Friday, October 28, 2016

Kathmandu, home of the living goddess, Kumari, and a woman blow torching a bull's head

After taking a cab to my hotel and dropping my stuff off, I decided to walk around a bit, exploring the neighborhood and going to Durbar Square. I was lucky enough to be able to visit Kathmandu just a couple months before the huge earthquake last year. You'll notice the buildings are not particularly strong, so when I learned of the earthquake, I knew many of them would not have survived the earthquake, before even looking at the pictures.

I am lucky that I have a good sense of direction, because a lot of the streets in Kathmandu look very similar (colorful shops, awesome looking temples in large squares, restaurants etc).
I immediately stumbled upon a small square with this beautiful stupa. I discovered many of these throughout my time in Kathmandu. It's a beautiful city with so many hidden gems.

I then stumbled upon a different square with a different stupa. So beautiful.

I then made my way to Durbar Square. Durbar Square is the royal palace. Unfortunately, several of the beautiful buildings collapsed in the 2015 earthquake. I'm not sure if they were able to be rebuilt.

The square began as the site for the royal palace in the 3rd century, though nothing of those buildings remain.The buildings were built beginning in 1069.
 It is an extremely beautiful and ancient and wonderful place.

I mean, just look at that building!

Here, I accidentally stumbled upon the home of the Living Goddess, known as the Kumari, just as she was making a rare appearance in the square. In Kathmandu, the Kumari is known as the Royal Kumari and there are 8 others throughout Nepal. The story of the Kumari is fascinating and sad. She is a pre-pubescent girl worshiped as a goddess by both Buddhist and Hindu followers in Nepal. At the time of my visit, she was 8 years old, though she would be about 10 now. She must be chosen from a higher caste ( I was told the one in Kathmandu was always chosen from the caste/clan that Buddha is said to be from, but I am not sure that is accurate) and she must come from a Buddhist family, even though both religions worship her. For her time as a goddess, she makes a few appearances at festivals and at her window. Her feet never touch the ground, so she is carried everywhere. Her time as Kumari will end when puberty starts, Many believe that if the former Kumari get married, their husband will die after 6 months, though some have gotten married in the past. The series of tests to become a Kumari are intense. We were not allowed to take pictures of her. They warned us that if we took a picture, our cameras would be taken from us! I did not risk it, though I took a picture of the square of her house.

Here is a National Geographic article about the selection process for Kumari's.

Here are some interesting quotes from that article.

"The Newars pride themselves on being the custodians of culture in the valley, and an agelong cornerstone of their culture is the worship of little girls as living goddesses...Kumaris are revered in the Newar community. They’re believed to have powers of prescience and the ability to cure the sick (particularly those suffering from blood disorders), fulfill specific wishes, and bestow blessings of protection and prosperity. Above all, they’re said to provide an immediate connection between this world and the divine and to generate in their devotees maitri bhavana—a spirit of loving-kindness toward all. The tradition dates back to at least the tenth century, when young girls and boys across South Asia performed in Hindu and Buddhist rituals as agents for divination. Their presumed connection to the divine and ability to predict the future were of particular interest to Asia’s rulers. Centuries later the tradition was taken up by people who lived on the periphery of the Indian subcontinent—in Kashmir, Assam, Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Nepal—and who followed subversive religions that emphasized female power, or shakti, and tantric possession, a state brought about by magical invocations and rituals in which humans supposedly can be transformed into divine beings with supernatural powers...Only in the remote mountain fastness of Nepal did the practice of glorifying prepubescent girls (in Nepali the word “kumari” means “virgin girl”) as living goddesses for years at a time become a deeply rooted cult, and only in Nepal is the tradition nurtured with vigor today. To Newar Buddhists, the kumari is regarded as the embodiment of the supreme female deity Vajradevi, a Buddha. To Hindus, she incarnates the great goddess Taleju, a version of Durga."

I've read a lot about the transition back to normal life being difficult for the Kumaris. Here is the National Geographic article's explanation, "She’s expected to return to normal life, but after years of pampering and seclusion, the transition from goddess back to mortal can be difficult. Then there are the dark rumors about the marriage prospects of former living goddesses. “Men are superstitious about marrying ex-kumaris,” Ramesh says. “They believe terrible accidents will happen to them if they try.” The spirit of the goddess may still be strong in a former kumari, it is said, even after the diffusing rituals she undergoes upon her dismissal. Some believe that snakes issue from the vaginas of former kumaris and devour the hapless men having intercourse with them... In recent years the tradition has come under criticism from human rights activists who say it’s a form of child abuse that hinders the girls’ freedom and education and is especially detrimental to the royal Kathmandu and Patan kumaris, who must observe strict rules of purity and segregation."

Here is an article by BBC.

Here is an article by NPR. The first goddess, the 9 year old, is the one I saw.

The outside of the Kumari building.

There were sooooo many pigeons. An excessive amount of pigeons.

This is Kal Bhairav. Apparently he is associated with annhilation.

Afterwards, I ate a questionable but delicious restaurant and headed back to the hostel to shower and go to sleep.

This would have been successful, except the guy in the room next to me was watching a show or movie on full blast about a woman being appointed as Queen and then going to war. He watched it until well after midnight, then woke up at 6 am to continue to blast it into my ear drums. The worst.
This is the street I walked down to get to my hostel. It's pretty cool looking. And a little grungy, yes.

And here are two videos of insane, insane traffic.

 Here are a couple more pictures of the street I walked down to my hotel.

 This is the questionable but delicious restaurant I ate at.

The menu.
And here is the food I ate. Naan and curry...Yumm. end this blog:

A woman blow torching a bull's head while a different woman sits calmly nearby, breastfeeding her baby.

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