By Razen Manandhar
BHAKTAPUR, Oct 19:Rukmani Devi Shakya, in her early 40s, gives the love and honour to her five-year old daughter Sajani Shakya that must be much more than any mother in the whole world can give.
For her as well as the most people of Bhaktapur, the little girl is a Living Goddess, a Kumari. This has been a tradition in Bhaktapur since the 14th century along with similar traditions in the other ancient Newar cities of Kathmandu and Lalitpur.
The Goddess is about to finish the fifteen-day-long special puja she receives during the festival of Dashain. She resides at her building at Prasannashil Mahavihar for the fifteen days of the Dashain and observes all ceremonial rites from here. For the rest of the year, she is free to go to her parents.
Even her mother calls her Kumari Maju, using the honourable title meaning ‘Mother Kumari’. She communicates with her daughter in the most respectful and honorific form of the language and waits patiently to fulfil any task the Kumari desires.
Mother Shakya, the hereditary caretaker, Nakin of Ekanta Kumari of Bhaktapur, said that she has been honoured with the opportunity to serve the Goddess, especially as her own daughter was chosen to be the present Living Goddess since the last three years.
"I feel special, a pride to see my daughter on the holy throne. I have taken care of two other Kumaris previously and my personal experience has been that the family from where the Kumari is chosen enjoys prosperity and success in their lives," said she. She or any other female member from her family has to take the Kumari to a special daily worship.
According to Narendra Prasad Joshi, the chief priest of Taleju temple of Bhaktapur, the priests take the Goddess to the Mahavihar on Sunday or Thursday, before the first day of the Dashain, to prepare her for the ceremonial Dashain puja. Everyday she is brought to a courtyard of Chaturbramha Mahabihar, beside the Royal Palace, and offered puja in ceremonial settings.
"On the ninth day, she is taken to the temple of Taleju Bhawani inside the royal palace where she is worshipped with much fanfare, in a one hour ceremony," he said.
After the annual puja, the Kumari is taken to a special seat at the temple of Bramhayani, where the pilgrims offer puja to the child goddess. For the rest of four days, she remains at her residence, giving tika to pilgrims.
However, this Kumari is not the only one worshipped in this cultural city. There are altogether 15 such Living Goddesses in Bhaktapur alone.
"There are nine Gana Kumaris, who represent the tantric structure of the ancient city of Bhatkapur; and three more, Bhairav, Ganesh and Kumar," said historian Dr Purushotam Lochan Shrestha.
The eleven Kumaris are chosen from different parts of the city. They first receive worships in the Dashain festival. Then come three others - from Wane Laykoo, Chasukhel and Sakotha Bahaa. The Ekanta Kumari or the prime Kumari of Bhaktapur makes the final entry in the holy courtyard.
Unlike the Royal Kumari of Hanumandhoka in Kathmandu, the Ekanta Kumari of Bhaktapur need not follow the strict rules during her tenure as the Living Goddess. She enjoys most of her days in her parent’s house and goes to a private school everyday. Regardless of minor physical injuries, which is strongly restricted in Kathmandu, they change the Goddess when she reaches 11 years.
The priest, Joshi said that there might have been similar restrictions but, as the government showed no interest to provide facilities to this aspect of Bhaktapur’s heritage, the locals also became indifferent to the strictures.
"So much so, the Guthi Sansthan has already sold the land in the name of Kumari and now, instead of rice grains, it gives the interest of the cash deposited at a bank," he added.
The Kumari of Bhaktapur receives Rs 450 per month which after retirement becomes a hundred rupees monthly from the government.
[Kathmandu, Sunday October 20, 2002 Kartik 03, 2059. ]