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Of Living Goddesses and the Newars

Preeti Varma | January 14, 2021
Of Living Goddesses and the Newars

An old retainer who has history with the family brought back a lovely traditional gift for me from Kathmandu, Nepal with a little bit of its own history! Originally, these were made of beaten gold over lacquer but as the prices soared, they were beautifully replicated with an alloy that did not lose its shine!

These pieces of jewellery are specially designed every year as an offering to the kumari – the virgin goddess. Young Newari girls are worshipped as omnipotent deities and are devoutly revered. They are believed to be blessed with the ability to foretell the future, cure the ill, fulfil special wishes and even provide an immediate connection between this world and the divine.

The Kathmandu valley and Nepal Mandala

The Kathmandu valley and surrounding territories constituted the former Newar kingdom of the Nepal Mandala. The Newars are the descendants of a diverse group of people that have lived in Nepal Mandala since prehistoric times and are, therefore, considered among the earliest inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley.

Unlike other common origin ethnic or caste groups of Nepal, the Newars are regarded as an example of a nation community with a distinct identity, derived from an ethnically diverse and previously existing polity. They form a linguistic and cultural community of primarily Indo-Aryan and Tibeto-Burman ethnicities. They practice both Hinduism and Buddhism and Nepali is their common language.

The Newar community comprises various strands of ethnic, racial, caste and religious heterogeneity. Indo-Aryan tribes like the Licchavis and Mallas that arrived in Nepal Mandala at different periods eventually merged with the local population by adopting their language and customs. These tribes however retained their Vedic culture and brought with them their Sanskritic languages, social structure and Hinduism. All of these were gradually assimilated with the existing local cultures, giving rise to the current Newar civilisation.

The custodians of Nepali heritage

The Newars are known for their contributions to  art, culture, literature, trade, agriculture and cuisine. Today, they consistently rank as the most economically, politically and socially advanced community of Nepal. The Newars continue with their age-old traditions and practices even today, priding themselves as the true custodians of the religio-cultural heritage of Nepal. And one such age-old tradition is the worship of preadolescent girls as living goddesses.

Preeti Varma

Preeti is a full-fledged painter and artist and is currently working with art furniture. Her company Enviroscapes, works on project concept coordination, design, landscaping, interiors, murals and paintings. She has held numerous solo exhibitions for her paintings. Her installations are part of both private and corporate collections.

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