When the 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook Nepal, it caused massive damage and destruction, killing 8,800 people and changing people’s lives forever. One of those people is Dhana Kumari Bajracharya, Nepal’s oldest ‘living goddess’.
Bajracharya became a goddess at the age of two; she was, thus, used to living a cloistered life and being carried in a palanquin when she stepped out.
Bajracharya is part of the ‘Kumari’ tradition, who are chosen from the Shakya or Bajracharya clan of the Nepalese Newari community. These ‘living goddesses’ are made to live secluded lives, rarely appearing or speaking in public. They live their lives bound by customs that bear elements of both Buddhism and Hinduism.
When the earthquake hit, Bajracharya, now 63, left her quarters in the city of Patan, south of Kathmandu, for the first time in three decades – on foot.
“I had never thought about leaving the house like that,” she said. “Perhaps the gods are angry because people don’t respect traditions as much anymore.” As the earthquake was felt, her relatives also waited inside, to see if she would walk out with them.
Bajracharya was enthroned in 1954. She had to fulfil strict criteria like having an unblemished body, a chest like a lion and thighs like a deer.
Once chosen, the goddesses move to an official residence. The ‘patan kumari’ is allowed to live with her family but can only emerge on feast days when she is paraded to be worshipped in an ornate wooden palanquin. The streets are thronged with worshippers who come to take their blessings.
Most ‘patan kumaris’ are dethroned when they start to menstruate, but since Bajracharya never did start her periods, she continued to serve till her thirties.
Dhana Kumari Bajracharya’s room guardian
It was in 1984, when 13-year-old crown prince Dipendra, asked “Why is she so old?” that the priests replaced her with a young girl. Despite ‘being forced into retirement’, Bajracharya continued to live as a ‘living goddess’ and stayed removed from the outside world.
“Our astrologer had predicted last year that my aunt would leave the house, and we were wondering how that would ever happen,” said her niece Chanira. “But we never expected this.”
When Bajracharya’s niece Chanira was chosen to be a kumari in 2010, she guided her through the process. In her lifetime, the living goddess has seen many changes take place in Nepal. “Perhaps the gods are angry because people don’t respect traditions as much anymore,” she says.
Bajracharya’s only modern indulgence is the TV, especially current affairs shows and Indian mythological dramas. Since the quake, however, she spends most of her time in prayer.
In 2010 nine-year-old Samita Bajracharya was appointed living goddess of Patan city after Chanira Bajracharya reached puberty guardian