Friday, July 06, 2007

Bhaktapur's Kumari Devi Fired

I have written here before about my trip to Nepal last year. My flight from New Delhi to Kathmandu took about two hours. Soon after my arrival I made my way to Durbar Square where I was absolutely taken by the story of the Kumari Devi, or Royal Kumari.

In my original post, this is how I described the Kumari Devi: She is said to be a "living goddess" by the Newari people of Nepal. She is chosen on the basis of strict physical conditions from the gold/silver caste. She must (with exceptions) be at least four years old and prepubescent. Her reign ends when she has her first menstrual period (or if she loses a lot of blood for any other reason). After reaching puberty the Kumari Devi returns to being just a normal person. A new Kumari Devi is then chosen.

I got about as close to the Kumari Devi as any visitor can.

The Kumari Devi is one of several others in the Kathmandu valley. She is, however, the most important "living goddess" and lives in the Kumari Bahal (House of the Living Godess). The Kumari Bahal was built in 1757 and is a remarkable structure. The building is adorned with carvings of various Hindu symbols and mythical figures.

You enter through a front entrance into a smallish courtyard (Kumari Chowk). The courtyard allows views of the carved wooden balconies and shut windows. I could hear voices inside the house while I looked around the courtyard.

The Kumari Devi and her family live inside but strict rules keep non-Hindus and all foreigners from seeing her. The sign pictured here was prominent enough for me.

I stood and stared at this window for a very long time. It was not as if I expected to see the Kumari Devi. I was really intrigued. But I was also sad. Sad for the Kumari Devi.

It cannot be an easy life for a child under any circumstance. So many pressures can't be easily processed at such a young age. Some of that experience cannot but be outside of the understanding of such a young life.

So it is with additional sadness that I read of the fate of a Kumari Devi, Sajani Shakya, who was fired after a visit to the United States.

Apparently, Sajani Shakya (10), who became the Kumari Devi at the tender age of 2 was deemed to have acted outside of her religious mandate.

This is a recent media picture of her.

Her religious mandate includes remaining close to the "ancient town of Bhaktapur, near the capital Kathmandu" where she was installed as the Kumari Devi.

Geez broer. Now the issue is whether to pay this child a monthly pension of $17. All this while Nepal's Supreme Court decides whether the institution of the Kumari Devi contravenes "children's human rights."

Thinking through this story has made me revisit some of my pictures and travel notes.

You should visit hey. If you go make sure to see Bandipur (an ancient mountain village). It is the most beautiful place I visited in Nepal. I woke up one morning in the cold crisp air and took this picture of the Himalayas.

I miss Nepal. Particularly this beautiful child who played with me at my hotel in Bandipur.

She is the daughter of one of the men who run the hotel. I kept thinking that she was just about the most beautiful child I have encountered.

It warmed my heart that she followed me around the hotel and from time to time she would raise her hands in front of her face and say: "Namaste uncle".

She was living a life fit for a child. And so should every child in Nepal.

Namaste to you from here my dear child. Namaste to all of you.


Rhonda said...

Thank you, Ridwan, for sharing the view and some of the flavor of your visit to Nepal. I am now filled with wanderlust...

Of the two girls, probably the little one at your hotel will be the happier one, ultimately, don't you think? On the other hand, that $17/mo could come in handy for the Devi.


Ridwan said...

Rhonda I think that the little girl at my hotel is living like a child should.

I am sad for the Kumari Devi, all of them.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about whether I could just say this.

Long bus rides inside of Nepal allowed me to think through some of the issues.

Somewhere at the birthplace of Buddha (Lumbini) I just accepted that my sadness was about the life of a child.

The Devi is just a child to me.

And yeah that $17 will come in handy for her whole extended family.

If memory serves me $1 is worth almost 70 Nepali rupees.

Thanks Rhonda. It was a wonderful trip ... changed me for sure.


Erzsebet said...

Érdekelne, hogyan telnek a napjai a Kumarinak, ha nincsenek ceremóniák. Képeket láttam róla. Tanul, játszik, hasonló korú gyerekek között mozog. Európai ruhában is láttam. Igaz, hogy ő is egy XXI. sz-i kislány? Először még gyerekként a 70-es években olvastam róla. A kommunista író sajnálta a gyermeket, hogy egy ostoba babona áldozata. Szerintem pedig felemelő, hogy egy ideig istennő lehet, a nép tisztelete övezi.