National Geographic : 2015 Jun
96 national geographic • June 2015 like someone has died. You’re in mourning.” What was it like for Samita when she was dis- missed? I asked. Chanira repeated the question softly in Newari for her friend, painstakingly translating her whispered responses. For Samita, the weeks directly after the ap- pointment of her successor had been excep- tionally painful. Ideally a kumari should live next to her ancestral courtyard. Unika’s family had stayed with Samita’s for a month while ac- commodations were made ready for them next door. Every day Samita had watched devotees queuing in the family sitting room, while an- other little girl took up the throne in her old puja room. Now Unika and her family—and the kumari throne—had moved to the house next door. Samita was at school and making headway. She had friends, some of whom had visited her throughout her three and a half years as the ku- mari. But she still dreamed sometimes that she was the kumari—dreams from which she would wake up with a pang of regret. What does she want to be when she finish- es school? I asked. Chanira translated Samita’s muted response. “She wants to be a musician.” And what about marriage—presumably that is out of the question? I asked, remembering what Ramesh had said about terrible accidents hap- pening to the husbands of former kumaris. “It’s not true, these rumors about husbands of ex-kumaris dying,” Chanira said. “It’s a myth that is always repeated in the media.” In fact nearly every former kumari of marriageable age, whether in Patan, Kathmandu, or anywhere else in the valley, is married. Would you both be happy for a daughter of yours to become a living goddess? “We can’t marry within our lineage,” Chanira said, “so it’s unlikely either of us would have a daughter who would be eligible. I suppose if we married someone from our caste from Kathmandu, she could become Kathmandu Kumari.” The two of them conferred, giggling at the thought of a husband. “Then, yes, we would both be happy if the goddess chose our daughters. “Being kumari is a gift. I feel blessed that I was chosen,” Chanira added. “But there are things that should be improved for the welfare of the kumaris. Like greater financial support from the government to cover the expenses of rituals and the goddess’s education. And counseling to explain how her life will change after she finishes as kumari. I’d like to see a support network of Off duty, Unika displays the exuberance of any child, but she’s never reprimanded. In games with her little brother and older sister, she’s always the boss. No one risks the wrath of a living goddess.