Move over priests -- Nepal state names "living goddess"

Mon Sep 29, 2008 10:50am EDT
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By Gopal Sharma

BHAKTAPUR, Nepal (Reuters) - Nepal's new Maoist-led government has appointed a 6-year-old girl as a "living goddess" in the ancient city of Bhaktapur, for the first time snapping the link between the ancient ritual and the ousted monarchy.

For centuries, the head priest of the Nepali monarchy appointed the "Kumaris" in several towns in the Kathmandu valley. But with the abolition of the monarchy in May, that position has also disappeared.

Instead, officials at the state-run Trust Corporation overseeing cultural affairs appointed Shreeya Bajracharya as the new Kumari of the temple-town of Bhaktapur near Kathmandu, Deepak Bahadur Pandey, a senior official of the agency said.

"The government authorized us to appoint the Kumari and we have done that for the first time," Pandey said.

The Himalayan nation abolished the 239-year-old monarchy and became a republic in May, following elections in April that saw the country's Maoist former rebels emerge as the biggest political party in the 601-seat constituent assembly.

The Maoists now head the new government.

Shreeya was enthroned on Sunday amid prayers by Buddhist priests and will be worshipped by devout Hindus and Buddhists until reaching puberty, the girl's caretaker Nhuchhe Ratna Shakya said, adding: "She is pretty and nice."

Shreeya, in a golden costume with her eyelashes blackened by mascara, was sitting on a carved throne, a butterlamp burning by her side, when a Reuters team visited her on Monday.   Continued...

<p>Shreeya Bajracharya adjusts her "third eye" while posing for the photographer as the newly appointed Goddess Kumari at Bhaktapur in Kathmandu September 29, 2008. REUTERS/Gopal Chitrakar</p>