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Last Updated: Monday, 27 September, 2004, 20:47 GMT 21:47 UK
Living goddess makes rare outing
By Charles Haviland
BBC correspondent in Kathmandu

A seven-year-old girl revered by Hindus and Buddhists as a living goddess has had a rare festive excursion from the house where she is usually confined in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu.

Preeti Shakya who has been revered as the Kumari
Each Kumari is chosen at the age of only three or four
Crowds roar and young men yell as they tug an ancient wooden chariot through the lanes of the old city.

Inside is little Preeti Shakya who herself has been revered as the Kumari and incarnation of the Hindu mother goddess Durga for the past three years, in a tradition going back centuries.

Each Kumari is chosen aged only three or four, always from the same Buddhist clan, and has to have 32 attributes, including thighs like those of a deer and a neck like a conch shell.

She lives a confined life, only coming out of her palace three or four times a year until she reaches puberty when another Kumari must be found.

This main outing coincides with a festival of thanks to the local rain god and as always, her feet must never touch the ground unless there is a red carpet beneath them.

Facing freedom

Some former Kumaris have recently been speaking out about the difficulties of rejoining a family you hardly know.

Crowds pull the Kumari's chariot through Kathmandu
Crowds pulled her ancient chariot through the streets

One said it was a real shock being told what to do by teachers and difficult playing with other children.

Another, that she simply did not know how to face her freedom.

A woman MP has even called for the tradition to be abolished.

But today's Kumari is perhaps relatively lucky.

Under quite new arrangements, living goddesses nowadays are all entitled to a formal education with a tutor of their choice.

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Country profile: Nepal
14 Aug 04  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Nepal
01 Sep 04  |  Country profiles

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