Monday, July 8, 2013

Of Gods and Men

It was my first day in Kathmandu, and I'd just purchased my ticket for Durbar Square, which included getting it specially extended so I could come and go as I like for the whole time I was there.  My hotel on Freak Street assured me that I could simply show their business card and they'd have to let me through so I could get back to where I was staying (but c'mon guys, I'm an art teacher, and conservation doesn't pay for would be nice if my students in years to come could come and see all these wonderful temples and sculptures).  Anyways, after getting the ticket a very helpful guy (who I soon came to realize was trying to sell himself as a guide) let me know that the Kumari was about to appear in her courtyard, and so I ducked into the Kumari bahal (house or courtyard) in Durbar Square.
The Kumari Devi is a young girl who is meant to be a living incarnation of Durga (another incarnation of Kali).  I first read about these girls (most Newari villages have a local Kumari, although the Kumari of Kathmandu is meant to be the most important) on The Longest Way Home.  You are not supposed to take photos of her - in fact, the man at the Kumari bahal made everyone put their cameras away before she came to the window - but she is dressed up a lot like the little girl pictured above. 
I've thought it was really interesting to see the relationship between the Nepali people and their religion.  Or rather, religions...Buddhism is fairly prevalent here as well, and in fact, Lumbini, which is on the Indian border, is the birthplace of Siddartha Gautama (better known as Buddha himself).  Buddhism is sort of an off-shoot of Hinduism, and they have a long history, which is not always peaceful, but they seem to have found a way to live together, and not only are there similarities in iconography and ideology, but you'll find sites of both coexisting peacefully side by side.  I think the other three major world religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - could learn a lot from their example.
The cities of the Kathmandu valley are sort of like living museums.  Everywhere you look there are temples and shrines to one god or another...and there are lots and lots of gods.  There are the major ones - Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva, Parvati, Ganesh, etc - and their many, MANY avatars and incarnations.  With so many shrines and altars, some aren't even much used anymore, except as staging grounds for open air markets...and sometimes they are used for both. 

Finally, let me leave you with a "DAFUQ?" moment.  I already told you about the Kumari, and the idea of having a god living among us is just not something us Americans are used to.  Then I went to Pashupatinath yesterday, and I found Hanuman.  Seeing a guy in full monkey-god costume was a trip for me, but the Nepalis barely batted an eye.  I wish I understood them better - maybe in my next life.  Or rather, contract.


  1. The concept of reincarnation among those religions of the area has always fascinated me.

  2. That was one of the crazy things about the selection of the Kumari - she is supposed to be able to pick out the things her previous incarnations owned, like the Dalai Lama. However, it's not a lifetime gig - she's only the Kumari until she hits puberty or loses a lot of blood accidentally.

  3. I love all the color and activity. It must be amazing to go and see all these places that most of us only read about.:)

  4. So, I'm more curious about what else happened this day. What did they guy wearing a monkey-god costume do? Also, anything remarkable about the Kumari that was noticeable? Were the people in awe and worshiping her when she came into view? Also, now that you've been to Nepal, would you visit again if you could and would you recommend it to others, and why?

    1. She slowly looked over the people in the courtyard, who were just kind of standing around. Honestly, she looked bored - I guess it would probably be a tough life, because she really only gets to leave once a year for a certain festival. I have no idea what the guy in the Hanuman costume was doing - that was at Pashupatinath and I was feeling really conspicuous, so I didn't hang around for long. Nepal was amazing and I'd totally do it again, but I might wait til I'm living someplace that's a little easier to get there from, and DEFINITELY go when it's cooler out!