|Young girls intiated as Devis. Google Image|
The loud clanging sound did not bother her. The dancing smoke did not choke her as it would do to any 11 year old hurdled quietly, in all her finery, in a room full of people; chanting hymns and mantras. She knew how to switch off her mind from these daily occurrences. In that small, inward space-she was in a beautiful meadow, surrounded by wildflowers and the warm sun kissing her cheeks. And she had that Barbie doll which she had so wanted while they carried her to the king's palace – to bless his coronation.
Shantala Devi (name changed) knew she was important for she had been told that she was important but her 11-year-old heart did not understand her own importance. She did remember the pain when a group of old men had come to her house and taken her away from her parents. She remembered those constant baths, the religious men chanting inconsistently around her, promising to purify her for the future.
She remembered her fears when she was locked up for the night in a roomful of severed buffalo heads. That stench of blood had made her want to puke but her mother had told her before that she should not show these emotions in front of those strangers. She was just three years old and when the stench got better of her she had passed onto oblivion and when the morning dawned they had come inside to get her, shouting in jubilation – for she had not expressed any fear. Little did they know that she had fainted in fear. That day little Shantala became Shantala Devi – the living goddess of Kathmandu.
Eight years have passed since. Every morning, when all the children were still encircled in the mother's warmth, she was woken up, bathed, dressed in silk and then men and women from all over would come to offer her sweetmeats and flowers. But all the perfume could never take away that stench.
Her only knowledge that there was a world outside was through the tiny window in the corridor. Her caretaker, whom she called Hujur Baa, said that she's not supposed to see what was outside for that would pollute the soul. She nodded sagely, killing her very desire to investigate, for she knew no other life.
Every time she left the building, it was in a golden palanquin. She remembered when she had cheated the last time and peeked through the curtains. She had seen a small girl, carrying a Barbie doll. Well, she later knew the doll was called Barbie. Her eyes devoured that doll while the other girl looked in awe at the little Devi.
But this would be soon over. She too will have a Barbie doll, play in the sand and climb the mountains. She's going to bleed soon. She suppressed a giggle as one of the old ladies came to wash the feet with sandalwood. Soon – very soon she would become impure. How she waited for that day!
In Nepal, Kumari, the living goddesses, were believed to be incarnation of Goddess Durga. Legend says that once upon a time there was a king, Jayaprakasha Malla who would play a dice game with the Goddess Taleju (Napalese name for Durga). He was under the oath of never to reveal it to anyone. But one day, his wife finds out and the Goddess leaves them and never to return again. From that day, this Kumari Puja had started in Nepal for it is said the Goddess comes to visit the people through these virgins. Young girls are selected between the age of 3 to 11. They're taken away from their families and after many rigourous rituals are established as goddesses. They lead a life full of security and can never come out and meet the common people – except during the festivals. There freed from these duties, only after they reached their puberty. The years spent in luxury and security means nothing as their return to the society without any wealth, family or education.