Nepali goddess retires at age 11

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Sajani Shakya during her 2007 visit to the United States.
Image: Acarvin.

Nepal's controversial "living goddess" has voluntarily retired from her position at age 11.

Eleven-year-old Sajani Shakya has retired from her status as the Kumari of Bhaktapur at the request of her family, an official said Saturday.

"She is no more a Kumari," said Dipak Pandey, a senior official of the state-run Trust Corporation that oversees the cultural affairs in Nepal, a deeply religious nation.

Pandey said that Shakya's family wanted to partake in another religious ritual, a symbolic wedding with a bael fruit, that ensures young Newa women will not be treated as widows if their husband should die before them. The ritual is incongruent with her position as a Kumari.

Last year, Shakya made headlines and sparked controversy when she visited the United States to attend the release of the movie Living Goddess, which portrayed three Kumari during the Nepalese Civil War. She risked losing her title because the visit was against tradition, but the threat was later withdrawn.

Kumari are believed to be living incarnations of the goddess Kālī. In order to become a Kumari, one must be chosen by Nepal's indigenous Newa people by passing ritual tests and having 32 beautiful physical attributes. Examples of these attributes include having eyelashes like a cow and thighs like a deer.

Kumaris automatically lose their status when they menstruate, at which point Kālī supposedly leaves her body. Severe illness or extreme loss of blood are also reasons to have a girl lose her Kumari status.

Nepal is a landlocked country famous for having Mount Everest on its border with Tibet. Roughly the size of England, its unemployment rate is at approximately 47%, according to a 2001 estimate.

Some human rights activists have petitioned the Supreme Court of Nepal to end the practice because it denies the girl a normal life; the apex court has yet to deliver a judgment.