Living goddess of Kumari in Nepal
In Nepal, the custom of Shakti worship or the worship of Mother Goddess is of ancient origin which can be traced as far back as to the Vedic period 3000 to 4000 B.C. There are several hymns in the Vedas dedicated to the glory of great goddess Devi, the Universal mother. In the Vedas, some of her earlier names are Usha, Prithvi, Vac, Ratri, and Aditi. All these names are of the supreme power, Devi or Mother Goddess. Even in the Puranas, Devi is addressed by many epithets viz, Chamunda, Durga, Kali, Lakshmi, Saraswati, etc. Besides giving these several names, Devi is identified with Parvati, the most powerful one who is the consort of Shiva.
In Nepal, the religion of female goddess is very famous. It is as old as Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Buddhism. Parvati was regarded as the daughter of King of Himalaya called Himvan. When she got married to Shiva, then Shaivism and Shaktism became the pro-bono religions.
In Nepal, the pantheon of Hindu and Buddhist Gods and Goddesses runs to thousands in number. They are in many forms: sculpted ions, invisible spirits and special features of the landscape. But one of the most intriguing of them all is the living goddess known as Kumari.
In Nepal, the female principle is widely and explicitly recognized. Vedic seers have also attached a high place to the female power in creation and so a woman is held in high respect in Vedic religion. In the Sankhya philosophy which evolved Shaktism (female as the source of dynamic energy), the symbiosis of the female principle (Prakriti) in union with the male counterpart (Purusha) is recognized as the fundamental law of creation. In Nepal and in some parts of India, Shaktism is a popular cult and its main feature is the worship of Shakti or Devi who is regarded as the personification of the mother goddess. Although, female goddesses are worshiped in various forms, the most prominent is the worship of the Living Virgin Goddess, Kumari.
The cult of Kumari is unique in Nepal where a living vestal virgin is ritually installed as Kumari and is worshiped. This feature exists only in Nepal.
According to a legend, Kumari first arrived in the Kathmandu valley in the form of Sri Yantra, a powerful mystical diagram endowed with magical powers of the Goddess Taleju.
She was brought by King Hari Simha Dev, the ruler of Simraungarh in South of Nepal to Bhaktapur. At that time, the Kathmandu Valley was undivided.
Most of the goddesses (Devis) are regarded as married ones on one hand and on the other they are considered as virgins (Kumaris). According to the Agni Purana, Chamunda, destroyer of demons Chanda and Munda were regarded as Eigth Matrikas manifested herself as virgin (kumari). In a Newari manuscript Brahmanyadi & Mula komorisatash, eight matrikas (Mother Goddesses) were considered as Kumari]
According to the history, Malla kings used to get advice on ruling the country through the medium of Shri Yantra by having darshan of Taleju Goddess. By chance, the daughter of King Trilok Malla opened this Sri Yantra. It is said that this Sri Yantra should not be seen by any female. Taleju Goddess became angry and said that in future nobody will see her in person. However, she will be visible in the form of virgin goddess. Since then worship of a virgin goddess incarnate in a virgin girl of Shakya caste (goldsmith who ranked high in Newar Buddhists) began.
Worship of the female deities has been practiced since long. Mother goddesses were also worshiped in the ancient civilization of the Mediterranean, Asia Minor and the Middle East. Nepal is the unique country in the world, where the living virgin goddess is permanently housed and regularly worshiped. In India, worship of living virgin Goddess or Kumari or Kanya Kumari is referred to a virgin girl who has not menstruated. In India, there is a temple of Kanya Kumari dedicated to the virgin goddess. Kumari Puja or worship is very popular. She is invoked as a pure and powerful goddess and sometimes invoked as powerful and mature goddess viz., Durga, Taleju, Kali, etc.
In Nepal, Kumari worship started as early as late 5th century A.D. Manadeva I, the Licchavi ruler was worshipping Manesvari a form of Durga as his titulary goddess.
In 11th and 12th century, this goddess was replaced by Taleju as a result of Maithil influence in Nepal.
In the 6th century, Kumari was worshiped as a local goddess.
In the 10th century, Kumari worship became more prominent due to an introduction of Vajrayana Buddhism.
In the 11th century, Lakshmikamdeva, a king of Kantipur (1024-1040 A.D.) started worshipping Kumari.
Grandfather of Lakshmikamdeva amassed a great wealth by the power of Kumari.
