National Geographic : 2015 Jun
Living Goddesses 93 be known as Unika but Dya Maiju—Little Girl Goddess. It’s not only her steady demeanor that confirms for the supplicants the presence of the goddess within her. Much to the priest’s grati- fication, her horoscope, scrutinized moments before the ritual began, bears the portentous sign of the peacock. Samita Vajracharya, the outgoing kumari, had been conspicuous by her absence at the gathering in Hakha Bahal. Though her house overlooks the courtyard, she had been too shocked by her dismissal five weeks earlier, following the start of her first period, to make an appearance. Months later I met with 12-year-old Samita in her friend Chanira Vajracharya’s house on the busy main road, just yards from Hakha Ba- hal. Chanira had been the Patan Kumari before Samita. Their families had always been close, and their shared experience as living goddesses had brought Chanira and Samita closer still. We sat together on flat cushions on the floor, photographs of previous kumaris staring down at us from the walls. In black leggings and an orange top featuring a furry koala, Samita, a talented player of the sarod, a type of lute, had just come from a music lesson. She was accompanied—as always—by her mother, be- cause crowds, traffic, public transport, noise, uneven pavements were all too daunting for her on her own. Strangers also were unnerving. Although she smiled as I asked questions, her lips remained firmly sealed. “As a kumari, you never speak to outsiders,” Chanira explained, while Samita stared resolute- ly into her lap. “It was a year or so before I could manage a conversation with someone I didn’t know. Even now, at college, I find it hard to stand up in front of the class to present my work.” Chanira, 19, is studying for a bachelor’s de- gree in business administration at Kathmandu University School of Management. Tutored at home by teachers who gave their time for free while she was the kumari, Chanira had been giv- en her “school leaving certificate,” graduating with distinction. Bright, expressive, impressive- ly fluent in English, it was hard to imagine she’d ever been at a loss for words. “I was 15 when I got my period, so I was wait- ing for it to happen,” Chanira said, “but Samita was only 12, so it was more of a shock. It’s a real- ly emotional time. When you give the goddess’s ornaments and throne to someone else, it feels Even a goddess, two-year-old Resuka, the Kumari of Kilagal, refuses her food. It’s believed that if Resuka and the royal Kumari of Kathmandu, who lives nearby, ever see each other, their souls will leave their bodies.