Here, the benevolent Goddess is worshipped in her virginal avatar – known to be the most forceful interpretation of Mahashakti. The priests recite sacred chants to invoke a young girl who has not yet menstruated, bedecked pretty much like the idol, laden with jewellery and adorned in rich silk.
Folklore has it that the great ascetic Ramkrishna Paramhans supposedly also worshipped his wife Sarada Ma, as Kumari – a practice still retained in the Ramakrishna Mission where the Kumari Puja ritual is the crowning glory of the main ceremonies: Swami Vivekananda having famously performed the same by praying to a Muslim boatman’s daughter in Kashmir.
In the great Indian epic, Mahabharata, Arjun too had performed Kumari Puja. Ancient Indian scriptures such as the Shakta text Devi Mahatmyam or Chandi, claim the goddess resides in all female living beings in this universe. The entire ritual of Kumari is based on this verse.
But while worshiping a goddess, only a pre-pubescent girl is given preference over a more mature woman because of the virtue of chastity – a moral suraksha kawach, so to speak, for our sex. Hindu scriptures like the Jñanarnava Rudrayamala tantra assign specific names to a Kumari based on her age.
A one-year-old girl is called Sandhya, a two-year-old girl is called Sarasvati, a child of three years of age is called Tridhamurti, on her fourth year she is Kallika, on fifth she is Subhaga, on sixth she is Uma, on her seventh year she is called Malini. An eight-year-old girl is called Kubjika, on the ninth year she is Kaalasandarbha, on reaching tenth year she is Aparajita, on eleventh she is Rudrani, on twelfth year she is named Bhairavi, on thirteenth she is Mahalakshmi, on fourteenth she is Pithanayika, on fifteenth she is Kshetragya, and on sixteen years of her age she is Ambika.
Elsewhere, in Nepal, for instance, a Kumari is selected from the Shakya caste or Bajracharya clan of the Nepalese Newari community. While there are several Kumaris throughout Nepal, the best known is the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu who resides in the Kumari Ghar, a palace in the heart of the city.
The current Royal Kumari, Matina Shakya, aged four, was installed in October 2008 by the Maoist government that replaced the monarchy. Unika Bajracharya, chosen in April 2014, as the Kumari of Patan is the second most important living goddess.
And, yet, as the country prepares for the most opulent season of the Mother Goddess, we are haunted by the horrifying news headlines of four-year-old girl being raped in New Delhi.
The girl, who comes from a slum dwelling family, is in need of a series of surgeries to recover from the severe injuries she sustained. The four-year-old girl was raped and smashed with stones last week, a senior police officer involved in the investigation, claimed to news channels bringing back chillingly the tragedy of Nirbhaya in the national capital.
Media reports say the girl’s intestines have been badly injured and she has undergone emergency surgery ata Safdarjung Hospital.
The police have recorded over 1,000 cases of rape in Delhi itself this year. There are still three months remaining…
But is there an end to this lustful male perversion, the constant denial we seem to live in as a nation about child sexual violence, in general? The way children mysteriously vanish in the darkness of the night -- as many as one every eight minutes, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
Children are sometimes kidnapped from their homes to be bought and sold in the market. Thousands of children are trafficked for reasons like child labour, beggary, and sexual exploitation.
India is a prime area for child trafficking, with a significant number of children trafficked from bordering countries like Nepal and Bangladesh.
According to UNICEF, 12.6 million children are engaged in hazardous occupations. In 2009, an estimated 1.2 million children were being trafficked worldwide for sexual exploitation, including for prostitution or the production of sexually abusive images.
Only 10% of human trafficking in India is international, while almost 90% is interstate. Nearly 40,000 children are abducted every year, of which 11,000 remain untraced, according to a report by the National Human Rights Commission of India.
There are an estimated 300,000 child beggars in India. Every year, 44,000 children fall into the trap of the so-called beggar gangs.
Which Devi do we need to worship and decorate? Whose feet are we prostrating ourselves at? How long and at what price are we ready to sell our conscience – telling ourselves it’s okay to spend lakhs on lavish mandap decoration, extravagant lights, ostentatious occasion wear, competitions for the best idol, with hefty prize money and glitzy celeb appearances and night-long concerts – what culture castrates so cruelly the innocence of its tiniest citizens?