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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Getting to Know the World: the Kumari Devi of Nepal

Wow! Just when you think you've seen it all in this great wide world, you stumble across something that surprises you. Without commentary or interpretation, I present the concept of "Kumari Devi," or a "Living Goddess" of Nepal.

public domain photo by Clemensmarabu
According to this theworld.org interview with Sonia Narang (listen here), a Kumari Devi is "a young girl who is chosen as young as 3 or 4 years of age. She is actually revered as a goddess. (Some) believe her to have the incarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga in her body. There are actually a number of Kumaris in Nepal. Each community has their own living goddess, and the locals will come out and seek her blessings."

As for the selection process? Narang describes it as "quite intense. The highest caste girls from the community... are all assembled when it's time to choose a new living goddess. The temple priests put them through a series of tests. They are evaluated for their looks, and also for their fearlessness." The fearlessness is apparently tested by having the candidates, individually, enter a dark room with severed animal heads, spending several hours or even all night there, while maintaining serenity befitting of a goddess.

And the life of a Kumari Devi? Narang tells us that a Kumari "is not allowed to go outside and play with other friends. She is confined to her house. She is allowed a tutor in recent years. She leads a very isolated life." She will leave the home for rare ceremonial occasions, at which time she will be carried, so as her feet never touch the ground.

Narang adds, "You're actually a Kumari until you hit puberty. So these girls will end their term when they're 12 or 13... and they revert back to a normal life. They become a mortal again, at which point a new Kumari is selected."

Read more and view some fascinating pictures here.

This is so far beyond my scope of Western exposure, that it really leaves me wondering:

What surprising customs have you encountered in your travels?

HT to Kathy for this one!

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