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the Blog 5 by Michèle Béguin
In Nepal, Goddesses go to school..


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In Nepal, Goddesses go to school...

In Nepal, Living Goddesses go to school... Any sightseeing of the Kathmandu city includes a moment to see the Living Goddess. In fact there is not "one" but "many" Living Goddesses whose most famous is the one of Kathmandu who was the royal Goddess. Then, much more rarely we see the one of Patan and last, we visit the one of Badgaon. But there are many more, almost all the small cities have their own. Visitors' astonishment is of course huge and often gets pessimistic then negative about the destiny of those small girls. When in the West, kids of twelve are flirting around and have a huge freedom for their age, here in Nepal a Living Goddess of the same age is just coming out from a period of seven to eight years of divine representation and is now thrown into the daily life without training, unfit for an even much more materialistic future than one could imagine. To this day, the tradition of the Kumari, Living Goddess, representing the strength of the feminine virgin has survived. The Maoist period which left marks on the Nepal History those ten last years, put back its existence into question and contesting the meager pension allowed to her, during the regal period and now by the republican government. This tiny country officially peopled by twenty eight millions with minimum eight millions of their folk people in India is swaying between the twenty first century and the middle ages. The antique tradition of a virgin goddess is totally in the news here in Nepal, only country in the world to make it alive still. Time is passing and the evolution is nevertheless setting in. The Supreme Court has ordered a compulsory education for the Goddesses. The Patan Goddess studies during the week but since she cannot go to school, a preceptor paid by her family comes home to teach her the subjects that others are learning in a class room. It is the same for her homologues of Kathmandu and Badgaon... There are of course opposition to her Living Goddess function... A lady lawyer (to be a lady lawyer in Nepal is not so common) points out that the obsolete role of the Goddess is a kind of slavery... but for the Newari people of the Valley and other ethnics, her existence is a comfort in a context of a very difficult life, before, during and after the incoming of the Maoists. The cult of the feminine power has been active in number of the world societies since the high Antiquity and has even plaid an important role in the Mediterranean civilizations and Asia Minor. In the 3rd millennium. B.C, the archeological testimonies of the famous cities of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa proved its existence in the Indian Subcontinent where the feminine energy is divinized and still object of veneration, but it is in Nepal that this cult is still alive in an intense fashion under an anthropomorphic shape.

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The supreme creative energy sheltered in a girl's body before puberty represents the feminine strength in all her power like as an adult's body symbolizes that force at its peak and its blooming sexuality. One of the striking point of Nepal is, still these days, to have girls playing that role, emblem of the creative force. The History of the Living Goddess is not as simple as said in the tourist books. Towards the 11th century, the local beliefs and those about the virginity cult of ancient India will unite with each other, mixing up within the person of a Living Goddess and the worship of her force. One more event of importance will enhance this belief : the Muslim tide which swept the Ganges valley by the 13th and 14th and from 1323 AD draws the king Hari Singh Deva to import the cult of Taleju Bhawani from Bihar up to Badgaon in Nepal. The cult of Taleju Bhawani was added to the pre-existing ones. If the Gods are worshipped for spiritual reasons, the Goddesses are prayed to get materialistic advantages. The Living Goddess represents also the Devi - Mother Goddess and creator- pushing away the extreme dangers with her secret and dreary tantric powers,. She is fighting against the Evil under the forms of Kali, Durga and others. She can be worshipped under the human forms and when not, her devotees honor her original purity under the form of a young virgin, protected against all the kinds of pollution : the Living Goddess. The kings of the three Newari capitals - the most ancient of the Kathmandu Valley- have instigated the cult of that extraordinary Hindu Goddess. Since the beginning of this human cult, one worships a Goddess, selected with peculiar cares among number of candidates, according to lineage, community- high caste Buddhist- having the thirty two physical qualities of the divine perfection. The girl chosen then will be the earthly form of Taleju, tutelary Goddess of Nepal, and will handle the protective role for a population still fragile in front of the dangers of the life in a difficult country. Each capital of the three kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley has its own Goddess -Kumari- elected with a similar protocol and centuries passing is still the recipient of high respect though the influence of the Maoists. One goes to prostrates in front of the Goddess to ask her some help, internally formulated and get the "prasad" in return -gift, communion- offered in perfect total silence by a stone faced Kumari, sitting on her silver throne. Taken care in the past by the royal families, now by the municipality or the government , they receive a lean pension., The Living Goddesses live of charity...let's call "offerings" the few donations in cash offered by the devotees. It is true that they our Goddesses do not roll in money and the future is not foreseen brilliant.! Not to miss the education period, they got tuitions by private teachers and know enough mathematics for some of them to be small scale business women!!! Legends are spreading fast, and they say that a marriage with a Goddess is not the surety of a steady matrimonial life and that even their husband would die very fast? Proved false. Some of them are happy wives. The Nepalese politics have changed and the passage to democracy with communist flavor have made the mentalities change. There are lawyers' fights to eradicate the existence and role of the Goddesses, pretesting the respect of human beings. But the opponents are standing strong to protect the free thinking and the tradition. That one is resistant! The second to last Goddess of Badgaon has lost her "role"! How come? She had crossed the "black waters" as the oceans are called and had left the holy Indian Subcontinent. Invited to go to the States, she crossed the limits of the holy triangle and was therefore impure...according to a strict tradition. When she turned back to Nepal, oppositions came up so she had to quit and stop her divine role. Another one has replaced her. Between several flows of civilization, Nepal has a rare cultural wealth and can be called "the museum of the Himalayas" with multiple pockets, badly known or even totally unknown. The culture of the valleys of Kathmandu and Pokhara and of Terai are coming from India, the southern neighbor who, in the Antiquity, had also sheltered the Living Goddess worship which places' names are only left as well as symbols in religious rituals.
Michèle Béguin



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A Propos de Michèle Béguin

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