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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Kathmandu: Kumari Festival

Kathmandu Street Scene

We have been still trying to get back to eating, both with guts like sandpaper after our severe Varanasi runs, but we gave it our best shot and got meths for independent cooking and went for a big walk to the Durbar Square.

Our room in the simple backpackers

Below: Dinner in the restaurant during a power cut. Above: Breakfast in the sunshine.

We hired a motor bike to travel to some of the more outlying places

Prachanda: The Maoist leader

Maoist demonstration outside the hotel in 2006 and soldiers in the streets in 1990

A Buddhist temple in the centre of Kathmandu

Video of the Buddhist temple with Tibetan trumpets sounding

People around the temple complex. Lower right: Tibetan refugee women.
In a subsequent blog you can see Tibetan refugees in the same temple in 1976.

The streets were full of people packed in tightly for the Kumari festival which was about to begin. More sinister Maoist protesters with black bandanas charged through the throng scattering the crowd and confronting the army, which has sand bagged posts everywhere.

Military in sandbags at the palace and black Maoists
demonstrating boisterously outside the
Aakash Bhairab temple

Aakash Bhairab Temple Kathmandu with the image surrounded by flaming torches 2000

Aakash Bhairav is a god of the sky particularly revered in Kathmandu where his image of the head was said to have been dug up several hundred years ago in Kathmandu. The image above shows him in residence in his temple in central Kathmandu in 2000. Below he is out on display for the festival.

Aakash Bhairab Temple Kathmandu (courtesy OKO)

Also associated with Kumari is the Yanyā Punhi (Indra Jatra) a holiday related to Hindu god king of heaven accompanied by the rare display of the deity Aakash Bhairab, represented by a massive mask spouting beer and liquor. Households throughout Kathmandu display images and sculptures of Indra and Bhairab only at this time of year. Finally, the Kumari leaves the seclusion of her temple in a palanquin and leads a procession through the streets of Kathmandu to thank Indra the rain god.

Preparing Aakash Bhairab on for the 2006 festival outside the temple

Aakash Bhairab on display for the festival

Aakash Bhairab on display another year (Wikipedia)

People visiting the large Tibetan style Kali statue

Here it is unobstructed with Shiva lying supine under Kali

Here she is in 2000 looking significantly different
with a sacrificial black goat at her feet

There was a big festival happening - the Kumari festival - with Indra and the three living goddesses pulled around the square in carts, with lama dancing, with the much reviled king of Nepal - the uncle who seized the throne and declared a state of emergency ruling by royal decree after the son of his brother, the previous king slaughtered the entire royal family - appearing on the palace balcony and throwing small change to the crowds.

The origin of the Kumari is a story about a 12th Century king, very suggestive of sex with under-age girls. The king was having secret trysts involving a red snake with a 'priestess of Durga'. When his wife entered the scene to find out what he was doing so often in secret at night, the priestess fled and the story goes would be reincarnated in pre-pubescent girls from the Nepali folk people of Kathmandu valley. Hence the living Goddesses who lose their divine status if the menstruate or bleed.

Video of the Royal Kumari Festival

They had one pagoda assigned to women and another to foreigners, but having been shoved from pillar to post Christine sat down by a Tanka shop and I snuck out in front of the main arena and joined the press reporters with a perfect placement to film the dancing, the king and queen with a few ambassadors, and of course the living goddesses being pulled in their pagoda chariots by a madding throng of soldiers and gung-ho Nepalis.

There was a lot of wild Tibetan-style mask dancing with sallies and clashes of cymbals.

There were also big military parades and pipe bands.

The Kumari Goddess carts waiting on the periphery

Lakhe (the devil) provoking

Pipe band performing

Lakhe the devil provoking the army!

This red-masked lakhe (devil) dervish was dancing in and out of every every event, challenging everyone like some sort of gremlin spirit.

Eventually the three living goddesses paraded in ancient carts pulled with great gusto and a good deal of danger to the bystanders by rope-teams through the crowds and in front of the Royal Family, with men throwing tree fronds from the carts to the crowds as they passed.

The Royal Family and senior military figures stood on the balcony. The king and queen blessed the ceremony and threw token amounts of small change to the crowds below.

The Kumari is also taken on walkabout during the Yanyā Punhi.

Kumari on walkabout during Yanyā Punhi (Wikipedia)

At the same time there were other street festivals, this one a raucous packed affair - Pulu Kishi - with an elephant figure escorted by men with flaming torches charging through the crowd and jockeying into the onlookers. Another slightly dangerous and boisterous affair.

(Wikipedia image)


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