Do Nepalis pray to a child goddess after an earthquake?

The World
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I still remember the first time I saw one of Nepal's child goddesses. Three years ago this month, an attendant carried her in a procession through the historic, winding streets of Patan during the famous Rato Machendranath festival. I followed along with throngs of locals, both young and old, many who had come to seek her blessings. I later spent weeks reporting on the life of one child goddess during my visits to the Kathmandu Valley.

In Nepal, the centuries-old tradition of choosing a young girl as a goddess, known as a Kumari, has continued for years. She's worshipped as the reincarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga, but her role in this time of extreme crisis seems to have diminished.

In the wake of this weekend's earthquake, as people worry about getting shelter and basic necessities, few have come to see the young goddess. The usual stream of worshippers to the courtyard where the Kumari resides has come to a standstill, the mother of a former goddess told me by phone this week.

Magnificent temples and old houses came crumbling down in the earthquake, forcing residents to flee into the streets of historic Patan, where the current and former child goddesses live. The annual Rato Machendranath festival, one of the biggest celebrations in the area, usually takes place around now, but it has been put on hold. The courtyard, once a calm, relaxing place where worshippers gathered, turned into a makeshift evacuation center as families, including child goddesses past and present, gathered for safety.

I also reached another former Kumari, Chanira Bhajrachsrya, who I'd interviewed at length a few years ago. Though she had never really felt fear during her divine life, she said this week's earthquake and aftershocks were frighening. She walked down to the nearby historic Patan Durbar Square, and was devastated to see her beloved temples reduced to rubble.

"It was quite terrifying,'' she told me by phone. "The houses are so weak, so almost all the people are worried and they cannot go back to their houses, and some houses got destroyed."

When she was a goddess, she never went outside, except during festivals. I could have never imagined that the former child goddesses, once confined to their homes, would be camping outside due to this tragic act of fate.

Another former goddess, Samita Bhajracharya (unrelated to Chanira), now 14, can barely imagine it, too.
"When we sleep outside, sometimes it is raining, so it is difficult,'' she told me by phone.
During my visit to Nepal, Samita happily played songs on a stringed-instrument called a sarod. "Now, I have not practiced because of the earthquake,'' she said. "We are too scared to go inside the house."
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