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The Living Goddess of Nepal: Kumari

Kumari is a small young girl who is believed that a mighty goddess Durga/Taleju resides in her. She is considered a living Deity and is worshipped by Hindu and Buddhist people in Nepal.

12/01/2024 9:32 AM

Kumari is a small young girl who is believed that a mighty goddess Durga/Taleju resides in her. She is considered a living Deity and is worshipped by Hindu and Buddhist people in Nepal.


In the country with more than three thousand temples and statues of gods and goddesses lives a living deity known as Kumari. This living goddess Kumari is believed as a reincarnation of a female deity (Durga or Taleju) inside the body of a (3 - 5) year old little girl.

The term (Kumari), derived from the Sanskrit word “Kaumarya” is a straightforward translation of the word (virginity).

Kumari word is also used to signify (princess).

Nepal, a small landlocked country with a population of 30.72 million is a melting pot of diverse cultures and religious practices. There are 125 ethnic groups and 123 different languages spoken in Nepal, people here live in peace and harmony sharing their different cultures and traditions.

The Kumari tradition uniquely intertwines Hindu and Buddhist traditions and reflects syncretism, with both religions. Hindu people worship the living goddess with the belief that the supreme female deity Taleju resides inside her. Whereas Buddhist people assume the young princess embodies a devi inside her, known as (Vajradevi).

This extraordinary custom in Nepal is a process where a young girl is metamorphosed into a living deity by undergoing various intricate rituals and pujas. Young girls should meet certain criteria (32 Lakhshinas), i.e. thirty-two perfections to be the chosen one.

Trishna Shakya is the current royal Kumari of Nepal and was elected as a goddess in 2017 when she was at the age of 3 years old. If you ever visit Nepal, you can see her inside the Kumari Ghar located in Basantapur.


Photo by: Ameet Ranjit


The Origin of Kumari Tradition

So, you must be wondering how the Kumari tradition started in Nepal.

There are multiple beliefs about the origin of the Kumari tradition. Here are the three main stories regarding its origin.


1. Jaya Prakash Malla, Game of Dice (Tripasa)

This is the popular story regarding the origin of the Kumari tradition in Nepal.

During the Malla king period, King Jaya Prakash Malla and Goddess Taleju, a form of Durga used to play dice (Tripasa). Every night the King used to meet the Taleju secretly and play the game.

 However, there was one condition that the king couldn’t say about this to anybody, not even a hint. If others knew it would create a mess at that time.

Even the king’s wife used to ask him where he used to go every night.

Seeing the king’s behavior going out every day, the queen was very worried and one night, she decided to follow him and see where he would go. Upon following, she saw that the king entered a room in a very suspicious manner.

Queen being curious eushed and opened the door!!

Where she saw Goddess Taleju and the king playing the game of dice, seeing that the queen got confused and didn’t know how to react. Taleju got angry seeing the queen.

Since Taleju’s statement wasn’t followed she disappeared from there. The King shouted at the queen at first but later he then told everything.

Now since Goddess Taleju disappeared, the king prayed a lot for her reappearance. He performed various rituals and pujas. After trying a lot and apologizing, Taleju said that:

 “I won’t come back now however, I will be found inside a Newari community girl.”

Then a Kumari was elected in the form of Goddess Taleju in Nepal. Since then, the Kumari tradition has been running till now.


2. Trailyoka Malla 

This story also is from the time of the Malla period.

Every night Goddess Taleju used to visit the palace in the form of a human to meet the king, Trailyoka Malla, they used to play a game of dice every night.

One night when they were playing like usual. Suddenly the king had bad intentions in his mind and tried to touch Taleju inappropriately, looking at the king’s behavior, angrily she stopped visiting the king’s palace.

King realized his mistake, then he apologized a lot. He worshiped for the god to come back as usual. After a lot of prayers and tantras, God Taleju forgave the king and said she would come back in the body of a Buddhist girl belonging to the Newari community.

 After that Kumari was elected and people started worshipping her in the form of Goddess Taleju(Durga)


3. Jaya Prakash Malla

One day King Jaya Prakash Mall kicked out a girl from the country because she was not normal. It was believed that the mighty deity Durga was possessed in her. Seeing the strange behavior of the girl, King panicked and kicked the girl out.

Later this news reached the queen’s ears, hearing this news queen got angry and she demanded to bring the girl back. However, the girl was never found.

Since then, one Kumari is chosen, and everybody worships her in the form of goddess Durga.


How Does a Kumari Gets Chosen?

Choosing a Kumari is a complex process and not everyone is eligible to be a Kumari. There are 5 senior priests (Buddhist Bajracharya) involved in the process of choosing a living deity.

To be a Kumari, the girl should belong to a Buddhist family in the Newar community. She must be a virgin, that’s why Kumari is selected at such an early age. She should be of a calm and gentle nature.

