One of these days I am going to stop writing posts about my trip to Nepal, but I doubt it is going to happen any time soon.
Walking around each and every corner seemed to reveal a new and amazing vista, and each day seemed to open me up to different and thought-provoking experiences…like meeting a Living Goddess.
Yes, I have heard of domestic goddesses and Greek goddesses, but I never expected to meet a real, live goddess in a tiny, dark room at the top of a narrow and creaky staircase.
An action-packed four days in Nepal included a visit to the one-time kingdom of Patan. These days, like many other ancient kingdoms, Patan has been absorbed into the edges of the sprawling Kathmandu city. However, even though it is small, Patan fiercely protects and promotes its own identity.
I know that dates and times can bore and seem to blur together, but it is worth noting that this city was established around 299AD. Tracing its roots even further back in time, this rambling city features four ancient stupas that are said to date back to 250BC! Now that is old!
Similar to Bhaktapur, another kingdom-cum-suburb, central Patan city includes a breathtaking Durbar (palace) Square, surrounded by a splendid range of temples, palaces and museums which are all still in use today. To get to this square, you must navigate a maze of busy, muddy streets, crumbling alleyways and chaotic markets, and then pay an entrance fee to this World Heritage-listed site. Thankfully, Patan did not suffer as much damage in the devastating 2015 earthquake as some other suburbs around Kathmandu, but there are still plenty of signs of reconstruction and scaffolding, mostly funded by international donors.
As an aside, that very morning as our traveling party assembled in the hotel foyer, two of the ladies were looking distinctly shaken and sleep deprived. Apparently the night before, they had awoken to a strange and worrying sound, and when they turned on the lights, found a large crack/crevice had erupted right across their bedroom floor! Needless to say, I slept through all the excitement only a couple of floors below. The earth definitely did not move for me!
A highlight of Patan is the Golden Temple. Through more twisting and narrow streets, our party stopped before a low and non-descript door. Nepal doesn’t seem to be built for tall people, and certainly not for the disabled, as we bent double to get through the doorway, and at the same time stepping over knee-high barricades/walls. Through the dark passage we stumbled, to enter into a stunning courtyard featuring a three-storied pagoda gilded and carved to within an inch of its life.
The Golden Temple, or Hiryanya Varna Mahabihar, was built to honour Lord Buddha in the 12th century. The pagoda, and the surrounding courtyard, are a dazzling mix of statues, carvings incense, prayer wheels, polished brass and candles. It seems that every surface of the courtyard is covered in some sort of religious design. A true riot of colour and texture. If only we had had more time to explore, and talk to people who could explain some of the mysteries and meanings of each of the embellishments.
Stumbling back out onto the street, gathering together once more, our guide Nabin, asked us if we were interested in meeting a Living Goddess. You even have to ask?? Apparently it was genuinely our lucky day, as she wasn’t always available and willing to accept Western visitors.
We hurried through the streets, dodging vegetable trolleys and brick carriers, to step through yet another low door, and into another fully-enclosed courtyard. This courtyard was full of people sitting and chatting, but we didn’t have time to wonder what all that was about.
Through yet another low door, and up a very narrow and steep, dark staircase, we were respectfully ushered into the presence of the Living Goddess.
The Living Goddess, petite and serene, sat demurely in a low chair, and to be honest, looked a bit bored by the whole process. How it works is that a six year old girl is judged on 32 different characteristics of purity. If she measures up, she is anointed as the Living Goddess until she reaches puberty. Then the search for a new goddess, must start all over again. As you can imagine, this is a huge privilege for the young girl and her family, as not only is it a religious honour, it also ensures the economic livelihood for the whole family. To visit the Goddess, and to be blessed by her, is a spiritual honour and a small donation is the correct response.
All of this was closely supervised by the Goddess’ father. All she had to do was sit regally in her heavy make-up and golden clothing, and daub our foreheads in red. Make of that what you may, but for a country that doesn’t really value its females, I think she needs to make the most of her moment in the sun, or in a dark room…
I love these short, sharp experiences that surprise and astonish and encourage you to really think about our diverse world.
Blundering back down the stairs, and into the warm hubbub of the courtyard, I finally understood the patient queues of around 500 people clutching folders and envelopes. This was a Fred Hollows Clinic and an AusAid project. These folks were here to see doctors about their eyesight problems and they were prepared to wait a long time to do just that. Another fascinating aspect of Nepal and interesting for us to see where our Australian aid dollar ends up.
When every street and courtyard seems to reveal a new building, temple or activity it is hard not to be entranced by Nepal.
Which country, city or place has mesmerised you?
What: Patan is a former independent kingdom of Nepal, now known for its arts, crafts and stunning architecture.
Where: Patan, also known as Lalitpur, is located about eight kilometres south of central Kathmandu.
When: Anytime – the city is a hive of activity every day.
Why: Dazzling temples, fascinating museums, and a potential audience with a Living Goddess.
How: I was part of a guided tour that visited the city. I would recommend a guided tour of some sort to understand the significance of the architecture and the history of the city. There is little signage in English, so a local guide will definitely assist with navigation and translation.
Who: The city is open to everyone.
Related Posts: For more chatter about amazing religious sites in Nepal, have a look at my post about the Hindu cremation site in Kathmandu.
Related Blogs: For a more detailed discussion about the Living Goddess, have a read of this National Geographic article.
Read About it: for a quiet read, or for a DVD, about Living Goddesses, check out Book Depository