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Nepalese Goddess Loses Title After U.S. Tour

A 10-year-old Nepalese girl lost her title as a Hindu living goddess because she left the country to promote a film.
Sajani Shakya was the first living goddess — or “kumari” — ever to leave the country. Her June visit to Washington served as a publicity tour for a British documentary that explores the centuries-old kumari tradition.
Officials from Sajani’s temple in the town of Bhaktapur announced Tuesday (July 3) that they would revoke her title and replace her upon her return to Nepal, according to the state-run National News Agency.
The tradition of kumaris dates back more than 300 years. Around the age of 2 or 3, a young girl is selected to the position of goddess based upon a list of 32 “perfect characteristics,” which include perfect skin, hair, eyes and teeth. A young toddler also must prove herself fearless by withstanding time in a dark room without crying.
Hindus believe these girls are possessed by the goddess Taleju, and they revere kumaris by bowing to them and bringing requests to their feet. Once the girl-goddess reaches puberty, Hindus believe Taleju leaves her body and temple officials search again for another girl to worship.
A handful of goddesses live in Nepal, and some live sequestered lives in luxurious palaces. While Hindus — including her own family — worship her, Sajani lives a relatively normal life and attends school.
Her regular schedule also budgets time for blessing villagers and attending ceremonial events.
In an interview in June, Sajani’s caretaker said the young girl feared the day she would lose her status as a goddess, often asking if people would still love her if she lost her “deity.”
Though Sajani’s caretaker assured the girl that her family would still worship her when she was no longer a kumari, the goddess’
less-than-divine future is uncertain. According to Nepalese folklore, men who wed a former kumari will face an early death, so many of the girls never marry and face a life of hardship as a result.

By Michelle C. Rindels
Religion News Service

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