Seeing the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu is a cultural experience in which Western travelers must temporarily suspend personal mores and accept the traditions of another country.
“The Living Goddess” is a pre-pubescent girl from the Shakya clan of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. While there are approximately 11 Kumaris scattered across Nepal, the Royal Kumari is the most revered.
Travelers to Kathmandu – Nepal’s capital – have the best opportunity to get a glimpse of the Royal Kumari by visiting her palace courtyard late in the day.
Finding a successor for a departed Kumari is a frantic process resembling the procedures used to select Tibetan lamas. Using 32 signs of perfection, five senior Buddhist priests meet with hundreds of girls from the clan. Candidates must possess a neck like a conch shell, a body like a banyan tree, eyelashes like a cow’s, thighs like a deer’s, a chest like a lion’s and a voice as clear as a duck’s. In addition, girls must be in perfect health, have no blemishes, very black hair and eyes, and dainty hands and feet.
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Upon selection, a Kumari participates in ceremonies to cleanse her body and spirit. She is then robed in traditional red garments and painted with a “fire eye” on her forehead before walking across Patan Durbar Square – a World Heritage Site in Lalitpur, Nepal – upon a white cloth to her palace home in Kathmandu. She is now the “Living Goddess.”
In essence, the Royal Kumari becomes a prisoner, sequestered within the Kumari Ghar palace until she again becomes “mortal.” Her family is rarely allowed a visit, and even then, it must be within a formal context.
During her tenure, the feet of the “Living Goddess” never touch the ground. If she ventures outside, she is transported in a golden covered litter.
Glimpsing the Royal Kumari is considered a sign of good fortune because her appearances are usually brief and irregular. Pictures are forbidden.
To view a Royal Kumari is a rare and mystical experience, but there is also sadness, for this is a story of a childhood lost. It is all part of the bittersweet emotion of traveling to another culture.