The life of a living goddess

In Nepal, there is a centuries-old Hindu tradition of worshiping pre-pubescent girls as manifestations of divine female energy. e Kumari Devi, or Kumari, is revered and worshipped by some of the country’s Hindus as well as Buddhists as a living goddess, the incarnation of Durga.

The selection process is especially rigorous; high priests choose the girl based on several physical characteristics, such as “neck like a conch shell” and “eyes like a cow”. Then, to prove that she is Kumari Devi, the girl must pass a series of tests. In one, she is placed in a darkened room with severed animal heads, while hideously masked men dance around and a empt to frighten her. In another, the girl must correctly identify items worn by her predecessor – a test similar to that used in Tibet to choose the new Dalai Lama. e selection is not a unilateral process by high priests; any girl who desires to be Kumari can be a candidate.

While there are several Kumaris throughout Nepal, with some cities having more than one, the best known is the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu. She lives in the Kumari Ghar, a palace in the centre of the city. She leaves only for ceremonial occasions a few times each year and remains the Kumari until she experiences a serious loss of blood or her rst period.

A number of media portrayed the tradition of Kumari in a negative way. ese articles and documentaries in uenced
me to travel to Nepal earlier this year to see their way of life
in person. I focused on the Kumari in Bungamati, Patan. Diya Bajracharya is seven years old. She was selected as Kumari in April 2013. Diya lives at home with her family: father Siddhi, 57; mother Tula Laxmi, 50; and older brother Devin, 15.

The Kumari community of Bungamati
has no nancial budget to support her, whereas other Kumaris in the cities receive education and basic living needs. Despite this, Diya is happy. Sometimes her friends visit her to play, and she also has a smart phone to stay connected with the outside world. Since she is restricted from going out, she is home-taught – she learns basic subjects from her brother such as Science, English and Nepali. When I ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, she answers, “Teacher.”

 

Chris Jung is a KL-based portrait and documentary photographer, focusing on the intersection of photography and photojournalism. He was born in South Korea and studied Photography and Photojournalism at Spéos Paris, France.



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