Friday, August 24, 2001

At 84, ex-Kumari Hira Maiya continues to enjoy her conjugal life

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Aug 22 - Ever since the news of the enthronement of the new Kumari, Nepal’s Living Goddess, fell into the ear of 84-year-old Hira Maiya Shakya, she is impatient to visit the Kumari House at Hanumandhoka Durbar Square, where the royal goddess resides.

Happily married to a craftsman of the Capital’s Srighaa area 70 years ago, she is the eldest among the surviving former Living Goddesses of the Himalayan Kingdom. She is also a living proof of the fact that husbands of former Kumaris do not land up in trouble as rumours circulating in the city have it.

Shakya often thinks about "the ancient House with beautiful doors, windows and wall paintings", where she spent "most precious years" of her life as the Living Goddess or Kumari. That was in the 1920s. She becomes nostalgic especially when she hears the news about the arrival or enthronement of a new Kumari.

"She is there to protect the country and the monarch," Shakya proudly says echoing the popular belief.

Four-year-old Priti Shakya was installed as the new Kumari or the Living Goddess of the Hindu Kingdom on July 10 after her predecessor reached her age of puberty.

"I can’t stop thinking about that pretty House, which gave me a new name and unparalleled fame. I wish I could go there every day and serve the new Kumari wholeheartedly. But I’m too old for that," she says.

She was installed as the Kumari when she was just three years old. But she was forced to retire in the same year after she contracted smallpox, an epidemic then. And when she was just 15 years old, Hira’s parents arranged her marriage with the craftsman, Pratyaknanda Shakya.

"I cannot quite remember whether I was happy or not when my mother told me about the man. I think that was okay. I have been with him till now," she says, her bright eyes shining and her wrinkled face smiling wearing a coy look - something rare at her age.

Her life changed after she came to her husband’s house, however. She had to be obedient to her parents-in-law and work at the house day in and day out.

Hira Maiya rules out rumours that a former Kumari’s husband lands up in troubles or dies after marriage. "As I grew up, I heard about it," she says. "But those rumours did not affect our marital life at all. We lived a happy conjugal life. He loves me so much even today."

Her husband, Pratyaknanda, 87, says he feels proud to be a husband of a former Kumari. He adds, "I am lucky in many ways¼" He rules out the basis of the rumour, and says, "I do not say Kumari’s husbands never die; everyone has to die one day. There are widows, widowers. It is natural and not because they were former Kumaris or their husbands."

Hira Maiya cannot properly remember those important days (when she was a Kumari), but whenever she starts reminiscing those days she becomes excited. "It was such an amazing experience, like a dream. I did not have to work like my sisters. Everyone called me Goddess, and I could play as much as I liked," she adds.

She also remembers whenever the king came in front of her and she put vermilion tika on his forehead with her left hand. "The young King (Tribhuvan) came and watched the preparations for the Kumari procession from the white barandah of the Hanumandhoka Palace. Then he sat on the throne placed on the stone-paved platform in front of the Kumari House," she says.