because of their inherent purity and chastity which are considered to be principle characteristics of Durga.
Hindu scriptures like the Jnanarnava Rudrayamala tantra assign different names to a Kumari depending on her age. A one year-old girl is called Sandhya, a two year-old girl is called Sarasvati, a child of three years of age is called Tridhamurti, on her fourth year she is Kalika, on fifth she is Subhaga, on sixth she is Uma, on her seventh year she is called Malini, on the ninth year she is Kaalasandarbha, on reaching tenth year she is Aparajita, on eleventh she is Rudrani, on twelfth year she is named Bhairavi, on thirteenth she is Mahalakshmi, on fourteenth she is Pithanayika, on fifteenth she is Kshetragya, and on sixteenth years of her age she is Ambika.
In India, Kumaris are worshiped only for a day and these names are assigned only until the ritual lasts, usually a few hours. But usually one cannot be a Kumari beyond sixteen years of age due to the onset of menstrual cycles.
The main target of a Kumari puja is to realize the potential divinity in every human being, mostly female. A Hindu spiritual aspirant sees the universal consciousness manifested in an innocent child.
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