As virus curbs Nepal's festivals, devotees fear gods' anger

Full Screen
1 / 8

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

The mask of Lakhe, a traditional mask dancer worshipped as a god, is covered with floral garlands after rituals were performed during Indrajatra festival in Kathmandu, Nepal, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. A lockdown was ordered around the eight days when the canceled Indrajatra festival would have been held, and instead, a small ceremony to seek forgiveness from Indra, the Hindu god of rain, was held under government security. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

KATHMANDU – The revered living goddess is not leaving her temple this year.

The old palace courtyard packed with hundreds of thousands of people each year during the Indrajatra festival is deserted, the temples are locked and all public celebrations are banned by the government to curb the coronavirus.

Autumn is the festival season in predominantly Hindu Nepal, where religion, celebrations and rituals are big parts of lives, but people this year will have to scale down their rituals within their homes.

Many in this Himalayan nation believe they would anger the gods by shunning the rituals — which would cause catastrophe. Even violent clashes broke out between police and devotees defying government orders during a separate chariot festival south of Kathmandu.

A lockdown was ordered around the eight days when the canceled Indrajatra festival would have been held, and instead, a small ceremony to seek forgiveness from Indra, the Hindu god of rain, was held under government security.

During the festival, Kumari, a girl revered as the living goddess, is taken around the core part of Kathmandu in a chariot pulled by devotees. After the cancellation, she never left her temple palace. Her chariot is locked in the shed and armed police guard the courtyards.

“There would be hundreds of thousands of devotees crowding the courtyard and streets during the festival which would have put so many of them at the risk of getting the coronavirus,” said Kumari’s chief caretaker Gautam Shakya. “We had to stop this centuries-old festival for the first time ever.”

Shakya and his family have been taking care of Kumari for generations. A young flawless girl is chosen from a single clan and is worshipped as the living goddess until she is replaced at puberty. High officials and commoners touch her feet to get her blessing.