It was late at night, and the old brick palace in the centre of Kathmandu with its many courtyards, its many fine carved wooden windows and its pagoda towers, was dark. The courtiers, the retainers and the king's wives had gone to bed, and only the sleepy guards still patrolled. In one room however, there was a dim light, and two figures could be seen huddling over a board and throwing dice.
One was an unusually beautiful young woman, yet even the most casual of observers would notice that she was not only far too beautiful to be an ordinary mortal, but that she had an intense and penetrating third eye in the centre of her forehead. That she also had ten arms was less obvious, since she had a way of hiding 8 of them when they were not in use. She wore large golden earrings and golden tiara, and an aura glowed faintly around her head.
The other figure was that of the king. One might have expected him to be dressed informally at this time of night, but in fact he was in full royal regalia with his crown, peacock feather and jewels.
As they threw the dice, they spoke in undertones, and though the king's manner was respectful, there was between them the easy familiarity of a couple of long acquaintance.
"What to do about these restless six Pradhans of Lalitpur And that Ghorkha Raja who threatens to swallow up every kingdom in his path?" asked the king, looking hopefully a the young woman for an answer.
"As to the first," she paused to throw the dice, and looked pleased with the result, "they pose little enough threat, and they should be handled with compassion so as not to alienate the people. But as to the latter.
There was no chance for her to finish, for at that point there was a disturbance, and the queen in night dress, followed by several armed attendants, bustled her way into the room.
"So this is how I find you. Discussing matters of state indeed And with such a beautiful young woman"
"But my dear
" the king began hopelessly. "Can not trust you out of my sight for a moment" "Enough of this" said the young woman, her voice full of authority, and indeed quite frightening as she drew herself up and spread her ten arms like wings. Eight of her ten hands held one of the attributes of her power. From her hips hung a belt of severed male heads, and she was now surrounded by an aura of flame. Three more lovely but frightening faces had appeared, one above the first, the other two on either side. Both the king and queen drew back in awe, while the retainers dropped their weapons, dumbstruck. "That you would think such a thing of me I will not put up with such human frailties as jealousy. You have seen the least of me."
"But how can I govern my kingdom without you?" pleaded the king.
"You cannot. Your reign will be short, and the end of your dynasty is near at hand." And with that, the goddess-for the queen in her jealousy had failed to recognise the goddess Taleju herself, wrathful aspect of Durga and patroness to the kings of Nepal-disappeared.
"Now look what you have done with your snooping and your jealousy." Said the king.
"How was I to know?" "You could have simply minded your own business and let me mind mine."
So dependant had the king grown on the advice of the goddess that he despaired of being able to govern his kingdom without her, so all through the next day he made offerings and kept the Brahmins busy at the huge, three-storied pagoda where only he and the goddess's priests were allowed.
Eventually his prayers were answered, or at least partially, for that night the goddess appeared to him again in a dream.
"If you wish to see me again, choose a young virgin girl of the Shakya caste, beautiful and unblemished, with the 32 signs of perfection. Worship her as you would worship me. In her I will appear to you. But never will I forget the insult I have suffered."
And so, after consulting his priests, the king did her bidding. A four year-old girl of the Newar Shakya caste was found who met all the criteria. She was taken to the Taleju temple and installed as the living embodiment of the goddess. She was worshipped by the king and adored by the populace at festivals. A little later a small but ornate palace and temple where she could live was built for her just across from the palace. Once a year, during the great Indra Jatra festival, the king went to her temple to receive her blessings in the form of a tika, a red mark on his forehead.
Known as Kumari, the virgin goddess, or as Dyah Meiju to her own Newari people, as soon as she began to approach the age of womanhood she was replaced by a similar girl in order to assure that she would always be pre and unblemished and would never grow old. And so it continued throughout a change of dynasty, several centuries and many kings.
Back Of The Book
Scott Berry is a very well-known name to me. I came across his book A Stranger in Tibet when I was working on the life and works of Ekai Kawaguchi in Tokyo in 1997-1998. I was very impressed by his narrative style and his ability to combine humanism with the wisdom of culture. Berry has precisely done that in this book From Goddess to Mortal. In this book, he has very effectively presented the personal narrative of an ex-Kumari. Reading this book is like traveling into the realms of very loving, genuine and thrilling experience of a living goddess. This book is a bridge that links the world of innocence with the world of experience. It also shows a unique and rare combination of innocence and power as reflected through the narratives of Rashmila Shakya as told to Scott Berry.
Prof. Abhi Subedi is a playwright and researcher. He is the author of Ekai Kawaguchi: The Trespassing Insider and score of other books.
The Author: Rashmila Shakya was Royal Kumari from 1984-91. she is presently working towards a bachelor of Information Technology degree.
Scott Berry is the author of A Stranger in Tibet, Japanese Agent in Tibet (With Hisao Kimura) and The Rising Sun in the Land of the Snows.
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