Kumari Devi or the Living Goddess was what got me immensely interested in Nepal, a spiritual Himalayan country similar to the shape of a yam wedged in between two superpowers, China and India. When I was 15, I saw a documentary featuring the subject of Kumari and told my then best friend that I would love to visit the mystical kingdom of Nepal one day. Nepal to me is a country of diverse and contrasting nature. At one end, girl goddesses can be so revered yet child marriages and child labor can occur simultaneously at the other extreme end. This discovery however does not deter my fascination towards Nepal any less as I believe in the importance of keeping an open-mind whenever I travel.
Kumari Devi is selected among toddlers who could barely walk and they are retired by aged 12 when puberty hits. Kumaris are not permitted to walk on the ground as Goddesses should never thread on God of another kind, the Earth God. As a result of being carried around by an adult for many years of their lives, they need to re-learn walking after retirement which can always be a shocking experience. Reintegration into society or reality can often time be harsh.
There are several Kumaris in Nepal but the most well-known are the Royal Kumari, the Kumari of Patan and the Kumari of Bhaktaphur. The literacy rate for women in Nepal is 25%. This means that only 1 in 4 women can read. Although the Royal Kumari is the most revered among all Kumaris, she is also the most unlikely one to receive an education due to protocol stringency of the Royal Court. Other Kumaris are looked after by their family members related by blood hence private tutors can be hired to educate them.
Due to the fact that Kumari Devis need to perform their religious duties most of the time which involves prayer rituals, they do not have the spare time to learn about life in general which include household chores hence it will be difficult to find a suitor after retirement. Even if ex-Kumaris do get married, Hindu people have a unique practice of having to sleep in a cow shed or in a cave during menstruation. Menstruating women are considered impure and are thereafter not allowed to sleep within the main residential area. This poses other problems such as possibilities of being killed by burglars, tigers and etc.
In rural villages, women in Nepal are married off at the tender age of 13 years old. Teenage pregnancy and early child birth increases the likelihood of birth complications, incontinence as well as cervical cancer later in life. To put it more ironically, if a child doesn’t die from child birth complications she might die from cervical cancer later on. The female reproductive system or the birth canal complete its formation only by the age of 21 years old. There is a valid reason some countries raised the legal age of marital consent up to 21 years old.
Furthermore, there is a famous Nepali proverb “Raising a daughter is like watering the neighbor’s garden”. Some parents can’t wait to get rid of their household burden. Risks of dowry death is around 30% here. The life cycle of women can be very drastic in some society. I was horrified and even cried a little after talking to a young Nepali man whose mother had his elder brother when she was just thirteen and when health concerns were raised, his only reply was, “Who cares!”. Whether this is considered heaven on Earth or hell on Earth is up to you to decide since the world is filled with people of all sorts of different beliefs, characters and personalities. Regardless, Nepal is definitely the roof of the world considering that I got sunburnt for forgetting to reapply sunblock.