Nepal's Living Goddesses

Though in some traditions goddesses exist only in the spiritual realm, in Nepal they live and breathe. These kumari, or "living goddesses," are prepubescent girls considered to be the earthly manifestations of divine female energy, incarnations of the goddess known as Taleju, the Nepalese name for Durga. Selected as children, they live in temples, carried in chariots during festivals and are worshiped by thousands of Hindus and Buddhists.
 
Though in some traditions goddesses exist only in the spiritual realm, in Nepal they live and breathe. These kumari, or "living goddesses," are prepubescent girls considered to be the earthly manifestations of divine female energy, incarnations of the goddess known as Taleju, the Nepalese name for Durga. Selected as children, they live in temples, carried in chariots during festivals and are worshiped by thousands of Hindus and Buddhists. They retire upon puberty.
 
Some activists criticize the custom as a form of child labor which hinders the freedom and education of kumaris, particularly as they are confined to houses or temples and bound to strict daily rituals, reports the South China Morning Post. However, in 2008, Nepal's Supreme Court overruled a petition against the practice due to its cultural and religious significance.
 
Ex-kumari, Chanira Bajracharya, spoke to the SCMP about the challenges she faced after her retirement, during the difficult transition from goddess to mortal. "It was a challenging transition," she said. "[After retirement] I couldn't even walk properly because I had been carried all the time. The outside world was a complete stranger to me." The Royal Kumari is the most respected though more are chosen from different clans. The Royal Kumari's feet never touch the ground during her tenure -- whenever she leaves the palace, she is carried in a golden palanquin. Kumari are always dressed in red and have a symbolic "fire eye" painted on their foreheads. 
 
 
Images courtesy of the Associated Press