About the Kumari Living Goddess in Nepal

Revered as a living goddess, the Kumari are young girls who have a Newari/Hindu deity living within them.

During my years traveling in Nepal, I visited and learned about the Kumari living goddesses as they were in the past and as they are today. Much has changed, but the ethos of a living god continues.

I encourage you to keep an open mind when learning about the Kumari in Nepal. Avoid the tours and guides who will try to take you to see them. Visit yourself independently; it's easy, and you'll learn how here. Do read my personal journals about visiting the Kumaris at the bottom of this page.

A Kumari living goddess
A Kumari living goddess
Above all, I encourage you to respect the Newari culture that embellishes the Kumari. The Newars are the first people credited with creating the Kathmandu Valley. Those pagoda-style temples were created during the Newar royal Malla era. The same royal family that worshipped the Kumari as a representation of the goddess Taleju. Even today, when a new prime minister is elected, they must get a blessing from the Kumari. The Newars today continue to support tradition and culture throughout Nepal. They've campaigned for the rebuilding of many monuments after the 2015 earthquake when others wanted them to be replicated in concrete. Without the Newar culture, there would not have been a Kathmandu Valley in the past or even in the present. The Kumari is a part of that culture.

Over the years since I first published these articles about the Kumari, I've witnessed people, tour agents, and journalists take advantage of both the information here and of the Kumari. Maybe it's simply a sign of the times or maybe it's that word "respect" which is being ignored and exploited.

What is a Kumari?

The Kumari or Kumari Devi comes from the Hindu faith; however, most of the "traditional" Kumari in Kathmandu are Newari (original settlers of the Kathmandu Valley). In Nepal, the Kumari is a prepubescent girl selected by a council from the Newari people that acts as a manifestation of divine female energy.

A Nepali Kumari is believed to be the living incarnation of the goddess Taleju, also known as Durga. This continues until after menstruation when the goddess Taleju vacates her body. Illness and loss of blood due to injury can also mean the goddess leaves the girl's body.

The idea behind this leads to writings stating that the goddess resides in all female living beings in this universe of which the cosmos was made from her womb. As the goddess believes in chastity and impurity, a young child is therefore the ideal choice to house the goddess on earth.

Today, the word Kumari means "virgin," which is important to remember as we delve deeper into this fascinating living legend.

History of the Kumari in Nepal

Both the Hindu and Nepali histories of the Kumari are vast and intricate, dating back 2,300 years to virgin worship in India.

Bungamati KumariKumari's in Nepal only became evident in the 17th century. That said, there is also evidence of virgin worship in Nepal dating back to the 6th century during the Licchavi period. Today, many people mix the two histories up, which sadly results in several backlashes from other cultures.

There are several legends that tell of how the Kumari came to be in Nepal. From the goddess visiting King Jayaprakash Malla in his dreams to the same King angering the goddess for making sexual advances. To the King's wife learning of the banishment of a young girl possessed by the goddess, telling the King to bring her back as the living embodiment of the goddess.

Today, there are many Kumari in Nepal. Indeed, unknown to many, most Newari villages have a "Kumari." However, it is the royal Kumari of Kathmandu that is the most senior and well known.

On September 28th, 2017, the Kathmandu Kumari, Matina Shakya, stepped down, and three-year-old Trishna Shakya was appointed the new Kumari, living goddess.

How is a Kumari selected?

Once the current Kumari is no longer eligible to be a vessel for the goddess, a national or regional search begins to find an appropriate successor. There are many criteria that a council of Newari have to make sure are met. These include the thirty-two perfections of a goddess. Some of which are:

  • A body like a banyan tree
  • Thighs like a deer
  • Eyelashes like a cow
  • Twenty unbroken teeth should be present
  • Hair and eyes should be very black

Keep in mind these are just some of the necessities in being a Kumari. For example, the selection process itself for the Kathmandu Kumari involves even more:

During the Kalratri, or 'black night' ritual, 108 buffaloes and goats are sacrificed. The young girl is taken into the Taleju temple's courtyard where the severed heads of the animals are illuminated by candles, and masked men dance about. The child must show no fear during any of this.

Finally, the girl must spend a night with slaughtered heads of the animals and again show no fear.

If she passes these tests, the girl is taken for ritual cleansing of her past life. Adorned with the Kumari clothes and taken to her new house where she shall remain without seeing her past family until such time as the goddess leaves her (usually her first menstruation).

The above are the strict and official rules. Today, many of the Kumari do get to see their families, and indeed, the families live with them.

Many of the press have latched on to the older stories. Those simply are not true anymore. Even in the past, the Kumari's could see their parents. Today, if you visit the Kumari, there's a high likelihood she will be living with her parents.

Furthermore, one should be aware that not only do the press like to inflate the past but local non-Newars have done so as well. In particular, tour guides who like to drum up a story. Again, my advice is to forego both and respectfully seek out the Kumari yourself to discover the truth.

Life of a Royal Kumari

Kumari's residence in Kathmandu
Kumari's residence in Kathmandu

Once living in her residence, the Kumari will only leave on official ceremonial duties. Today, due to social change, the Kathmandu Kumari's family may visit on formal occasions (other Kumari's live with their families). Her friends will be chosen from those of her caste. She will be educated by her caregivers. Her feet will never touch the outside ground again, though on ceremonial occasions, worshipers will want to touch them.

Today, many politicians and royalty still visit the Royal Kumari seeking a blessing for their duties.

