Category Archives: Newar Buddhism

Kumari and the Sacred Gaze, 1966

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Palanquin of the Patan Kumari. Photograph taken October 1969. (Bernier Archive #vrc_20150204_047)

Here, a palanquin is being readied for procession, adorned with fresh plants and flowers, and the main seat supporting silk-covered cushions. Its occupant for the day will be the Patan Kumari, also referred to as the Royal Kumari.

Kumaris are often called ‘Living Goddesses’ and there are many kumari residing in Kathmandu and elsewhere throughout Nepal. Each kumari is a pre-pubescent girl selected in her early childhood to be the vessel of the goddess Taleju. While Hindus and Newar Buddhists propitiate Taleju via the Kumari, practitioners of other forms of Himalayan Buddhism generally do not. Taleju is a deity unique to Nepal, one particularly associated with the royal family: Taleju is seen as a source their power, as their patron goddess, and has been associated with kingship since the Malla dynasty. Further specifically, the Patan Kumari is particularly important for the royal family.

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Palanquin of Patan Kumari approaching Royal Palace, 1966. (Bernier Archive #vrc_20150618_152)

As the Patan Kumari is carried on her processional, she is simultaneously seeing and being seen in particular ways. Her physical presence in the community allows her to define her domain and reinforce the sacred space that she protects. At the same time, those gathered to view her receive the Kumari’s blessings through the goddess’s gaze.

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Procession of the Patan Kumari past the Royal Family and invited guests, Durbar Square. Photograph taken 1966. (Bernier Archive #vrc_20150618_153)

Ron managed to capture the moment that the Patan Kumari procession passed by the palace in Durbar Square. Members of the Royal Family and their invited guests are seen looking toward the Kumari as her head is turned to her right, gazing toward the group.

The Royal Family of Nepal was established in the second half of the 17th c., and continued to the early 21st century. When Ron took this photo in 1966, the King was Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah, who reigned from 1955-1972. This moment captures the Royal Family and their guests assembled to have darshan (exchange of gazes) with the Patan Kumari, a source of their power, and whose blessing as an embodiment of Taleju blesses not only the family—and its continued reign—but also on the nation as well.

For more on Kumaris, see Janice Glowski’s doctoral thesis, Gerard Toffin’s article on Newari society, Ron Bernier’s article on the architecture of the Kumari Bahal, and a personal view written by Deepak Shimkhada for asianart.com.

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