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American Visit Bad News for Nepali ‘Living Goddess’

March 04, 2008 12:16 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Eleven-year-old Sanjani Shakiya, considered by many in Nepal to be the goddess Kumari, was retired from her position after traveling to America.

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The Kumari, considered by some Nepali Hindus and Buddhists to be a reincarnation of the goddess Taleju, was a largely unknown phenomenon outside of the Himalayas until American filmmaker Ishbel Whitaker made it the subject of a documentary titled “Living Goddesses.”

To promote the film, Sajani Shakiya traveled to Washington, D.C., last summer. However, because tradition stipulates that the Kumari is not to leave her homeland, the temple workers where she was worshipped began to doubt her ability to fulfill the position’s heavenly mandate.

Upon her return to Nepal, she was temporarily stripped of her status, and this week the 11-year-old girl was officially retired as a living goddess.

Shakiya was chosen based on the assessment of 32 physical attributes and her success at identifying the possessions of past living goddesses. The Kumari is hardly allowed to leave the temple in which she is worshipped.

Traditionally, the Kumari loses her goddess status at her first menstruation, when the spirit of Taleju is “said to leave her body.”

According to legend, men who marry a former goddess die an early death. This can make it hard for former Kumaris to find a partner, and life after divinity can be fraught with financial difficulties.

But the Kumari is not the only deity around. The past 20 years have also seen at least two dictators elevated to the status of demigod.

North Korean “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung was posthumously named “eternal president” by his son. And former Turkmen President Sapamurat “Turkmenbashi” Niyazov claimed that his book the “Rukhnama” was a complement to the Quran.

Headline Link: ‘Nepal’s “Living Goddess” Retires’

Background: The tradition of the Kumari

Related Topics: Modern political demigods

Kim Il Sung
Sapamurat “Turkmenbashi” Niyazov
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