An eye-opening experience in Kathmandu
I had dreamt of visiting Nepal for 15 years (and probably lifetimes!) I had always been drawn to the colours of the jewellery, red coral and turquoise, bronze goddesses, the Thangka paintings, the wisdom of the Tibetan women dressed in traditional dress using their malas at sacred sites but it was also something deeper. Something that as soon as I arrived, the streets seems to embody, an ancient beauty, something forgotten…. something I’d been chasing for a long time: the Goddess.
The day I woke up in Kathmandu for the first time was the day that Trump was announced as president of the USA. Grief and anger poured out of my friends. This wasn’t the first time of experienced this. It had also happened with friends and loved ones in the UK with Brexit and when the conservatives came back into power…. the horror, the disbelief, the overtly racist nature of the people now in charge and the unhealthy masculine power that came with these symbols. However, this was also the day I encountered the living goddess. A welcome relief to the western concepts I’d been encountering. Before me was a ten-year-old girl. The embodiment of Kali living here in Kathmandu. How could I not be touched? By her magic and by the beauty of this city and an apparent answer of how to counteract the current trend in the world! A literal embodiment of the divine feminine. I felt like being in her presence and the magic of Kathmandu something was illuminated inside me! I felt a lot of light inside my body and my pupils got larger and heart felt more open. It was such a brief glimpse and yet incredibly revealing of what the divine feminine is like embodied! It felt like an invitation to rise up. To embody my gifts and encourage others to share theirs, to have compassion, to create beautiful things in the world, to tune into my inner wisdom. Seeing this girl gave me hope. Seeing this girl felt like an antidote to the suffering that friends and family were experiencing.
But who is Kumari?
Kumari is the living goddess of Nepal. She is the living embodiment of the Hindu principle of the divine feminine, Devi. She was chosen from a group of potentials at just 4 years old, to leave her family and go and live in a palace in Durbar Square. Her family are allowed to visit her but she is primarily cared for by priests. Kumari emerges just a few times a year, during festivals, to parade the streets in a palanquin, pulled by locals, blessing the people. Her time as Goddess ends when she gets her first period and a new Kumari is chosen. The Living Goddess is chosen from a particular caste of Newari gold and silversmiths. She must meet the 32 strict requirements and her horoscope must also be favourable. Once all the girls are chosen they are put through a test. They must spend the night locked in a dark room and remain unaffected and composed whilst man dance around them in devil masks, making terrifying noises while 108 recently sacrificed buffalo heads line the room. Once this has occurred, the girls who still remain are asked to select items worn by or belonged to their predecessor (much like the Dalai Lama does when he is selected as the reincarnation). This process is carried out because the true Kumari is believed to be the incarnation of the goddess and can see beyond our normal perception. After this final test, one emerges and takes her place in the palace. When her time is finished she receives a pension and returns to her normal life. It is believed the ritual of choosing a living goddess began in the 1700’s after a king received a visitation from a beautiful woman, he was so in awe of her, he wanted to make love to her and when she refused he forced himself on her. Suddenly she disappeared. That night he realised he had been visited by the goddess and as a token of his gratitude and to honour her, he built the palace and began to worship the living embodiment of her.
Where and when?
Kumari’s palace is situated in the spectacular Dabur Square. See the map below! The palace was built in 1757 by Jaya Prakash Malla and is three stories and made of red brick. Inside the building is Kumari Chowk, a three-storey courtyard. The palace features intricately carved windows, archways and doors, depicting goddesses and deities. It is an amazing place to visit for the carvings alone!
When to go…
Kumari receives schooling between 12-4 each day. Otherwise, she appears from time to time at the window in the centre between 9-11am and 4-6pm. Both times when I was there, I think it was a tour guide shouted up to the window and shortly after she appeared. ABSOLUTELY NO PHOTOGRAPHY OR VIDEO IS ALLOWED! Please put away your cameras and phones otherwise, she will not come to the window. My advice is to be patient. Sit for a while, meditate and soak in the ambience of this magical place.
To visit the palace is free once you have paid the 1000 Nepali rupee fee to explore Durbar Square. This can be paid at the huts around the monuments. You can actually come and visit the Square and Kumari as many times you like if you visit the site office (on the south side of Basantapur Square, to the right of Kumari’s palace) on the day you pay your 1000 rupees. You need to bring a passport photo and your passport and they will issue you with a visitor pass that will last as long as your visa in under 5 minutes.
There are many guides in the area carrying folders filled with recommendations. Many of them are deeply knowledgeable. I paid 800rs for a 3-hour tour of Durbar Square. Read more on the Lonely Planet website guide to Kathmandu