The chosen girl should not have any marks on her body and shouldn’t have any disease.  Her skin tone should be white or dusky along with pure black hair and eye color, she should have a complete set of 20 milk teeth.

In addition to that she should have 32 perfections also known as (32 laxinas) the same as the goddess Durga. Girls with most of the perfections matching the goddess Durga will be given preferences.


32 Perfections of Goddess Kumari

Here's a lit of the 32 perfections to be a Kumari:

  1. Must be a Virgin.
  2. Body like a Banyan Tree (Nyagrodha)
  3. Eyelashes like Cow
  4. Cheeks like a lion
  5. Deep voice of a sparrow
  6. A neck like a mussel
  7. Thighs like those of a deer
  8. A broad forehead
  9. Neck like a conch shell
  10. No bad body odor
  11. Perfectly shaped full set of teeth teeth
  12. White teeth
  13. Straight but turning to the right hair
  14. Sign of Serenity and Fearlessness
  15. No blemishes, moles, or Birthmarks
  16. Body formed like a Saptacchata Leaf
  17. Voice soft and clear as of a duck
  18. Same horoscope as of the King
  19. Lomg arms
  20. A round head
  21. Round shoulders
  22. A well-formed heel
  23. Shapely feet
  24. A circle under the sole of the foot
  25. Round toes
  26. A pure body
  27. Black Straight Hair and Dark Eyes
  28. Fair or Dusky Skin
  29. Delicate and Soft hands and feet
  30. Small and moist tongue
  31. Small and well-recessed sexual organs
  32. A strong body


After a girl is selected then the (Kundali) of the king and the girl is matched. If it shows good signs, then only the process moves further.

When the biggest festival in Nepal Dashain arrives, A test is taken with the selected girls. During the (Kalratri) ritual,108 Buffalo and goats will be sacrificed and left on the floor, later the young child should walk on that floor without getting scared, if she gets scared and screams, she will be taken out of the process, if not she will be taken into a dark room full of heads of 108 animals and left alone for a whole night.

This is done because many people believe that in order to be the embodiment of the mighty goddess Durga (blood-loving deity), she shouldn't fear blood and terror.

If she passes these tests without showing any fear during the process, sacred rituals will be performed to remove the impurity, only then she will be declared as a Royal Kumari and will be shifted to her new house (Kumari Ghar). While the Royal Kumari is taken to Kumari Ghar others will be taken to their own home and treated as a goddess.

This selection process is completed before late October.


Life of a Royal Kumari


Kumari Ghar


The life of Kumari is pretty unusual compared to a normal young girl. As soon as she becomes a Kumari her daily life changes drastically. She can’t live with her family and should leave home after she becomes a Kumari. She’s only allowed to wear red clothes and no shoes are allowed for her. There will be caretakers for her inside the Kumari Ghar, making sure she eats well, is clean and her makeup is on point.

She is carried from one place to another instead of walking so that she won’t shed blood by getting injured. She’s not allowed to talk to other people except her family and caretakers. She’s not allowed to leave the Kumari Ghar and isn’t allowed to play outside or wear shoes.

While she lives inside her palace people visit Kumari Ghar to see her. During normal days Royal Kumari blesses her devotees in between intervals, people wait for 15-30 minutes outside the window just to have a look at her. It is believed just a glimpse of Living Kumari will bring fortunes in a person's life.

The Royal Kumari gets out of Kumari Ghar only 10-12 days a year. Most of them include festivals and Jatras. you can also visit the Kumari Gahr in Basantapur to see the living Deity.


Chariot where Kumari sits in during Jatra


There are 10 Kumaris in the valley, The Kathmandu Kumari is the most popular one. The Kumari of Kathmandu is also known as the Royal Kumari as she lives inside the Taleju Temple (Kumari Ghar).

Similar to Kathmandu there are Kumari’s in places like Patan, Bhaktapur, Sankhu, etc. Unlike the Royal Kumari, other Kumari stays inside their own house with her family, instead as a daughter she is treated as God and many visitors come to visit her. Their parents are her caretakers. The food cooked in the house is first served to the Kumari. Their parents quit their jobs and make sure all her wishes are fulfilled.

It is believed that just a glimpse of Kumari will bring good luck and blessings in a person’s life.


Kumari being worshipped in her home


Gestures of Kumari

Whenever you look at a Kumari’s face you mostly see a serious expression. This is because it is believed a serious Kumari face indicates a fulfilled wish of the devotees. There are other gestures of Kumari indicated by her facial expression some of them are:

  • Crying: Problem
  • Happiness: Death
  • Picking at Food Offerings: Financial losses
  • Weeping or Rubbing Eyes: Imminent Death
  • Trembling: Imprisonment


How is life after the dethronement of Kumari?

