Friday, January 27, 2012

The Kumari Devi- The World's Only Living Goddess

Not only does Nepal have many gods, goddess, deities, Bodhisattvas (near Buddhas), avatars and manifestations, which are worshiped and revered as statues, images, paintings and symbols, but it also has a real living goddess. The Kumari Devi is a young girl who lives in the building known as the Kumari Ghar, right beside Kathmandu's Durbar Square. From time immemorial the practice of worshipping an ordinary pre-pubescent girl as a source of supreme power has been an integral part of both Hinduism and Buddhism, a tradition which continues even to this day virtually in every household. They call this girl Kumari Devi and worship her on all the religious occasions.

The predominance of the Kumari cult is more distinctly evident among the Newar community inside the Kathmandu Valley as she has become an inevitable feature of their worship almost in every Vihar and Bahal and including the nooks and corners of Newari settlements. However, it was the Vajrayana sect of Mahayana Buddhism that was responsible for establishing the tradition of worshipping a girl from the Sakya community as the royal Living Goddess.

The selection of the Living Goddess is a highly elaborate tantric ritual. Upon passing the preliminary test, this is merely concerned with their 32 attributes of perfection, including the colour of her eyes, the shape of her teeth and the sound of her voice. Her horoscope must also be appropriate. The 4 to 7 year poor girls from the Sakya community are made to confront a goddess in the darkened room. The sight of the Buffalo heads scattered around, the demon- like masked dancers, the terrifying noises they encounter scare some of these innocent babies. The real goddess is unlikely to be frightened, so the one who is calm and collected throughout the tests is the only girl who is entitled to sit on the pedestal for worship as the Living Goddess. Then as a final test similar to that of the Dalai Lama, the Kumari then chooses items of clothing and decoration worn by her predecessor.

The god-house Kumari Ghar is a store-house of magnificent intricate carvings where the Living Goddess performs her daily rituals. During her tenure in the god-house, Guthi Sansthan, the government trust fund bears her entire expenses including that of her caretakers. Under normal circumstances, her days in the god-house come to an end with her first menstruation, but if she turns out to be unlucky, as they say, even a minor scratch on her body that bleeds can make her invalid for worship. She then changes back to the status of normal mortal and the search of a new Kumari begins. It is said to be unlucky to marry an ex-Kumari.

On Indra Jatra, in September, the Living Goddess in all her jeweled splendor travels through the older part of Kathmandu city in a three tiered chariot accompanied by Ganesh and Bhairab each day for three days. It is really a grand gala in which people in their thousands throng in and around the Kathmandu Durbar Square to pay their homage to the Living Goddess. During this festival she also blesses the King in keeping with the tradition in which the first king of the Shah dynasty, who annexed Kathmandu in 1768, received a blessing from the Living Goddess.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Nepal's UNESCO World Heritage Site

Protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Durbar Square is the religious and social heart of Kathmandu's old city, the square is presently known as Hanuman Dhoka, a name derived from the statue of Hanuman, the monkey devotee of Lord Ram, near the entrance of the palace. It is a complex of palaces, temples, shrines, statues and courtyards which were built between the 12th and 18th centuries by the ancient kings of Nepal. The square is a queer assortment of the old and the new - elaborately carved architectural features and curving roofs provide shelter for cows, beggars and weary tourists.

Brahman priests and painted Sadhus perform rituals and pose for photos, while souvenir sellers and rickshaw drivers compete for attention among the crowds. Stone lions guard the gates to the Old Royal Palace that contains a number of courtyards and several museums. Set into the palace wall is a 17th-century stone inscription written in 15 languages; it is believed that milk will flow from the spout below if anyone deciphers the entire inscription. On the other side of the square, the Kasthamandap temple is an open pavilion topped by a pyramidal tower, said to be created from the wood of a single tree. It is purportedly the Valley's oldest building, and the city of Kathmandu derives its name from this ancient temple.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Long jing Village, China- The Hometown of Tea

Longjing aka Longhong or Longqiu sits on the Fenghuangling mountain on the southwest of West Lake. The ancient Chinese believed that the dragon lives here so name it after Longjing. The famous Longjing tea of West Lake is produced in this village. In Ming and Qing era, the Longjing tea became famous because scholars and emperors highly regarded the tea. Qianlong emperor visited Longjing and adjudged its taste as one of Chinas's best. Longjing is interlinked with the sea and the dragon lives in the sea so we call Longjing. Longjing's water is also very strange, for when stirring it. a line which separates the water appears on the surface like a swinging gossamer, then quickly disappears. Its spring water is clean and sweet. Longjing, Hupao and Yu spring are called the three famous springs of West lake.

The souvenir sheet above features the West Lake in Hangzhou issued by China in 1989.