Nepal has begun a search for a girl who will serve as the next living Kumari goddess, a deity highly revered in the Himalayan kingdom. Officials said the search would eventually lead to a girl who could be as young as three or four and who would replace the present Kumari, or virgin, who is 11 and retires later this year. Kumari goddesses usually retire when they reach puberty. Officials said the new candidate has to move by October into an ancient temple in Kathmandu‘s Durbar Square area noted for ancient monuments, but some officials said selection was getting increasingly difficult.
„It is difficult to get a candidate because parents are less keen on their daughters serving as Kumari,“ said Tej Ratna Tamrakar, chief of the office that takes care of ancient temples, monuments and cultural assets in Nepal. Nepal is the world‘s only Hindu kingdom and about 90 percent of its 23 million people are Hindus and seven percent are Buddhists. The living goddesses are revered by people of both faiths as well as King Birendra, who is himself believed to be an incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu.
The role of the goddess is limited to appearing several times a day in a golden-coloured dress at an upstairs window of the temple and bless devotees gathered below. On festival days, she is carried in a palanquin or a chariot through Kathmandu.
Selection a secret
The actual selection is a closely guarded secret but people familiar with the process say fearlessness and the ability to live alone as well as be comfortable among strangers are musts. The girl, chosen from a Buddhist Shakya family, is required to be free of any physical deformities and even a little nick on the skin is taken as a negative signal. Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was also from the Shakya family. Many parents now want their daughters to go to schools so they can find jobs rather than live an isolated life. Retired kumaris generally live the rest of their lives as spinsters as men fear marrying a former goddess.
But journalist Rabin Man Shakya, who is a devotee, said there were still many families aspiring to make their daughter a goddess. Two months ago, the Nepalese government raised the pension paid to former goddesses to 3,000 rupees ($40) per month from 1,000 rupees. The government also started paying a monthly maintenance allowance of 6,000 Nepali rupees ($80) to reigning goddesses.