Kathmandu is supposedly where the gods and goddesses once frequently visited. Locals say their presence is still strong in this city crowded with temples and shrines — the deities that once toured the valley now dwell in these temples. And to be precise, this modern metropolis that once was a fabled bed of civilization, is still home to the Living Goddess, Kumari.
A few months ago, my friend from London called me to know more about this tradition. She was interested in knowing about the relationship between goddesses and girls, and if worshipping these divine female forces empowered them.
Through another friend I managed to get the number of one of the former living goddesses, Chanira Bajracharya. I called her up. I wasn’t expecting a prompt or a positive response, but she agreed to meet.
A few days later, I walked through the busy inner street of Patan leading to the Durbar Square, trying to find Chanira’s house, which also used to be her temple. I called her four times maybe – I was a bit worried that I was already annoying her. But she was helpful in providing me with the directions. I later find out from Chanira that it’s difficult for her to give directions considering she didn’t step out of the house as a goddess until the age of 15.
Her younger brother greeted me at the door and led me through the dark staircase to the living room. It was dimly lit but the collage of photographs from Chanira’s Kumari days were strikingly visible on the wall.
As I was scanning the room, Chanira entered the room and smiled. She sat, kneeling on the floor. I explained her about my visit and soon we started talking. My friend from London was on the phone – she asked a series of questions and I added my own set of curiosities.
We talked about her days as a Kumari: how she felt as a goddess, did she feel some sort of power, if she had a connection with the goddess Taleju, who she is considered to be a manifestation of.
Sometimes she was quick in answering. At times she paused. She spoke softly and mostly fidgeted with the tip of her shawl or her fingers as she answered.
We then talked about her life after she retired as a living goddess: the transformation, the challenges, and most importantly how it was to be a mortal, like almost every one of us.
As we continued to talk, she eased herself. Then we chatted about school, her classes, friends, and her future. Currently, she is pursuing her undergraduate in business studies. She wants to become a banker.
Chanira told me that she was preparing for her exam the next day. I just thought it was the right time to wrap up the interview. I wished her luck with her studies and asked what would be the best way to contact her.
“You can call me or email,” she said giving her her email address.
And then she said: “You can also find me on Facebook.”
Here’s a short profile on Chanira I wrote for the South China Morning Post.
Also, Isbabella Tree’s new book, The Living Goddess, is an insightful read. It not only details the history and culture of the Living Goddess in Nepal but also provides a good context to the subject starting right from the formation of the Kathmandu Valley to the future of Kumaris in the modern Nepal and everything in between.