KATHMANDU, March 9
A group of curious Japanese tourists huddled in the premises of Kumari Palace in Basantapur to get a glimpse of the living goddess.
An elderly woman emerged from a palace door and asked them to offer Rs 500 to see Kumari. The tourists paid the said amount and were allowed to see the goddess.
It is a common sight around the Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square area which is visited by around 400 tourists from India and the other countries every day.
The visitors eager to see Kumari are not allowed to do so by the caretakers and the family members until they pay some money.
The tradition of worshiping a living goddess as incarnation of goddess Taleju dates back to 1757, during the reign of the Malla King Jay Prakash Malla. However, the Kumaris worshipped after 1918 are known as “Shabik” Kumari, who are prohibited from leaving the palace, also known as Kumari home, during her stay.
Even after 95 years of the tradition of worshipping the living goddess, the government and the locals have no clue about who takes all the offerings made by visitors and devotees.
Many visitors also put money into the donation box placed at the premises for the welfare of the juvenile goddess. But her caretaker and family take away all the money, say the locals.
Some devotees offer gold ornaments to the goddess if their votive pledge gets fulfilled, according to Rajan Maharjan, member of the Jyapu Guthi Society.
“It is not Kumari who gets all those offerings. Gyani Devi, the caretaker, and her family are enjoying all the wealth,” he said.
According to Uddhav Man Karmacharya, a priest at the Kumari Palace, a Shakya family was appointed to look after Kumari in 1944. Gyani Devi Shakya, now 70, is a descendant of the same family and was appointed as caretaker in 1980 after her mother-in-law expired.
“Currently, 14 members of Gyani Devi´s family are living in the palace and vigorously oppose any attempt to enquire about the income.”
Jay Ram Regmi, executive chief of Kathmandu Guthi Office, the Guthi has been coordinating with its central office and the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation.
Regmi added that the Guthi bears all cost of Kumari during her stay, including her lodging, food and the expenses that goes into daily worship and festivals.
“The Guthi has not received a penny from the Kumari Palace to date. In fact, it provides Rs 10,000 for monthly expenditure,” Regmi mentioned.
The Kathmandu Metropolitan City also provides Rs 15,000 for Kumari and Rs 25,000 for the caretaker per month.
The tradition of worshipping living goddess
There is a belief that the kings of Malla dynasty in Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur were blessed with the power to meet goddess Taleju and take her advice on how to rule the country. However, the goddess was not to be seen by a female in which case she would depart from Katmandu forever. Once, when King Trailokya Malla was playing dice with the goddess, his daughter entered into the room. The moment the little girl saw the goddess, the relationship between the king and the goddess ended.
Thought the goddess vanished at the time, she later appeared in the king´s dream. She asked the king to select a virgin girl of a Shakya family and worship the girl as her incarnation. Thus the tradition of selecting the living goddess was established.
Giving continuity to the tradition, all the later day rulers, the kings of Shah dynasty, also followed the ritual and worshipped the goddess. There has been a tradition of offering golden coins to the goddess on the occasion of Indra Jatra. President Ram Baran Yadav has also been following the tradition after the country became Republic.
Ganesh, Bhairav left in lurch
Many people are still unaware that there is also a tradition of selecting two juveniles as a living incarnation of lord Ganesh and Bhairav in Basantapur.
The members of Jyapu Society around Basantapur feel that there is a discrimination in the way the three living deities are worshipped.
The Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) provides Rs 15000 to Kumari and Rs 25000 every month to her caretaker, known as Chitaidar. Contrary to this, the Ganesh and Bhairav receive only Rs 1500 each on monthly basis.
“The Ganesh and Bhairav also have a great importance as the chariot pulling ceremony of the Indra Jatra can´t begin without worshipping the two living gods,” said Maharjan, adding, “But the government has ignored them completely.”
Kumari is replaced generally at the age of 12 or 13 before her menstrual period begins, but the living Ganesh and Bhairav are worshipped until they wish to leave the honor.
We are quiet as we don´t want to mire the living goddess in controversy
When did you first realize that there was no accounting of the offerings made at Kumari Temple?
It´s been a long time since the locals of Basantapur have asked the officials of Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) and the Guthi to make public the offerings the visitors make to Kumari. We know that hundreds of people visit Basantapur Durbar Square area every day. Among them, so many foreigners wait for hours for a glimpse of the living goddess. The visitors offer money and golden ornaments to the goddess with a great belief. But the Chitaidar (caretaker) of Kumari takes away all the offerings. We are also aware how the caretakers´ family has prospered over the years.
How can the transparency be brought to the whole process?
We have several times talked with the government authorities, about the free competition in appointment of caretakers in the Kumari palace. Around 14 members of the Gyani Devi´s family are living in the palace which has increased their monopoly. But the government authorities have said that the governments need to amend the Guthi Act to change the system. We have been requesting with the government for investigation but never made it public before to avoid controversy with the goddess.
Published on 2013-03-09 07:00:25