Thursday, April 9, 2009

Day Seventy-four

A research project for my class has (to my surprise) led me to a personal connection of sorts. I'm doing my project on Kumari, who are believed to be living emanations of the goddess Taleju (more commonly known as Durga). She is a fierce warrior goddess, who was created by the gods as they released their energies upon Shiva's wife Parvati in frustration (the world was being overtaken by a demon that they could not defeat).

Because she came from Parvati, she is considered a more fierce form of her, and she is also considered an aspect of Kali (all three of these being associated as Shiva's consort). Really though, it seems all goddesses are connected as aspects of Devi, that is, the (universal) divine female principle.

The name Durga (according to Wikipedia, ha) means "the inaccesible" or "the invincible." I'm not sure what Taleju means in the Nepalese dialect (which is the concern of my project, as Kumari are a Nepalese phenomena), but the Hindu name is at least telling. Given my predilections - towards stoicism, and towards melancholy and distance, but at the same time with this desire for compassion towards others - I find her an appealing figure. As befitting a fierce warrior goddess, she is unafraid, supremely confident, capable, but always laughing and in good humor (even in the heat of battle). Besides this, she is self-sufficient (the translation of the concept svātantrya) and embodies "fierce compassion."

Really the Wiki stuff doesn't provide the most direct (or perhaps accurate?) impression of Durga. Reading the autobiography of a former royal Kumari, From Goddess to Mortal, she describes how she felt, being the goddess after all - her reactions, her calm demeanor, her sense of duty, compassion, and power. Like this, for example:

Though the same ceremony is repeated every morning, and I no longer pay attention, I never get bored or fidgety, but simply sit there in my stony-faced way. I know that I am a goddess, that this is the way a goddess is treated and this is the way she behaves.

...but I understand that because they will leave an offering on a small pillar in the courtyard, I have a duty to show myself at the window, just as I understand that I have a duty not to smile when I am there.

I know that I will be able to cure him if I want to, though since he is not a child, I am not particularly interested ... There was no question of my not accepting his puja. Though children are the only ones I really care about, I have no hostile feeling towards anyone, not even the irritable priest whom I enjoy tormenting (more like "playing pranks on" in case you were wondering), and am happy enough for him to be cured.

I am not sure at what age I first began to notice feeling different whenever the naga necklace was put on, but wearing it I suddenly felt myself to be in some way apart from and superior to the people around me, and I never felt like talking to anyone. Nor did I ever feel like smiling. It is not actually true that Kumari is forbidden to smile, but once she is dressed up with the naga necklace on, it would never occur to her.

There's something so appealing about this combination of young girls (the Kumari are aged 4-12 generally) and this fierce warrior. It's strangely attractive and fascinating, for me at least because of my own interest in (attatchment to?) childhood but also in becoming a more confident person, and I hope I presented this topic in the full vibrancy and color that I get from it.

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