Taleju Bhawani in Kathmandu: The story of a king and his ‘living goddess’

The temple was constructed in 1500s by the then king, Mahendra Malla. A lot of stories have come up since then about the origin of the holy temple

The Taleju Bhawani Temple in central Kathmandu stands out among the swarm of temples and monuments around the Durbar Square. As I sit nearby the temple, a woman walks up to the gate of the Taleju Bhawani and bows seeking blessing from the goddess. There is a certain satisfaction on her face.

I ask her how long she’s been coming here and what she thinks about the temple, to which she replies, “I have been coming here since I was a child. My Dashain isn’t complete until I visit this temple. Taleju is a part of me now and it will be forever.”

The temple, believed to have been commissioned by then King Mahendra Malla, is located adjacent to the Hanuman Dhoka Palace Museum. A lot of stories have come up about the origins of the holy temple.

People believe that the temple was built in the shape of yantra, a mystical diagram said to have magical powers, due to a suggestion that came straight from the Goddess Taleju. According to legends, Taleju Bhawani herself made a special appearance at the temple’s dedication ceremony where she came disguised as a bee. She was originally a goddess from the south of India, but later became the kul deuta (family deity) of the Malla Kings in 14th century.

Even when the Malla kingdom was conquered by the Shah rulers, the new kings adopted Taleju as their own new royal deity in order to prove and cement their legitimacy to the throne. Some people also say due to the presence of the royal goddess, the temple escaped with only minor damages in the 2015 earthquake.

The temple still stands, albeit with a few cracks. Its pinnacle collapsed but has been restored and the main temple is slightly slanted from its original place, but the structure has been secured with scaffolding.

Taleju temple can only be visited by Hindus once a year on the ninth day of Dashain. For everyone else, it can only be viewed from the outside. Inside, there are 12 miniature versions of the temple that surround the main building. There are four more temples higher up just below the main temple.

The four main decorative gates are guarded by stone lions. Inside the main Taleju temple itself are golden statues depicting the ten-armed goddess along with shrines to both Taleju Bhawani and Kumari, Nepal’s Living Goddess.

People believe that the temple was built in the shape of yantra, a mystical diagram said to have magical powers, due to a suggestion that came straight from the mouth of Goddess Taleju herself

Kumari is considered to be the human manifestation of the Goddess Taleju. There are several legends telling us why the Kumari is considered as the manifestation of Goddess Taleju. One popular legend states how the last Malla King Jayaprakash Malla played tripasa, a dice game with the goddess. She promised to come every night on the condition that the king wouldn’t tell anyone about it.

File image: Kumari, the living goddess

But one night the king’s wife saw the goddess which angered Taleju Bhawani and she left. But before leaving she told the king that if he wanted to see her again or have her protect his country, he’d have to search for her among the high cast Newar girls as she would be incarnated as a little girl among them.

Hoping to make amends with his patroness, King Jayaprakash Malla left the palace in search of the young girl who was possessed by Taleju’s spirit. The worshiping of the Goddess Taleju in the form of a young virgin girl, or kumari, became a tradition in the Newar society and has continued to this day.

As per the tradition, the living goddess visits the temple on Mahanawami of Dashain every year.

The temple will be open on Nawami (Friday) from 5 am to 7 pm. Every year hundreds of devotees patiently stand in line to pay homage to Taleju Bhawani situated at Tulasi Chowk, Hanuman Dhoka. The lines reach up to as far as the Kumari Ghar, Basantapur from the temple’s main entrance.

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