One may petition to visit the Kumari but never talk with her. It is believed that a look from the Kumari will tell one's future wealth, health, and status. These include:

  • Picking at food offerings will be associated with financial losses
  • Crying is associated with illness or death
  • Trembling means an impending imprisonment
  • Silence is perhaps the greatest thing for a visitor as it means their wishes are likely to be upheld

Many visit the Kumari with blood or menstruation problems due to her association with the subject.

Life after the goddess leaves a Kumari

The girl is immediately regarded as a normal child and given back to her parents. A small token pension is awarded to her. In the past, such abrupt changes were said to psychologically damage a child. Going from goddess with everything provided for you to simply being an everyday child. However, the reality seems a little more sedate as you can read later.

Patan Kumari on her throne
Patan Kumari on her throne

There is also a legend about how a Kumari's spouse will die early, leading to the now normal girl never getting married. Several modern-day Kumari's have come out and disregarded many harsh aspects of the life of a Kumari.

Tourism has had a damaging effect on the Kumari in many respects. In 2007, Sajani Shakya, the Kumari of Bhaktapur, after visiting the US to attend the release of a documentary about the Kumari, was removed from her position by an elder council. This was for breaking the Kumari tradition of letting her feet touch the ground and leaving her residence. After much debate, she was reinstated after a re-cleansing ceremony.

In Patan, a tour company began charging tourists $50 to visit the Kumari there. However, it was revealed here that they never paid the family more than a token gesture. The family stopped the tour guides coming in. Sadly, with several new Kumaris, more tour guides are "trying it on" again, unknown to the families.

The Kumari gets a pension after leaving the position. Many are now supported through school after being the Kumari. Keep in mind that there is more than just one Kumari. There could well be a village Kumari where there is simply a lack of funds to support a wealthy pension.

In recent times, several former Kumari have written about their time as a Kumari. Most simply continue on their lives as best they can and settle back into a normal life in Nepal.

How to visit the Kumari Living Goddess in Nepal

Avoid all tour companies offering tours to visit a Kumari. You don't need a tour to visit a Kumari. Despite saying they are socially responsible community supporting companies, these tour companies are rip-offs.

Ceremonial attire of the Kumari
Ceremonial attire of the Kumari

It was previously stopped. But in 2018, several Nepali tour companies and guides are offering paid tours to the Kumari once again. These companies and guides are cheating both tourists, the Kumari, and their families.

There is no entrance fee to visit any of the Kumaris. Yet these tour companies are charging tourists for the "opportunity to see a living goddess". In return, they donate just 20-50 rupees to the Kumari families.

Some companies charge tourists USD$50, and yet the Kumari family ends up with $0.20 to $0.50 a visit. Not enough to even buy a school book. Moreover, there is no payment allowed to visit. It's just a token donation or offering to the goddess. Imagine paid tours to visit the Pope or another religious figurehead... It's just not right nor allowed. However, many of these guides don't believe in the Kumari nor the religion and simply wish to profit.

The truth of the matter is you can get a bus or taxi to visit yourself. It's not hard or difficult. Details are in the posts below and in my guidebook to Nepal. Please don't fall for these tour companies or guides cheating the Kumari. It's just so wrong.

How to visit the Patan Kumari

Of all the Kumaris in the Kathmandu Valley, the Patan Kumari is the easiest to visit at the moment. The Kathmandu Kumari is off-limits aside from the courtyard in Durbar Square. The Bhaktapur Kumari visits were clamped down following the 2007 scandal. The Bungamati Kumari is a little further out in the valley.

The Patan Kumari Samita Bajracharya
The Patan Kumari Samita Bajracharya

Keep in mind the Patan Kumari changes and the location will also eventually change again depending on the family's own residence. Everything is up to date here.

Visiting the Kumari should be treated like visiting a person of religious merit and not a tourist attraction. Leave the selfies at home for this one. Yes, you can take a photograph just not one of those "hey look I'm with a living goddess" type ones.

Simply visit Patan Durbar Square. At the southern ticket office instead of going inside take a left. Continue up the street for about 200 feet to Haka Baha (Monastery).

One there enter into the courtyard and look to your left. You'll see a "Kumari Living Goddess" sign. Ring the bell or say Namaste, and someone will attend to you.

You'll be brought before the Living Goddess. You should kneel. Don't try to talk to her. Remember the rules and what it means if she does one of the following.

  • Picking at food offerings will be associated with financial losses
  • Crying is associated with illness or death
  • Trembling means an impending imprisonment
  • Silence is perhaps the greatest thing for a visitor as it means their wishes are likely to be upheld

There will be a dish by her feet. You may leave an offering of 20-50 rupees here. Traditionally, you should also touch her feet for a second or two. Stand up and leave.

That's it. Very simple. No need for a tour guide is there!

You can read about my visit to the Kumari below for a more in-depth look at this incredible tradition in Nepal.

Alternatively, full details on visiting the Kumari are available in my guidebook to Nepal.

You can also read more about my search for the Kumari of Nepal in the articles below.

Articles about the Kumari

The following articles will take you from my original search for the Kumari, to finding the Kumari all the way through to when the girl is no longer a Kumari and discovering other Kumari in Nepal.

House of the Kathmandu Kumari In Search of Nepal's Living Goddess Kumari on a throne Meeting a Living Goddess for the first time: The Kumari
Samita Bajracharya: The Kumari Meet Samita Bajracharya: The Kumari Samita Bajracharya: The former Kumari From Living Goddess to Former Kumari
Photograph of the Kumari dress Kumari Photograph The Fourth Kumari in Bungamati The fourth Kumari: the Bungamati Kumari
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