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KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Authorities in Nepal enthroned a three-year-old girl as a new Kumari, or the main "living goddess," on Tuesday, in a centuries-old ritual the country's new Maoist-led coalition has allowed to continue.
Traditionally, different cities in the Kathmandu Valley have separate "living goddesses." But the most powerful one lives in an ornate 15th century temple in an old part of Kathmandu.
On Tuesday, Matina Shakya, her eyelashes blackened thick with mascara and wearing a red and gold costume, was installed in the divine role she is expected to keep for the next 7-8 years.
"I am proud of her selection as the Kumari," said Pratapman Shakya, the father of the girl picked by a panel of cultural experts.
"I'm also a bit sorry because she will not stay with the family. But that does not matter because she is going to become the goddess. We can visit her whenever we want."
She replaced the 11-year-old Preeti Shakya, who is approaching puberty and must retire.
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.
In the past Nepali kings have sought the Kumari's blessings, but now the president will do so after the abolition of the monarchy.
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.
But Shakya called this a myth. "All we did was to send her horoscope to the selection panel."
Those who are familiar with the tradition say the girl must be fearless and have perfect eyes, teeth and hair.
Matina, which means "love" in the local Newari language, went to a nursery school. She will now be taught by private tutors.
She regularly appears at a carved window to greet foreign visitors who are not allowed to see her in the upstairs chamber.
"It is dramatic for one to leave the house and be suddenly raised to a pedestal," said 35-year-old doctor Russel Fugazzi, from Colorado. "It seems very strange with no parallel in any culture."
Critics say the child will be deprived of a normal life but supporters insist she gets state allowances and is looked after well.
Nepal's Supreme Court ordered the government in August to safeguard the Kumaris' human rights.
Editing by Matthias Williams and Sanjeev Miglani