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The Streets of Kathmandu and Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square, Nepal

Flaming statue. The smoke from the fire is believed to help ailments.

Flaming statue. The smoke from the fire is believed to help ailments.

Today’s outing was exhausting and we didn’t do much.

We simply walked 15 minutes to Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square.

Ten minutes into the walk we asked Kaji and Krishna if we could just sit for a minute, not because we were physically drained, but emotionally.  Every moment is so action-packed, every step must be carefully placed to avoid a twisted ankle and on the busy streets there is so much sensory input coming from every angle that it’s truly overwhelming.

We pass a golden pagoda-style temple where thousands of pigeons make their home.  A European style sculpture carries a flame on her head.  People gather around to get smoke from the flame, believing it will help whatever infirmity they have.

Bells chime and people talk and pigeons fly and incense burns and dogs roam and..

We enter Hanumandhoka Durbar Square, and pay an entrance fee of 750 NRs ($7.50 US).  Kaji explains that the next street over, nicknamed “Freak Street”, is where the hippies and the Beatles hung out in the 60’s and 70’s.

Our first stop is to see the Kumari Living Goddess.

The Kumari is a pre-pubescent girl believed to be a living goddess.  She is worshiped by Hindus and Buddhists alike. There are several Kumaris in Nepal, but this one in Kathmandu is considered the most important.  She is the Royal Kumari.  Her home is close to the Royal Palace.  Unfortunately, pictures of her are not permitted but some lucky people get photo opportunities.  Thanks to Dave at The Longest Way Home for providing the photo below.

Photo kindly provided by Dave at The Longest Way Home. Copyright The Longest Way Home.

Photo kindly provided by Dave at The Longest Way Home. Copyright The Longest Way Home.

The selection of the Kumari is a rigorous one.

First, the girl must belong to the same caste as Buddha did: Newar Shakya caste.

Secondly, she must be between 2 and 4 years old and have a good horoscope which means it’s compatible with the king’s.

Third, she must never have been sick, never shed blood, never lost a tooth, and be without any blemishes.

If she passes all these tests, then she moves to a new round which includes screening for 32 “perfections”.  Among them:

  • A neck like a conch shell
  • A body like a banyan tree
  • Eyelashes like a cow
  • Thighs like a deer
  • Chest like a lion
  • Voice soft and clear as a duck’s
  • Dainty hands and feet
  • Her hair and eyes should be very black
  • Small and well-recessed sexual organs
  • A set of twenty teeth.

Above all, she must be fearless and serene.  This is determined by placing her in the midst of a celebration where 108 goats and buffaloes are sacrificed.  Then candles are lit to illuminate the severed heads and she is set free amongst them.  If the bloody heads and dancing masked men don’t scare her, she gets to move on to the bonus round.  Isn’t this a fun game?

Bonus Round: The child is placed in a room with the severed heads and must spend the whole night there.  Alone.  She must show no fear.

Waiting for the Kumari

Waiting for the Kumari to appear at the window.

If she proves herself fearless, her final test is to correctly pick out objects that belonged to the previous Kumari.

When she is chosen, she is taken from home and brought to the Kumari Palace where she can not leave for any reason except ceremonies.  Her parents, if she sees them, will now be devotees and will worship her.  Her few friends will be selected for her.  She can not touch her friends as that will make her unclean.  From this point until her first menstruation (at which point the goddess is believed to leave her body) her feet will not touch the ground outside the palace – she will only be carried in a golden palanquin or by her caretakers.

If at any time the Kumari gets sick or loses blood in any way,  even a minor scratch that bleeds, she will be stripped of the title because it is believe that the Goddess Taleju will leave her body.

To get a glimpse of her is considered to bring good fortune.  Waiting in the courtyard of her palace, tourists gather.  Finally, the Kumari appears at the window and waves listlessly with the most bored expression in her heavily made-up eyes.  Truly one of the weirder and sadder moments of my life.  How strange and lonely it must be to be her.

Once the Kumari reaches puberty, she is stripped of her title and returned to her family as a mortal.  She has little hope to marry because superstition says that anyone who marries a Kumari will die within six months.  Lucky her.

Continuing on, we pass temple after temple after temple.  Krishna tries to relate the stories of each but the Hindu and Buddhist mythology is so complex that it is too much.  After a few minutes my brain waves flat-line.

We enter the Royal Palace, no longer in use as the last King of Nepal was deposed in 2008.  All I can say for certain is that he was very rich and very short.

Sitting on the stairs of a temple, we watch the chaos below.   “I’m all temple-d out”, I said.  My mom agrees.

Kathmandu provides a spectacle unrivaled in my traveling experience.

Photos of Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square and a video about the Kumari below:

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