Lakshmikamdeva also started worshipping Kumari of a Shakya caste in Patan (At that time the valley was undivided).
Lakshmikamdeva also erected an image of Kumari. Lakshmikamdeva was a Hindu but he selected a Buddhist girl on the influence of Asia, a great India mystic who introduced Vajrayana Buddhism towards the end of the reign of Lakshmikamdeva.
According to Nepalese chronicles, Narasimha Deva brought goddess Kumari in the form of Sri Yantra from Simraongarh to Bhaktapur. (At that time, there was only one kingdom in the valley). Yaksha Malla made a small Taleju temple in Kathmandu. Mahendra Malla made the 3-tiered temple at the same site. Siddhinarsimha Malla built a Taleju in Patan in AD 1620. Bhaktapur, Taleju temple was built by Bhupatindra Malla in the 17th century. Jaya Prakash Malla (1735-1768) the last Malla kin8 instituted worship of the virgin goddess.
According to a tale, Malla kings were so well-versed in Tantric rituals that they directly communicate with Goddess Taleju. Living Goddess Kumari was established as an incarnation of Goddess Taleju in 1701. On 25th September 1768 when Prithvi Narayan Shah attacked Jaya Prakash Malla, Indra Jatra was taking place in full swing. Prithvi Narayan Shah got blessings of Kumari and by his command, Kumari Jatra was continued.
According to Wright (1966) when Prithvi Narayan Shah was in his youth, he came to see the Kathmandu valley and stayed as a guest of king Ranjit Malla of Bhaktapur. At that occasion, on Vijaya Dashami day, when Nava
Durga (Nine Female Goddesses) were bein8 taken t0 Mulchowk, Ranjit Malla, and Prithvi Narayan Shah stood together at the entrance of Kumari
Chowk. At that time, Bhairawa gave Prasad (consecrated stuff) to Prithvi Narayan Shah first instead to Ranjit Malla- Kumari presented Prithvi Narayan Shah a blue lotus flower.
Anderson (1971) writes that in 1955, Kumari put tika (mark) first on the forehead of the then crown Prince Mahendra rather than on that of King Tribhuvan. It is known that after 8 months, King Tribhuvan died and crown
prince Mahendra became King. Symbolic rituals of sexo- yogic cult of Kumari are not clear. But in Nepal,
There was some adherent of this cult. Buddhists worship Kumari as Vajradevi and was given various epithets.
Origin of Kumari worship is also attributed to Buddhists. King Jaya Prakash Malla got Kumari House in Kathmandu constructed in 7 months in A.D. 1757.
Jaya Prakash Malla performed rituals under the guidance of Vajracharyas after reading a Buddhist text, the Panchavimshaktika. During Indra Jatra, worship of Kumari, Bhairava and Ganesh takes place. The personifications of these deities are children of the Shakya Buddhists. During the regime of king Pratap Malla (1641 -1674 AD) Shakya virgins were worshiped as Kumari.
Probably, Buddhist association of Kumari originated with the Vajrayana School of Buddhism. They got ideas from the Shakta cult of the Hindus. There are different Kumaris in Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur, Bungamati, etc. These are prominent.
Some Kumaris are only worshiped during Dashain festival. Gan Kumaris form the group of small girls. They are collectively worshiped on special occasions.
Usually, Kumari is small girls of age to 2-4. They should have all 32 good qualities of a goddess.
Nowadays, selection of Kumari is not very rigid. Usually, a courageous girl is selected to become a Kumari.
Hindu scholars open that the past actions or Karma of living goddess is such that in this life she has to lead a benevolent life not for herself but for laity and believers of faith.
Kumari is worshiped as a symbol of power. Any type of diseases can be cured simply by darshan (glimpse) of Kumari. Many people have been blessed by Kumari with a long life. From Kumari’s blessings, a nation can get peace and prosperity.
Many people say that due to ignorance on the importance of Kumari and her power, Nepal is facing violence and conflict.
For your kind information, Taleju temples of Kathmandu Lalitpur and Bhaktapur were most important centers of tantric religious activities in 1768. The goddess is even worshiped today as Goddess Durga with the offerings of sacrifices of buffaloes during Vijaya Dashami or Dashain festival which falls in the month of September/October.
Emailed by the Writer Kumar Bahadur Shrestha, Lalitpur