The exalted seat of Ekantakumari, a living Goddess, is set to be vacant in Bhaktapur district after the incumbent Ekantakumari, Jivika Bajracharya’s Bel Bibaha—in which pre-adolescent girls are symbolically married to a bael fruit (wood apple)—was announced for the upcoming Shri Panchami (February 16).
Bhaktapur’s Ekantakumari automatically retires when she reaches 10 or when her Bel Bibaha is fixed, whichever comes first. As the search for a replacement is a difficult job, the Bhaktapur Taleju temple is informed of the impending wedding three months in advance.
Accordingly, Bhaktapur Taleju has been informed this time as well, says Jiv Chandra, the retiring Goddess’s father.
Jivika Bajracharya had been appointed Bhaktapur’s Ekantakumari in 2016. Narendra Prasad Joshi, the Chief Caretaker of Bhaktapur Taleju temple, informs that the search for a new living Goddess has already began. Girls aged two to eight from the Shakya or Bajracharya clans are appointed Ekantakumari.
But belonging to Shakya and Bajracharya clans is not enough to qualify as Ekantakumari, Joshi informs. According to him, the girl has to be a virgin with a pleasant and smiley face, have no flaw or cut in her body, and have a wide forehead, among other features. The family of the chosen one also has to give their consent.
As per tradition, the Goddess’s main caretaker starts looking for a replacement soon as the position becomes vacant. When a prospective match is found, the chief caretaker of Bhaktapur Taleju is informed. The chief caretaker checks all qualifications and if there is nothing wrong with the pick, he recommends the candidate to the central office of the Guthi Sansthan.
While the appointment of Ekantakumari was previously in the hands of the head priest of Bhaktapur Taleju temple, the responsibilities were shifted to the Guthi Sansthan after Nepal became a republic. The Guthi Sansthan provides a monthly allowance of Rs 3,710 to Ekantakumari.
Says Joshi, the Ekantakumari can stay home and lead a normal life, yet she also has to follow certain rules. For instance, she is expected to refrain from chicken meat and eggs. Nor can she partake of food that has already been tasted by others. Moreover, she cannot venture beyond Kathmandu valley and Banepa without the approval of the Guthi Sansthan.
The government also gives allowances to both incumbent and former Kumaris. The former Kumaris receive a monthly pension of Rs 5,600 while the incumbent gets Rs 3,185 a month. Among the former Kumaris who are still alive, only those appointed Kumaris after 2041 BS (1985) get pensions. Accordingly, of the retired Ekantakumaris, only Geeta Bajracharya, Padma Sumana Shakya, Neelam Bajracharya, Sajani Shakya, Shriya Bajracharya and Junisha Shakya are getting pensions.