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Last Updated: Friday, 5 September, 2003, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
Nepal goddess a rare sight indeed
By Navin Singh Khadka
BBC correspondent in Kathmandu

Picture of Kumari by Min Bajracharya
The Kumari has stopped appearing at her palace window
Next Tuesday, tourists in Nepal will have the rare opportunity of seeing a living goddess.

The opportunity is rarer than they think because six-year-old Preeti Sakya - the living Hindu goddess or Kumari - has been hidden away for six months during a row over who gets tourists' money.

Her guardians say she should receive a fair share of the fee tourists pay for entry to Kathmandu's Hanumandhoka palace square where she lives.

Municipal officials say they have to use the proceeds of the $2.50 fee to maintain the world heritage-listed site.

Still, for one day at least tourists will be able to see the Kumari when she is borne in a palanquin - a covered litter - in a religious procession through Kathmandu.

The municipality earns in the name of Kumari and we don't get anything to maintain the rituals associated with her
Gautam Sakya, guardian

Preeti was chosen as Kumari three years ago.

According to the 300-year-old tradition, a girl from the Sakya caste of the Newari community in the Kathmandu Valley is selected through rigorous tests.

She remains the goddess until puberty and is called upon to give blessings to Nepal's Hindus and Buddhists - and even the king.

Tug of war

Normally, the Kumari appears for tourists through an intricately carved window at her residence in the historic square.

But not for the past six months. Her guardians have withdrawn her from sight because of the row with the Kathmandu municipality.

Picture of Kumari by Min Bajracharya
The guardians want 10% of the take from entrance fees

"It is unfair," says Gautam Sakya, one of the guardians. "The municipality earns in the name of Kumari and we do not get anything to maintain the rituals associated with her."

The guardians insist that the local body should pay them at least 10% of its annual earnings of a little over $200,000.

Municipality officials argue they have to meet costs for conservation work at the site, recently listed as endangered by the UN cultural organisation, Unesco.

"Still, we have offered them around $200 a month, but they are yet to respond," says Deepak Kansakar, manager of the Kathmandu municipality's conservation project at the Hanumandhoka site.

Before the municipality began charging tourists the entrance fee two years ago, foreign visitors were allowed to see the Kumari and offered money individually.

Gautam Sakya says: "But now, since tourists pay the entrance fee to the municipality, the visitors demand they should get to see the Kumari while she gets nothing in return."

In the tug of war between the municipality and the guardians, the tourists have been the losers.

"We were told she would appear there for us," said Kurd Luger, an Austrian backpacker, pointing at the window.

"It's disappointing to learn that we will not get to see her."


SEE ALSO:
Nepal chooses new living goddess
15 Jul 01  |  South Asia
Nepal targets tourism uplift
18 Jul 03  |  Business
Country profile: Nepal
02 May 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Nepal
05 Sep 03  |  Country profiles


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