A return visit to my Living Goddess friend
If you’ve not read about my previous visits to the Kumari living goddess in Nepal I encourage you to do so before reading here. It’s a fascinating journey that will take you from my initial search right up to becoming friends with the Kumari and her family. It will also give you some insight into what you are about to read.
I’ve held back on publishing this since April 2014 for several reasons. Primarily because of the amount of publicity the Kumari have got since I first published about meeting with Samita several years ago. Big media jumped on the band wagon and I want to let recent events settle before continuing.
I’ve gotten to know the family quite well and know what the pressures of “fame” or “curiosity” from the outside world can do to a genuinely wonderful family.
Now with the dust settled let me take you back a while, sharing with you my last meeting with the goddess before she reverted back to being a twelve-year-old girl and meeting up with her again in totally difference circumstances.
Visiting the Kumari once more
It had been a couple of years since I’d last seen Samita Bajracharya and her family in Patan, Nepal.
I’d held off from casual visits as I hoped to be spending a longer time in Patan on a project near the Mahaboudha Temple. Of course with my lifestyle this kept getting postponed for week after week after month.
Part of the reason I delayed things was also due to being worried that things might have changed in the Kumari household. Since I’d last been there Samita and her family had become well-known across the world.
- Would this fame have changed them from the lovely family I’d grown to know before?
- Would Samita have grown up to be spoilt?
It was, for me, safer to live with the good memories than discover something I was afraid might happen
Meanwhile that little red bag I’d bought her in Bangkok was sitting in a storage box in Kathmandu getting dusty. It made me feel safe knowing it was there, unwrapped and undelivered.
Red is an important color in Nepal. It’s a fabled Newari color in clothing and also the color of the popular tikka. It’s also the color of the Kumari’s ceremonial dress. Other than that, well what else do you buy a living goddess for a gift?’
I arrived at the Kumari courtyard filled with those old memories and holding a little red bag. I was also, to be honest, holding a lot of anxiety. I’d finally taken a break from my project and wanted to see something good in this world again. So I rang the doorbell.
An older round face immediately appeared at the doorway. Samita’s mother, Shova. She broke into a huge smile when she recognized me. If it wasn’t for Nepalese custom I’m sure there was a big hug there too.
Upstairs to the Living Goddess
Shoes off, we went upstairs to the living room chatting in broken English about our past meeting and what’s happened since. In the living room I heard the patter of footsteps from the floor above.
I recognized them but was still unsure. They raced over to the top of the stairs. A favorite place the world over for young children to sit and listen to adults talking below.
In the small living room Shova and I kept getting stuck for words as our individual linguistic skills failed a more in-depth conversation. Instead we both settled on looking through photos on my phone of where I’d been since last we met.
With the photos done I turned to Shova and asked, “So, is Samita around?”
“Of course!” replied Shova looking awkwardly towards the stairs.
I laughed while turning my back to the stairs and covering my eyes.”No problem, I’m not looking!”
There were hushed uncertain whispers. A rustle of clothing. More pattering of little feet. A mother urging speed and with that a breeze flew by and into the Kumari throne room.
“Okay!” said Shova.
I turned and nodded with a smile at our impromptu formal protocol of not ever being allow to see a Kumari’s feet touch the ground. Shova was smiling back and pointed the way I knew all too well.
Entering the Kumari throne room
To call the twelve by sixteen foot room a throne room was a little over ambitious. But this is Nepal, a small country, which contains some of the more wonderful and unique things on earth.
Included in this is the Kumari legend. There on her little throne was the young girl I’d met years ago soon after the goddess Taleju (Durga) had chosen her and she’d become the Kumari.
Samita had grown. Wearing a red golden dress she looked taller and a little older.
She sat staring straight ahead and emotionless as true Kumari protocol dictates.
My mind raced in wonder if she had changed from sweet child to spoilt child with all the attention over the past few years. Did that loving family I befriended years ago hold on to the virtues that made them so special to me? Did they help Samita deal with all this pressure and attention over the years.
