The Fourth Kumari
While many people have heard of the Kumari Living Goddess in Nepal, few more know that there are three main Kumaris in the Kathmandu Valley. Located in Kathmandu city, Bhaktapur and in Patan.
What many people may not know about the Kumari culture is that there is a fourth, main, Kumari. The Bungamati Kumari.
Where and what is Bungamati?
Bungamati is a small Newari township located south of Kathmandu city, Patan and Kirtipur. It once held the magnificent Rato Machhendranath temple which was completely destroyed in the 2015 earthquake.
I visited Bungamati a few weeks ago with my friend Amir. Its central area had gone from being a pristine world heritage site to being nothing more than rubble.
All that remains are a few small shrines and damaged local housing surrounding the main courtyard.
From out of the rubble
Walking around the main square was just as it was: walking through a disaster area. Surrounded by temporary housing, stacks of bricks from the temple and broken roof struts now occupied most of the area.
Leaving via the archway to the front of the temple I left to explore the rest of the town. The narrow lanes were virtually untouched by the earthquake. At least visually. The people seemed distant. They had lost their focal point, the temple. Their towns heart.
Around the corner stood a small single-storey temple. I took a photo of come children giving themselves some tika. Then from behind, up high, a giggle.
I turned to see a little girl in a bright red dress on the second floor of a small shop. Her red Newari dress and long eyeliner style make-up was unmistakable. It was a Kumari living goddess. The new sign they’d placed above the house was only confirmation.
The Kumari of Bungamati
I had known of other Kumaris but had never really looked beyond the third main Kumari of Patan. I’ve documented my Kumari history here. So it came as a surprise to stumble on the fourth Kumari quite like this.
Kinjal Bajracharya was only made Kumari of Bungamati in August. She is just 5 years old. Unlike the other Kumaris Kinjal has less restrictions on her.
She still must not let her feet touch the ground outside, but she can leave her home. Otherwise she’s like any other 5 year old. Full of smiles, cuteness and mischief.
A Kumari of hope
Kinjal was being looked after by her Grandmother that day. We were invited in to sit with her and meet her father Ratna. He’s a woodcarver. A job that’s become increasingly difficult these days as most of his workers have left to find better paid work with NGO’s reconstructing villages.
Now Ratna sits alone carving out little wooden window frames for sale to the tourist markets of Bhaktapur and Kathmandu. His workshop doesn’t smell of fresh wood carvings. It smells of concrete dust with a slight musk coming from the stacks of wood that sit relatively untouched.
There is hope though. His daughter has been blessed by the goddess Taleju. For the family it brings great prestige.
Like most little children would Kinjal grew bored of our conversation. She quickly nodded off to sleep in her grandmother’s arms.
More treasures of Bungamati
After visiting the Kumari and her family we walked around the old town some more. Up high behind the town is a temple still standing tall. The Karya Binayak temple, with all its brass bells, still stands.
Back in Bungamati the little Kumari had woken from her nap. She came rushing out on her balcony to give us a wave and a wink goodbye. We waved back at this beacon of hope and returned to the center courtyard.
We found more hope here too. The precious Bhairab statue had been rescued and was being stored safely. This previously well hidden and rare statue was now more accessible than ever.
The fourth Kumari of hope
While the Kumari tradition often brings many a frown from “western” human rights activists, she brings something to this community that they wouldn’t have otherwise.
The people that could be there reconstructing the fallen temple have all left to earn money building houses elsewhere. The remaining villagers stand around looking forgotten. They’ve lost their treasured centerpiece temple that gave them pride and prestige in the prestigious Kathmandu valley.
However as noted here, there’s not a single person, tourist nor local, who cannot walk by the fourth Kumari’s house and see her smile without smiling back.
Bungamati has a new treasure to be proud of.
Kinjal Bajracharya may be the new fourth Kumari of Nepal but she’s also slipped into being the new treasure of Bungamati.
A “Kumari of hope”.
Read more about the Kumar in this full series here:
Part 1: In Search of the Kumari
Information: Facts on The Kumari of Nepal
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