By Dominika Romanska
It was a hot day, 22nd May 2019 and it was my 35th birthday as well. Sweltering heat was filling every nook and corner of the Kathmandu valley. Despite that, my husband and I decided to stroll along the streets of Thamel and Ason Bazaar, but quite shortly we found out that even for us, who love hot sunny days, it was a challenge.
In fact, for the first time in my life I considered having an umbrella to protect myself from the rays of the burning sun. Finally, we decided against it, bearing in mind that after long winter in Europe it might be a good idea to “catch some sun” so that our skin could get a healthy-looking sun-kissed tone. Instead, having crossed the gate of Basantapur Durbar Square, we decided to seek out shade to take a rest, look at the map and sightsee in a more organised and strategic way.
Following some invisible paths and signposts of our intuition, we approached a red-brick three-storey building with two lion guardian statues at the entrance, which turned out to be the Kumari Ghar – the official residence of the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu, the living goddess. I had heard a lot about the Kumari, read some articles and even watched some movies about her and, unexpectedly, there we were, just in front of her palace.
To get into the courtyard, you have to bend down a bit as the door frames are relatively low. Having done that, we gasped in amazement at the majesty of the building that was richly decorated with wood-carved reliefs of gods and ancient symbols, as well as the sense of peace and sanctity permeating this place. Thick brick walls protect the courtyard from heat and noise, making it a perfect place to find your inner peace in the hustle and bustle of the city. In the middle of the courtyard there is a sacred plant surrounded by stone mandalas. The building itself is supported by wooden and metal poles after the damage it suffered in the devastating 2015 earthquake.
Suddenly, a group of Chinese tourists arrived and shortly afterwards their guide asked them to stand together opposite the window where the Kumari was expected to appear. They were reminded that it is strictly forbidden to take any photos of her. As we were standing nearby, we could also await this special moment. And then she appeared at the window and looked at all the people who had come to see her. Her eyes wandered from person to person and then for a few seconds stopped at us, perhaps because of our blond hair and fair skin. Time stopped!
At that moment I understood why the Kumari is so important to Nepali people and everything I had heard from or read before took on a completely new meaning to me. When you read about a little Newari girl who is believed to be the incarnation of Taleju (i.e. form of the great goddess Durga) and have the power to cure those who suffer from various diseases and come seeking help, it is fascinating. But when you come to this very place and see the Royal Kumari, who is revered and worshiped in Nepal, offered pujas and who used to give tikas to kings for centuries, you can fully appreciate being there.
We stayed there for nearly half an hour looking at the stunning architecture, old red bricks, intricately carved woodwork, mandalas and the window the Kumari had just stood at. Having flown almost 7,500 km and unexpectedly seeing the Kumari on my 35th birthday which I had decided to spend in Nepal, a country that is very special to me, I understood I would need to find out more about all the places and things I had seen.
Fortunately, thanks to books such as “From Goddess to Mortal” presenting the true life story of a former Royal Kumari, Rashmila Shakya, we can find out more about what being a Kumari is like and how important the Kumari is for Nepali people and culture.
Amazed by everything we had seen and people we had met, barely starting to unpack after a long journey, we decided that we would have to go to Nepal again. And, hopefully, that could also mean seeing the Kumari again.