“Hey Samita … ” I blurted, “I mean Kumari Goddess. Remember me? The guy who talked too much last time.”
Silence. She stared ahead. I moved forward to the blessing area and knelt down.
“I’m back in Nepal and wanted to visit you and your family again. I hope that’s okay?”
Silence. The Kumari with those big brown eyes like that of a fawn stared ahead without so much as a hint of emotion.
I babbled on about my previous visit and recalled my joke about falling off the chair.
The Kumari looked down at the ground.
I continued on about the rigors of finding her the right gift and not being sure if she liked red.
“I figured the goddess likes red, but I’m not sure if Samita likes red. Maybe you’re sick of red. Everything you’ve had has been red for years. So maybe you’d preferred pink! Or green or …”
The Kumari looked up, down and then up again as if wondering when I’d stop babbling.
“Oh wait,” I fired off. “I can’t remember! Do you understand English? You must! I’m sure you can. Your brother can. I think you teach your brother things too right?”
“Nuts, I forgot, you can’t answer.”
Samita looked up again, then down. Seemingly a little awkward at my insistent babbling. At least somethings never change.
I bent over and placed the handbag by her feet.
“I hope you like it.”
After receiving my blessing I wished her the best and hoped we’d meet again before I left Nepal.
Chilling with the Goddesses brother
Outside in the living room Samita’s mother had been joined by her son, Sabin. He’d grown too. Now in his late teens he was on his way to work but afforded me some time to sit and chat to catch up on things.
Samita had been teaching him to play the Dramyin (traditional Nepalese guitar). He played me a tune before apologizing that he was late for work.
I walked him out. Along the way he showed me some off the beaten path places in Patan. Something I truly appreciated.
It’s hard to fathom that even a goddesses brother needs to work. The Kumari gets a small living allowance from the Government. It’s more a token than anything and certainly not enough to live on. So her brother and father work regular jobs just like everyone else.
I felt a sense of relief that fame had not changed this lovely family over the past few years. They were still a force of togetherness. Yes, I couldn’t tell from my short visit with Samita whether she was doing as well. But such is her life as a living goddess.
I left the Bajracharya family house with another promise – I’d be back.
A new Patan Kumari
So we fast forward a little to April 2014. I was having lunch in Pokhara while reading a national newspaper when a short headline in the culture section jumped out.
New Kumari in Patan
Samita Bajracharya had menstruated and was no longer Kumari. There was now a new Kumari.
With no hesitation, I was on a bus to Kathmandu and to Patan.
My mind was racing with so much. Would the family still be in the Kumari courtyard? They said it was their family home. But it’s Nepal and communication is not always exact.
My worst fear was that they were gone. Moved to a new home far off in the suburbs.
I met with a taxi man I knew in Kathmandu and hired him for the day. He spoke good English and I explained the situation. He wasn’t Newari and so wasn’t that interested in the Kumari. But, he’d help in my search for her if they’d moved.
Meeting a former Kumari living goddess
I entered the Kumari courtyard. Immediately looking over to the left where the Bajracharya family had lived. The “Kumari Goddess” sign was gone. It was no more than a normal Newari door now. Closer, there was another doorway with the sign over it. It marked the new Kumari goddess residence.
I took a deep breath and walked over to the old doorway. Memories came flooding back. So much had changed.
The goddess was gone but was the family still there?
Reaching up to ring the doorbell a familiar face appeared at the doorway.
Shova broke into a huge smile and I reached out with both hands clenched tightly.
“Yes! You’re still here!”
Shova put her hands to her face and called out something in Nepalese before urging me inside and over to a chair to remove my shoes.
My back to the inner house I had started to explain about being worried they had moved when a young voice greeted me from behind.
I spun around and there was Samita smiling back at me as she emerged from another room.
She smiled, “What’s up?”
“So you remember me?” I said awkwardly. Totally unsure if a former Kumari was able to remember who she met when she was a goddess. Yes, I felt stupid asking this but … well. Such is life when you are friends with a goddess or rather a former Kumari.
“Of course,” she shrugged with a confused typical teenage like dismissal.
