The New Kumari – Matina Shakya
Posted by shadmia on October 10, 2008
It has been decided: Three-year-old Matina Shakya is the new Royal Kumari or “living goddess”. A Kumari is a prepubescent girl selected from the Shakya caste of the Nepalese Newari community. This practice is a unique Nepalese custom, bringing together both Buddhists and Hindus, dating back to the 17th century.
A Royal Kumari is chosen from a Buddhist sect (the Newari) to represent the Hindu deity Durga (sometimes referred to as Taleju). The local Vajrayana Buddhists regard her as their chief female deity Vajradevi. This union of religious identities assumes enormous significance in a country marked by sharp ethnic divisions. For more on the history and traditions of the Kumari click here.
A Kumari is chosen, after a vigorous selection process, around the age of 2 or 3. At the onset of menstruation a Kumari is dethroned and the process of selecting a new Kumari is started over. Former Kumaris receive a pension from the state and, even though they are often still referred to as Kumaris, are expected to return to normal Nepalese life. Popular superstition says that a man who marries a Kumari is doomed to die within six months by coughing up blood. However, most Kumaris do marry as detailed by the chart below:
|Name||Hometown||Dates as Kumari||Marital Status|
|Hira Maiya Shakya||Wotu||1922-1923||married, 0 children|
|Chini Shova Shakya*||Lagan||1923-1931||married, 2 daughters|
|Chandra Devi Shakya*||Asonchuka||1931-1933||married, 2 daughters|
|Dil Kumari Shakya||Lagan||1933-1942||married, 3 sons ,1 daughter|
|Nani Shova Shakya||Ombahal||1942-1949||married, 4 sons, 2 daughters|
|Kayo Mayju Shakya*||Kwahiti||1949-1955||married, 1 son, 1 daughter|
|Harsha Laxmi Shakya||Naghal||1955-1961||married, 2 sons|
|Nani Mayju Shakya||Naghal||1961-1969||married, 1 son, 2 daughters|
|Sunina Shakya||Ombahal||1969-1978||married, 1 son, 1 daughter|
There are several Kumaris throughout Nepal but the best known is the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu, and she lives in the Kumari Ghar, a palace in the center of the city. The former Royal Kumari, Preeti Shakya, who at 11-years-old, reached puberty, giving way to the current Royal Kumari, Matina Shakya.
A former Kumari, Sajani Shakya from Bhaktapur, achieved worldwide fame after a visit to the US. She was not however, a Royal Kumari. Her story is nevertheless compelling as she, on her return to Nepal, went through rejection, reinstatement and finally retirement. After a six-month delay, Sajani Shakya was replaced by six-year-old Shreeya Bajracharya. This is the first time a Kumari (or living goddess) has been named by anyone other than the head priest of the Nepali monarchy. That role disappeared in May 2008 when the monarchy in Nepal was abolished after 239 years. For an in depth look at the role of the Kumari in Nepal check out this documentary.
The newest Royal Kumari Matina Shakya, the three-year-old daughter of a Nepalese watch repairer, Pratapman Shakya and his wife Sunita Shakya, was “chosen after consultation with Buddhist priests, community leaders and officials who will look after her,” said Achyut Pokharel, a member of the government-run trust that maintains the tradition.
Wrapped in red silk and adorned with red flowers in her hair, Matina Shakya received approval from the priests and President Ram Baran Yadav in a centuries-old tradition with deep ties to Nepal’s monarchy, which was abolished in May. Hindu and Buddhist priests chanted sacred hymns and cascaded flowers and grains of rice over the 3-year-old girl.
“She became Royal Kumari after a series of pujas (religious ceremonies) on Tuesday at the auspicious time of 11:39 am,” Pokharel said, referring to the moment chosen by astrologers as the luckiest for the Kumari succession.
Dozens of people in Kathmandu’s medieval quarter joined in the procession as the young girl was carried by family members from her home to the ornate palace where she will be confined for several years.
“It was very hard to make the decision to allow her to become the Kumari,” her father Pratapman Shrestha said. “I am going to miss her terribly but it is a great privilege to have a Kumari for a daughter and we are helping maintain a unique, age-old part of our culture.”
Three-year-old Matina remained silent throughout the ten-minute procession to begin her life as a goddess and seemed unperturbed by the commotion, posing happily for pictures.