Did the reverence for women vanish with the passage of time? Did the religious tradition of worshipping Nepalese goddesses lose its power of faith and belief?
The diverse cultural ideologies, traditional beliefs, and social dogmas have governed the Nepali lifestyle like how science and technology have influenced our modern society. Male-dominated since the early civilization, Nepali society has been cynical in ways where on one hand people treat women as objects with no significance and on the other, highly value the existence of Hindu goddesses. In particular, the reverence for female deities who reside in statues and sculptures. The prevalence of patriarchy, gender inequality leading to discrimination and violence against women has been predominantly responsible for de-valuing women's status in Nepal. Following the fallacious tradition, men continue to be superior and hold more power and authority over women whereas women’s powers are limited to emotions, sentiments, household chores, feeding and taking care of their children and lastly within goddesses. The ‘RAPE ME’ painting by Aditya Aryal (Sadhu X), for the #Occupy Baluwatar movement raises public awareness about violence against women and depicts a nude Kumari manifesting her grief-stricken expression to the general public. The mural holds a deep meaning mainly among the Hindu and Buddhist communities of the Nepali population. Beautifully and successfully capturing the powerful message, the artwork reflects the real scenario of Nepal where respect and devotion have been limited to only our religious goddesses and not to the young girls and women who in theory are considered to be the representation of divine female deities.
Kumari is the one and only living deity in Nepal who is believed to be the incarnation of Hindu Goddess, Taleju Bhawani, ‘Durga ’ also the Goddess of Power. Goddesses in most countries are symbolic of a spiritual world but in Nepal, these sacred females live and breathe hence naming them the Living Goddess. Worshiping young girls as the female manifestation of divine energy, this is the tradition where young pre-pubescent divinities are chosen at birth and are worshipped by many Hindu and Buddhists until her menstruation. Kumari in Nepal means ‘Virgin’, meaning that they retire from their goddess life when they hit their puberty. Usually being carried in traditional chariots, thrones and in people’s arms, the goddess lives in temples and can only be seen on major Hindu festivals and ceremonies.
Orthodox Nepali society also worships Goddesses like Laxmi (Goddess of wealth and queen of Lord Vishnu), Saraswati (Goddess of learning) and Durga (Goddess of strength and power). Coming from a rich and diverse cultural background of the Hindu religion, Kumari is recognized as one of the renowned goddesses in Nepal and is believed to offer blessings during occasions. According to the holy Sanskrit textbook of Hinduism, Manu Smiriti, "Women must be honored and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands, and brothers-in-law, who desire their own welfare. Where women are honored, there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honored, no sacred rite yields rewards. Where the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers. The houses, on which female relations, not being duly honored, pronounce a curse, perish completely as if destroyed by magic. Hence men, who seek (their own) welfare, should always honor women on holidays and festivals with (gifts of) ornaments, clothes, and (dainty) food"(55-59). Indeed, the contradiction of tradition which encourages reverence for women while in reality they are held back from their deserved rights has been clearly displayed in the street mural.
Revolutionary and provocative as the image is on screen, the artwork is a metaphorical representation for all young Nepalese girls and women. Kumari's eyes which could heal people with just a glimpse are now the eyes of intense pain and ordeal. Those powerful eyes which could bring good fortune to the society have lost its strength and are now tears of violence and tolerance. The art has been able to address the deep-rooted discrimination and violence that women have been facing since ages. The expression of hypocrisy and misogyny of women in the society has been effectively portrayed through Sadhu X’s art. Challenging Kumari's usually worn traditional red and golden attire, this sketch of the topless deity, I hope, integrates into the deep-rooted mindsets in ways where people become aware of the severity of social problems women face in their day to day lives. This will definitely shock many and some might be completely against what I have been stating, however, the article is indeed written to question the readers about the prevailing orthodox belief systems that the country blindly follows. The normalization of violence itself in the very first place is where we, as citizens lack consciousness and the ‘RAPE ME’ art have been able to address conservatism in an influential way. My interest in writing up this piece and reflecting on the holy deity who is an emblem of the Hindu religion is to connect the stories of every young girl encountering problems of abuse and torture. This in ways will build up a way of a communication channel to connect myself with the Nepalese community.
*The nudity of Kumari representing her body as her soul private property made this an epic piece of art.
**This piece is an excerpt from the Language and Composition course during my first-year at Asian University for Women (AUW).