I laughed, as did her mother.
Catching up with Samita and her family
It was a Saturday so Samita’s brother and father, Kulratna, were also there. We sat down in the living room and caught up on recent events. I really had no clue what happens after the goddess leaves someone and even if they were allowed to talk about it. My questions felt redundant. But still I asked.
Yes, Samita remembers everything from when she was a Kumari. No, they did not have to move as this is indeed the family home. Yes, Samita remembers me nearly falling off a chair years ago when I visited with friends. No, she wouldn’t answer if she thought it was funny.
“What did you think I was doing?”
Samita hesitated, “I think … Well, I thought you were a bit silly … or maybe stupid.”
We all broke out laughing.
The barriers were broken and we relaxed into causal chat.
A regular Nepalese family filled with laughs and friendship
During our chat we were interrupted by a tall older man in shorts. The former Kumari and her mother broke out into hysterical laughter. This went on for quite some time. The man looked a little funny in short shorts but I didn’t quite “get it”.
Samita explained, “He’s the man who carried me when I was Kumari. We’ve never seen his legs before.” She paused to break out into hysterics again, “He’s got such skinny legs!”
Indeed, these are the days following years of high protocol and rituals. Today was one more drop in protocol as the man who looked after the goddess for so many years appeared so causally in their house.
Everything had changed. It was a different world now.
I will leave out most of the banter. The most important thing was learning that Samita is doing really well. She can now leave the house at her own will. But as a twelve-year old still asks for her mother’s permission. She walks to school with her school mates and enjoys English and history. They talk about … well. Well, they talk about what just about every other school girl her age in Nepal talks about.
She’s become a renown musician and Dramyin player. The next night she was taking part in her first musical performance in Patan. Everyone was preparing. Everyone was proud and more importantly happy.
Yes, Samita has emerged from her time as a Kumari as just a regular Nepalese school girl.
Her time as a Kumari is one she feels honored being a part of. She’s friends with the current Kumari. I’m showed a family treasure that explains to me so much about the Kumari I didn’t know before. I feel privileged once again to know such lovely people.
Photography lessons and more laughs
One of the big changes I talked with the family about were the amount of photographs that now lined the wall compared to when I first arrived years beforehand when the wall was bare.
“I remember you bringing photographs,”said Samita.
No one had ever given the family photographs of themselves or Samita before. At least this had also changed.
“And the doll!” Shova blurted. “It’s here in the bedroom.
And so it was. The little doll I’d searched Kathmandu for years ago. I smiled and offered to show them how to take their own photographs with my camera.
Samita is full of confidence for a twelve-year old and takes my camera.
I show her where to press and how to look through the view finder. She picks it up immediately along with the focus ring and takes a lovely photograph of her mother.
There was no better time for a family portrait.
Shova, Samita and Kulratna lined up under the new photographs on the wall. Rigid. We laughed about how serious they looked.
“Let’s make this a beautiful photo of smiles for a new wall!”
They smiled. So we joked a little more before we all erupted into laughter about the man in short shorts of all things!
Coming full circle with the Kumari
I realized that in my rush I did not bring a gift with me this time. It wasn’t mandatory to do so. But I’m of the opinion if you visit friends you don’t see so often it’s nice to do so. However in my rush to get here I’d forgotten. So I left to get some food to bring back.
The lovely thing about the Bajracharya’s is that they don’t expect anything. I arrived with snacks and we all sat round laughing for a while longer. A neighbor called around with a newborn baby. Everyone cooed and fawned over it.
I exchanged email addresses and ubiquitous Facebook details with the family to stay in touch. I promised to write one more article and here it is.
It’s been an amazing experience to come full circle with both the Kumari living goddess legend, Samita and her family.
I left knowing that this was indeed a happy family. A happy home.
I left no longer knowing a living goddess.
Today I’m honored to be friends with the former Kumari Samita Bajracharya and her entire wonderful family.
Read the full series here:
Part 1: In Search of the Kumari
Part 4 (current): From living goddess to former Kumari & schoolgirl
Information: Facts on The Kumari of Nepal
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