For long, a few lucky(?) pre-pubescent girls in Nepal, the last Officially Hindu Country on the planet, have been put on a pedestal and worshipped.
The girls hail from the Newar community of Kathmandu Valley. These Buddhist girls are chosen after their first milk tooth falls to represent the Hindu Goddess Taleju till they begin to menstruate. Legend has it that this practice started during the 17th-century reign of Kathmandu’s King Pratap Malla. Legend has it that the king used to play dice in secret with the goddess Taleju. One night, when lustful thoughts entered the king’s mind, Taleju vanished. Later, she appeared to the king in a dream and told him to select a young Buddhist girl who would bless the king with the strength to rule. Ever since, every year, during the Indra Jatra festival, the reigning monarch receives the auspicious tika on his forehead from the principal Kumari and takes her sword in a ritual that is believed to give the king the power to rule for another year.
So why would somebody not want to be a goddess? Well, the salary is low, the education received is meagre, and the worst part is that the girls have a tough time adjusting to normal life once their Goddess days are over. The practice that has been a symbolic bond between the Hindus and Buddhists of Nepal is now facing a legal challenge. With the end of the Hindu Monarchy and the advent of democracy in Nepal, the very question of Nepal continuing to be an official Hindu nation is in question, and it won’t be surprising if this practice gets banned.
What intrigued me most was that I have never heard of a Goddess named “Taleju” – have you? A quick google search revealed a temple, but the page was in German.
One of the simple pleasures of a Sunday used to be reading V. Gangadhar’s column “Slice of Life” in The Hindu on Sundays.
I now get to to relive the experience, thanks to Rediff. The archive of Gangadhar’s Slice of Life provides for very interesting reader. He mostly writes about one-off topics related to his life in Ahmedabad, about the India of the past etc.
Here’s an excerpt from his article suggesting we celebrate Manmadan, the Hindu God of Love instead of Valentine’s Day:
Manmadhan was in the habit of shooting arrows made of fragrant flowers at his victims, making them fall in love. Somewhat like Cupid of Greek legend. Unfortunately, Manmadhan once fooled around with Shiva, the Angry Young God, who was not known to be particularly romantic. On being struck by the romantic arrow, Shiva reacted strongly. He opened his third eye, discharged the requisite fire reducing poor Manmadhan to ashes. I do not know when this exactly happened but it would be nice to celebrate the martyrdom of Manmadhan as our version of Valentine’s Day.
I guess that is enough linkage for you to waste a couple of hours. Have fun!
The Soma plant and the drink derived from the Soma, also called Soma is referenced in the Rig Veda and many of the other scriptures. This plant (and drink) find references in the Persian Avestan tradition too. Over a period of time, I think the same term started referring to a lot of different plants. Soma, the drink, is the Indian equivalent of Ambrosia – the drink of the Gods.
In the Vedas, drinking soma is said to make one happy, satisfied, and even immortal. In the modern world we live in, no one seems to have a very clear idea of which plant is actually the Soma plant. One opinion is that it is a mushroom that grows in the dark. Amanita Muscaria is one such mushroom with psychotropic properties. The book Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, (Ethno-Mycological Studies) describes the Soma mushroom and the ethnic connotations in various cultures, primarily the Persian and Vedic cultures.
In modern Hindu tantric practices in the southern state of Kerala, however, Soma is a different quantity. The botanical name of Soma is `Sarcostemma Brevistigma`. It is a creeper(vine) that is commonly found in the Western Ghats of South India. The stem is used to make the Somarasa for many yagas in Kerala. The King of Kollengode, an erstwhile principality in Kerala, is obliged to supply the soma stems for yagas. It is described in the book Agni by Frits Stall.
The search for the Soma plant continues — if someone were to find it, as described in the Veda and the Avesta, it would bestow immortality, the light of knowledge/awareness, and heal many ills(according to Susrutha and the Atharva Veda). In later Hinduism the Soma was replaced by the Rhubarb plant due to Soma being unavailable. Susrutha also mentions that the best Soma can be found in Kashmir and the Upper Indus region.
There is also a mythological god Soma, who was depicted as a bull or bird, and sometimes as an embryo. What is interesting is that he is never shown as a mature adult. In Hinduism, the god Soma evolved into a lunar deity, and became associated with the underworld. The moon is the cup from which the gods drink Soma, and so Soma became identified with the moon god Chandra. This explains why in Hindi, “Somvar” means “Monday”. A waxing moon meant Soma was recreating himself, ready to be consumed. Soma had twenty-seven wives all of whom were daughters of the great King Daksha (the Daksha who conducts the Daksha yaga, father of Dakshayani or Parvati), who felt he paid too much attention to just one of his wives, Rohini (the star). He cursed him to wither and die. His wives would have none of that and so they intervened and the death became periodic and temporary. Soma is perpetually condemed to die and be reborn once every 28 days.
To add to the confusion, there is a drug called Soma, and some contend that Soma is nothing but the common Marijuana plant. I find the concept of Soma very alluring – does it suggest that the ancients had knowledge of hallucinogenics, and the “awakening” they speak of is the same as Huxley’s Doors of Perception being opened wide?