Nepal's former "living goddess" in pension muddle

Tue Sep 22, 2009 6:19am EDT
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By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters Life!) - The fall of Nepal's monarchy has left a 12-year-old girl who served as a "living goddess" without a $40 monthly pension nearly a year after she retired.

When the king still governed Nepal, his staff had sanctioned documents for a pension for the outgoing "goddess", or Kumari, a position held according to centuries of tradition.

But since the 239-year-old monarchy was abolished last year and Nepal became a republic, permission for the money has not yet been granted.

"It is not clear who will approve the pension papers required for the payment now," said Tika Prasad Shrestha, chief of the office responsible for funds for religious and cultural events in the Hindu-majority nation.

"We have written to the government for instructions and once we receive them the money will be paid to her." The government started giving pensions to "ex-goddesses" eight years ago.

Kumaris are a big tourist attraction and are considered by many as incarnations of the goddess Kali. They are revered until they menstruate, after which they return to the family and a new one is chosen.

In the past Nepali kings have sought the blessings of the Kumari, who is chosen from a Buddhist Newar family and groomed as the living goddess through rigorous training.

How the girl was selected is a secret. There are tales of the child requiring to spend a night in the dark to show her courage and walk through chopped heads of buffaloes.

Nepal became a republic last year after the election saw the former Maoist rebels score a surprise win and emerge as the biggest political party in a constituent assembly.

Nepal was plunged into crisis after the Maoists quit the government in May amid a conflict with the president who reversed a cabinet decision to fire the army chief. (Editing by Matthias Williams & Jan Dahinten)