KATHMANDU (Reuters) - A five-year-old Nepali boy, worshipped by many as a god, sits cross-legged with a stuffed teddy bear in his brick-and-cement home in Kathmandu.
Sambeg Shakya was hailed last year by Buddhist priests as Ganesh, or the god of good fortune, since whne he has led several processions of Nepal's better-known 'living goddesses', also known as Kumari.
On Wednesday, skinny Sambeg, his eyes rimmed in black kohl and wearing a gold brocade dress, walked at the head of a line of nine tiny girls to another girl believed to be the bodily incarnation of Taleju, the goddess of power.
The centuries-old ritual, once used by now-toppled kings who thought it would make them stronger, was the climax of the annual Hindu festival of Dasain, which lasts for two weeks and has become a major tourist attraction in Nepal.
Sambeg will continue in his supporting role until he is big enough to fit in a chariot pulled by men, after which he must return to real life.
"I want to become a doctor," Sambeg, his long hair tied in a bun on top with a peacock feather planted on it, told Reuters.
He is in grade one, the first of ten years in high school.
His father Bishwo Prakash said his family will help the boy pursue the studies he chooses.
"He is very bright and good at learning. He does not forget what is told to him once," Prakash said. "I am very happy that my son plays the divine role."
Prakash said his son likes porridge, biscuits, goat and buffalo meat, but must not eat chicken or eggs.
The government pays $63 a month to meet Sambeg's living costs, but his family said the money was not enough.
"The government must increase the allowances to cover the living costs and education of the child who plays a culturally significant role," Prakash said.
Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Daniel Magnowski