Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Other Living Goddess

Before Nepal was unified as a single country in the eighteenth century, it was a collection of small kingdoms. Each palace was based around a Durbar Square, and the three in the Kathmandu Valley - Kathmandu, Bhaktepur and Patan - are impressive World Heritage Sites*.

Kathmandu's Durbar Square is teeming with ancient temples, palaces, shrines and statues... and also with pigeons and touts.  While Dave engaged a tour guide in a heated discussion about tourist guide licensing schemes (I can't make this stuff up), I wandered around, climbing steep staircases, peering behind corners, quietly observing extremely loud religious ceremonies, and hoping not to get pooped on by the millions of pigeons.
I wanted no part of this.
Ew.  I wanted no part of this, either.
This kid, however, wanted all kinds of parts of this.
So... because I refused a guide (licensed or not), I don't exactly know the name or purpose of this (or any other) structure.
Just enjoy the photos.

When I finally found Dave again, he was playing down-low-too-slow with some local kids
Besides all those buildings that I don't know the name of, Durbar Square is also home to Kumari the Living Goddess.  Although there are several Kumaris in Nepal (and in India), the Kathmandu Kumari is the most important.  Each Kumari is selected from a pool of young girls from the poor Shakya community in a highly ritualistic series of ceremonies.  Thirty-two physical attributes, from the shape of her teeth to the color of her eyes, are scrutinized.  Then, the potential Kumari is taken to a darkened courtyard full of really scary stuff - the severed heads of recently sacrificed buffalo, and dancing, menacing masked men.  A true living goddess is expected to remain calm and fearless during this ordeal.  As a final test, the Kumari must select clothing and other items worn by her predecessor from among an assortment of goods.  Once a girl has passed these tests, she is deemed the new Kumari, the living manifestation of the goddess Tuleju.  Her feet will never touch the ground outside of her palace.  She will reign until she hits puberty (or is afflicted with a serious illness or injury), and then abruptly become mortal again.  (That sucks.  I, for one, intend to remain a living goddess for the duration of my life).

Dave outside Kumari Chowk
Just to catch a glimpse of Kumari is considered to bestow extraordinary good luck.  Unfortunately, although we dropped by during visiting hours Kumari did not deign to make an appearance in a window above her courtyard.
Not that we could have documented it if she had.
Waiting (somewhat) patiently in the courtyard for the goddess who never showed.  How rude.
If you go:  Durbar Square is in easy walking distance from Thamel.  Your ticket (around $4 for foreigners) is only good for one day, but if you visit the visitor's office you can exchange it for a multi-day pass.  I've read that your passport and a passport photo is required, but we were never asked for one.

* Well, we can only assume that Patan is impressive. We got templed-out and didn't make it there.

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