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.
The Sankethis are a brahmin sect that originate from Sengottai (literal translation: Red Fort) in Tamil Nadu.
Historically, they are known to have migrated to Karnataka from Sengottai sometime in the last 200-400 years. There is a very interesing legend as to how they came about:
Long ago, in a â€˜Sabhaâ€™(Congregation of Brahmins), one Acharya made a mistake while reciting a Shloka. A lady in the audience pointed out the mistake. Male chauvinism being as old as manking itself, she was punished for her arrogance. The punishment meted out was that she had to prepare and serve food to the Brahmins while wearing a saree coated with chalkstone. Now chalkstone would make the saree slippery and difficult to hold in place. The resourceful lady conceived a new way of tying the saree which would be held in place with a knot. Nowadays this style of wearing the saree is called the “Gandi” style (from “Gath” which means knot, perhaps).
Later, the community split and several members moved to places in the Hassan, Mysore and Shimoga districts in Karnataka, where they have remained to date. Their Tamil has since been corrupted, and is sometimes irrecognizable in itself. Some even go so far as to say they might be from the Trichur district of Kerala, which might have acted as a stopover on the way to Karnataka via Coorg.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done when it comes to tracing the migratory paths of communities in India. Little or no historically verified information is available regarding the origins and family trees of many sub-sects. With the slow but progressing dispersion of people from their homelands, the challenge seems all the more steeper.