Right beside Kathmandu's Durbar Square stands the Kumari Ghar, a palace with magnificent intricate carvings. Inside its walls lives God. Well, not God, God as we know it, but a little seven-year old royal Living Goddess known as the Kumari Devi.
The Newari community—Hindus and Nepali Buddhists—settled in Kathmandu’s valley painstakingly select and fervently worship a pre-pubescent girl (pre-pubescent=virgin), who for the duration of her reign, remains as their main source of supreme power. The Kumari, literally meaning virgin, is no ordinary girl. She must be between 2 and 7 when chosen to represent Taleju, a Hindu goddess. Her selection is a highly elaborate tantric ritual, which includes her passing the 32 tests of ‘perfection’ among which are:
A neck like a conch shell
A body like a banyan tree
Eyelashes like a cow
Thighs like a deer
Chest like a lion
Voice soft and clear as a duck's
Dainty hands and feet
Her hair and eyes should be very black
Small and well-recessed sexual organs
A set of twenty teeth.
Additionally, her horoscope must also be appropriate (it has to coincide with that of the president of Nepal). Once she passes the physical tests, she is taken to a dark room in the Taleju temple where her courage is challenged. There are several killed goats, buffalo heads, chicken parts and demon- like masked dancers jumping at her from all directions, while terrifying noises fill the room. And while there might be a few virgins capable of passing the physical perfection tests, only the real goddess has no notion of fear; she remains calm and collected throughout the tests. If the candidate is fearless during this experience, then she would be selected as the Kumari and yet another highly secret tantric ritual is held to erase all past memories from her body so that she can be a pure vessel for the Taleju Goddess to enter.
Et voila. The Newari have a new living Goddess, who for a whole year, is removed from her parents, taken to the God-House, and trained in all divine things. After this initial training, her parents and spiritual leaders (elders) live with her in the royal house, until she menstruates, at which point she is declared impure and replaced by another virgin.
And because she is a Goddess and she can do whatever the hell she wants and follows no orders or set schedules, Kumari comes out to bless visitors from a tiny window (think Pope in the Vatican) only when she feels like it. The randomness and unpredictability of her appearances make it very difficult for anyone to plan a glimpse of, let alone, a blessing from the Goddess. That is, unless you are me. I was right underneath her window when she came out. It must have been the wonderment revealed by how low my jaw dropped when I saw her, which made her look straight at me. I'm sure she didn't look at anybody else. We held gazes, the Goddess and me; me and the Goddess, for a few seconds. By the time I realized that I had never looked God in the eye and that I didn't know the proper protocol for divine encounters, she had already retreated into her palace. Someone closed the tiny window and she disappeared as mysteriously as she had appeared a few seconds earlier.