Who would have guessed I’d meet a living goddess this weekend.
Yesterday evening, we were walking past the Discovery Channel building in Silver Spring, heading to a restaurant for dinner, when an adorable little South Asian girl walked by in an ornate golden outfit and an extravagant tika painted on her head. I guessed she and her family were headed to some form of Hindu festival in the area.
“You won’t lose her in a crowd,” a man remarked as we crossed the street.
“She looks like a Kumari,” Susanne said, in reference to the young girls of Nepal who are worshiped as living goddesses.
She did look like a Kumari, but Kumaris never travel. They barely leave their compounds, or so I thought. Susanne and I saw the royal Kumari of Kathmandu when we visited Nepal in 1996. She was cloistered in a special building that serves as her residence during her tenure, and we had to pay a small fee for the privilege of having her stick her head out the window and glare at us for a moment, clearly preferring to be elsewhere.
Selected as toddlers, always from a Buddhist family of the Shakya caste, Kumaris are picked based on 32 personal traits in a process that’s sometimes compared to the rigorous process taken to select the Dalai Lama. Once selected, she’s revered by the local Hindu population until she reaches puberty, when a new Kumari must be selected. And it’s almost unheard of for them to travel.
As it turns out, she was a Kumari – the Kumari of Bhaktapur, the former royal capital of Nepal, and one of the three most important of the dozen or so Kumaris in Nepal. She was in the US for a world premiere of a documentary about Kumaris at the Silverdocs festival here in Silver Spring, and it was the first time a Kumari had ever visited the US. We were both pretty amazed that we’d gotten the chance to see her. Too bad it was just a fleeting glance crossing Georgia Avenue, though.
Today, we returned to downtown Silver Spring for lunch. A large stage had been set up for some kind of performance, and there were signs posted from the local Nepali American association. We stuck around for a while, and sure enough, the Kumari reappeared.