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In a house, of course! A lovely 2 storied house with small wooden windows and a central courtyard. It is nothing grand by today’s standards, but when it was built in the 18th century, it was a place fit for only a goddess. Because of the strong relationship between the Living Goddess, the Kumari, and the king, her house originally overlooked the King’s palace. That was before he decided to move down the road and into a new house.
I wondered if, with the king now gone, there would still be a Kumari? “Absolutely!” everyone said. Once a goddess always a goddess, right? Almost. The Kumari is always the Kumari. The goddess herself does not change, but the young girl’s body within which she resides does. The goddess can only reside in the young girl’s body until she hits puberty, meaning that every 8-12 years a new girl is chosen as the Kumari, as the embodiment of the Living Goddess.
Standing in the courtyard, I find myself thinking: in the US, little girls want to grow up to be a beauty pageant or a movie star. If only they knew! I dare say a living goddess would have both of those options beat by a mile.
To learn more about what it is like to be a Kumari and the challenges of reincorporation into normal life, read: “From Goddess to Mortal: the True Life Story of a Former Royal Kumari” by Rashmila Shakya & Scott Berry
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I was so excited to visit the birthplace of the Buddha. In my head I had this image of a romantic old Hindu kingdom, locked away and preserved, full of peace and tranquility. …yeah, I was a little off base with that image.
Lumbini is not so much a town as a destination, and it certainly retains no sense of being a once wealthy kingdom. Any sense of peace and tranquility was smacked away as soon as we came out of the hills and in the plains of the Terai. Suddenly, the only spiritual experience we were having was cruising along between two trucks and neither being hit nor dying from espixiation. Welcome to the Terai – the land of hot, dusty, and flat.
Lumbini itself was mostly a large, dusty park preserving the land upon which they believe Buddha was born. It now serves as a spiritual center and a magnet for Buddhist monasteries from all over the world.
Once in the complex, with the Terai safely outside, I stood amongst the ruined stupas in the wide-open field, felt the setting sun on my face, and just listened to the wind in the trees. I was standing in the grass barefoot (no shoes allowed). Off to my left was a young Nepalese girl, holding a Japanese tourist and blue camo covered policeman captive with her wit and charm. I closed my eyes, and for a moment could grasp a small sense of what it meant to be here — what it meant to be standing the exact spot where the Buddha was born. And there it was, peace.
As I opened my eyes and began to walk back into the hot, dusty chaos, I vowed to remember that feeling. To remember that if I could find that feeling here, there were very few places where I couldn’t find it again.
Later that evening the owner at our hotel put it best – the Buddha must have been chosen to be born in such a hard, hot place. “He needed to know suffering. How else can you let go of something, unless you have know it?”
We had one full day in the holy city of Pushkar. How did it go? As any good day in India should go, full of the unexpected. This morning, the unexpected was salty coffee. (Those super fine granules at the bottom of the sugar bowl that we thought were just crushed sugar cubes – not sugar.) This afternoon, the unexpected was a Hindu prayer by one of the holiest bodies of water in India.
I had a lovely encounter with an older Sadhu during my first visit to India, that time on the banks of the Ganges. Perhaps my memories of that experience made me a little softer with this white tank top clad Brahmin priest than I otherwise might have been. The Pushkar exchange started with a gentle suggestion from priest Carlo to walk down to the ghats along the water. I had already been and so was patiently waiting for the gentleman to leave before continuing my walk back to the hotel. This, apparently, was obvious, and soon I was, with little choice otherwise, following him down to the edge of the lake.
Ignoring the stairs covered in pigeon poop, I removed my sandals and proceeded barefoot. Ignoring the trash and plastic bags floating in the green water, I took a seat on its edge. Watching and listening to Carlo chant was magical. He filled my cupped hands with water and with minimal resistance on my part I began tossing handfuls of the holy water into the lake, wishing for the long life of my family: husband, father, mother, sisters, brother, and grandparents.
As I walked home later, vermillion on my forehead, a red string on my wrist, and 100 rupees lighter (a donation of course), I thought about my unexpected events for the day: 90 rupees for salty coffee. 100 rupees for a long life full of happiness and prosperity for those closest to me. Of the two, I knew which was the better bargain.
We almost missed this temple during our ride from Udaipur to Jodhpur. The temple closes at 5pm and we rolled into the gate at 4.20pm. We had one person in shorts (a BIG no-no in Jain temples) and cameras in hand, but we were in a stubborn mood. Not wanting to spend the money and time on camera passes (200 INR) and rented pants (100 INR/ pair), our person in shorts decided to stay outside the temple take care of the cameras. We thought this was a great idea until we got inside – the temple was breathtaking. By being stubborn, the only people we were hurting at this moment were ourselves. We rushed out, grabbed our shorts wearer and ran to the ticket booth. 300 more rupees spent. This place was worth every cent.