What is the kumari

Cult in Nepal: From a goddess to a normal girl

It wasn't too long ago that Chanira Bajracharya was worshiped as a goddess in Nepal. Today the 21-year-old is doing a master’s degree in business administration. Your story is about a religious cult. And a transition into normal life that was not always easy.

Bajracharya was barely six years old when she was chosen by Hindu priests in April 2001 as a so-called Kumari. These young girls are seen as incarnations of the Hindu goddess Taleju and are worshiped by both Hindus and Buddhists. There are nine such child goddesses in the Kathmandu valley. They are the bearers of a centuries-old tradition. But her everyday life is tough.

A Kumari either lives in the temple or at home, but is not allowed to leave her home. Every morning begins with a ritual. Elaborate eye make-up is first applied, followed by prayers. Then the child goddess receives visitors who ask for her blessing. As a sign of awe, some touch the goddess' feet with their foreheads.

At the Jatra Festival at the end of the rainy season, she is carried on a litter through the streets of the ancient royal city of Lalitpur, where thousands of worshipers and masked dancers worship the Hindu goddess Taleju. Child rights activists believe that this is not a childhood.

"Ultimately, the child goddess is a child. She should not be treated in a way that could negatively affect her psyche," says Gauri Pradhan, a former envoy for the national human rights commission. Nevertheless, he does not want to abolish the tradition. The authorities should, however, improve the situation of the Kumari. "You have to allow her to play with her friends and see her parents regularly," says Pradhan.

A petition to abolish the Kumaris had already been submitted to Nepal's Supreme Court in 2005, but it failed three years later. Instead, the court ordered the government to reform the traditional set of rules surrounding the child goddesses.

"This is not child abuse," says the cultural scientist Chunda Bajracharya from the University of Tribhuvan, who despite the common surname is not a relative of the former child goddess Chanira Bajracharya. The girls are also allowed to play at home, she emphasizes. "Rather, it shows that our culture honors her childhood by giving the girl divine power. And in a few years she will be free again."

The former child goddess also sees it that way. "We're helping to preserve our culture. People talk negatively about it, but tradition has many good sides, including attracting tourists," she says. But she demands higher pensions and better training opportunities for former goddesses.

Since the beginning of the 2000s, child rights activists and some parents of Kumaris have been campaigning for the girls to be allowed to be taught at home and thus receive an education. Bajracharya was one of the first to benefit from the changes. At the age of 15, she passed the tenth grade exams in March 2010. When she entered puberty six months later, her life as a goddess ended with her childhood. But the transition to normal life was difficult for the then 16-year-old. Even leaving her house was a challenge, she says.

"I had to go to a nearby temple. The last time I walked on the street was nine years ago and I was no longer used to it. I wish someone had carried me on my litter," she recalls. With the help of her parents - a painter and a housewife - she learned how to walk longer distances. But she also found it difficult to deal with her peers when she first attended school.

Bajracharya says she would have liked more help transitioning into normal life. But she has never regretted her time as a goddess. "I am very lucky to have two lives - one as a child goddess and another as a normal person. I am very proud of that."