October 2010 - While in Kathmandu, Nepal, I had the privilege of meeting, and photographing, the Living Goddess of Patan, Samita Bajracharya. She is eight years old, and lives in the god-house Kumari Ghar, where the Living Goddess performs her daily rituals. Trying to photograph her in the eight-foot room with a small window was a real challenge.The power of the Kumari is perceived to be so strong that even a glimpse of her is believed to bring good fortune. 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 for a new Kumari begins. It is said to be unlucky to marry an ex-Kumari. 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-old 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, and the terrifying noises they encounter, scare some of these innocent young girls. 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.
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved