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.
Asked what she wanted to become in future, a quiet Shreeya just said: "nurse." She loves to eat biscuits and flattened rice, a common Nepali food, her aides said.
Shreeya replaces her controversial predecessor, Sajani Shakya, who retired earlier this year, after nine years in the divine role.
Sajani made international headlines in 2007 after she visited the United States to promote a film by a British company about the Kumari system.
Some religious authorities criticized the trip, saying it was against tradition. She retired at the request of her family.
Under the Kumari tradition, girls selected from Buddhist Newar families through a rigorous cultural process become the "living goddesses."
The Kumaris are a major tourist attraction and are considered by many as incarnations of the goddess Kali and are revered until they menstruate, after which they return to the family and a new one is chosen.
Nepal's Supreme Court ordered the government last month to safeguard the Kumaris human rights after complains that the practice went against the child living a normal life.
Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Valerie Lee