At some point in time, the role of the former Kumari comes to an end and is replaced with a new one. When Kumari sheds blood from our body either by mensuration or injury she will be dethroned. It is believed that the Goddess Durga leaves Kumari’s body after blood comes out of the body.

After the dethronement, she is immediately back to her normal ordinary girl life, (From divine goddess to normal girl) which definitely will be a drastic change for her. The ex-Kumari may face difficulty in walking and speaking with other people as she is not used to all this stuff. They wouldn’t have any education and would have to live a hard life.

As with any ancient tradition, the Kumari practice has evolved over the centuries. Although Kumari wasn’t allowed to meet people and friends along with going to school, later new changes were made, and now Kumari is given proper education and some socializing skills by allowing to play with her friends.

The Royal Kumari now has her Private teacher and is given full rights to play inside the Kumari Ghar. Nowadays ex Kumari’s have been continuing their studies and working as their interests after their dethronement. This clearly indicates that Kumari’s existence isn’t as harsh as portrayed. Most of it is because of the new rules and rights provided to the Kumari.

Here's a detailed video by Khalid Al Ameri on YouTube, interviewing the ex-Kumari (Chanira Bajracharya) about the life of Kumari after dethronement:



The Oldest Living Kumari in Nepal

Among all the younger Kumari’s, there’s one 71-year-old Kumari in Nepal. Miss Dhana Kumari Bajracharya is the oldest Kumari in Nepal. At the age of 2 years, she was chosen as Kumari in 1954 AD. She is still following the Kumari lifestyle until now because she never had her first period.

 She stayed in the position of Kumari for 32 years. Later she was replaced by a new Kumari even though she never had her period. She chose to stay as a Kumari for life and is living in her own house as a Kumari. People still visit her to worship and get blessings.


Miss Dhana Kumari Bajracharya (oldest Kumari)


Bhairav and Ganesh: Living Male Deities

Bahirav playing football, Source: Online Khabar


Similar to Kumari you can also find two living male gods in Nepal considered as Bhairav and Ganesh. Similar to Kumari these young boys should belong to the Shakya clan originally belonging from Kathmandu.

The picture above you see is Bhairav. He is a male deity worshipped in Nepal. His name is 'Rojan Shakya'. Unlike Kumari, most people don't even know he exists.

Rojan lifestyle is a little different compared to Kumari's, He lives in a typical Newari house located at Ombahal, Kathmandu. He has a throne inside where he will sit as a Bhairab and people around worship him.  Bhairav has to wear a long Kurtha Suruwal (traditional dress) and should keep his hair long. There are a few other restrictions for Bhairav.

Besides the restrictions, He is allowed to go to school and make friends and lives his life as a completely normal boy outside his home. He can play games of his interest. Bhairav retires every 14-15 years Similar to Kumari being replaced after her mensuration. 

Bhairav's family is also under a lot of burden because taking care of Bhairav as a god and a son simultaneously is really a tough job financially, physically, and mentally. They are in a dilemma either to continue this tradition or live an easier lifestyle.




Who is the current Kumari?

The current Royal Kumari name is Trishna Shakya. At the age of three, she was chosen to be a Kumari after the dethronement of Matina Shakya on Sept 27, 2017.


What happens to Kumari after mensuration?

After mensuration, Kumari immediately becomes a normal girl, and she is no longer considered pure. It is believed Goddess Durga leaves Kumari’s body after blood comes out of Kumari’s body either by injury or mensuration.


What happens if Kumari smiles at you?

A smiling Kumari indicates a bad message for the people. Although it looks good seeing the living deity smile, it results in bad incidents to happen.


Is Kumari allowed to marry?

Yes, a Kumari is allowed to marry just like any other girl.

Some may believe that marrying a Kumari results in the death of a spouse at a young age. However, it is just a myth and ex-Kumari can marry without any restrictions.


Who was the longest Kumari?

The longest Kumari ever existed was Miss Dhana Kumari Bajracharya who stayed as a royal Kumari for 32 years and still is living as a Kumari at her own home.


Does Kumari still exist?

Yes, the Living Goddess still exists in Nepal. you can find a lot of Kumari’s in Nepal the main Royal Kumari staying in Kumari Ghar in Kathmandu Durbar Square.


Is Kumari a Hindu god?

Yes, Goddess Kumari is a Hindu god belonging to the Buddhist religion. So, both Hindu and Buddhist people worship her as Goddess Taleju or Durga.


Which cast can be Kumari?

A Buddhist Girl belonging to the Newari community can only be eligible to be a Kumari.


Panchanga Adhikari

Senior Travel Consultant at Hiking Bees

Panchanga is a crucial team member in Hiking Bees, as he oversees the company's digital operations and agency execution. With a robust background in tech, travel, and tourism. He is an avid travel enthusiast. Currently, Panchanga serves as the Travel Consultant at Hiking Bees.

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