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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 November 2006, 16:26 GMT
Nepal 'goddess' inquiry ordered
By Surendra Phuyal
BBC News, Kathmandu

Picture of Kumari by Min Bajracharya
The Kumari appears occasionally at her palace window
The Supreme Court in Nepal has ordered an inquiry into whether the tradition of worshipping a "living goddess" has led to the exploitation of girls.

The worshipping by some Hindus and Buddhists of the "goddess" - or Kumari - in Kathmandu is centuries-old.

The landmark order has come in response to a petition seeking an end to the tradition, which campaigners say is a violation of human rights.

A final ruling is due after the three-month investigation is completed.

Exploited

Nearly a year after the petition was first lodged, the court ordered the Ministry of Culture to submit a detailed report within the three-month deadline.

Picture of Kumari by Min Bajracharya
The Kumari is cut off from everyday life

To that effect, the court suggested the committee should comprise government officials and experts on the culture of the Newars - the aboriginal ethnic community who live in and around the Kathmandu Valley and worship the Kumari.

The attorney acting on behalf of the petitioner, Tikaram Bhattarai, told the BBC that the committee would investigate whether or not girl children were being exploited under the tradition of appointing a "living goddess".

"This is such a landmark order because it should pave the way for modernisation of the Kumari tradition," Mr Bhattarai told the BBC.

A Kumari is typically chosen at the age of five to six years old, and is deemed ineligible after she starts menstruating around the age of 12 or 13.

'Psychological damage'

The Newar community say they are following time-honoured Hindu traditions in appointing the Kumari.

Kumaris are installed in the temple of Taleju Bhawani in the heart of Kathmandu.

Incumbents are cut off from normal life, and have limited contact with their families. They are not allowed to attend regular schools.

Some human rights activists argue that this can cause long-term psychological damage.

Once a Kumari starts menstruating, a new "living goddess" is chosen following traditional rules and rituals.

A researcher on Newar culture, Chunda Bajracharya, told the BBC that the tradition has not affected Kumaris' individual rights.

Ms Bajracharya argues that it has elevated their status in society as "someone divine, someone who's above the rest".

"But I think some reform measures need to be put in place to ensure their right to education, sports and all-round social development as a child," she said.

Family members of retired Kumaris say they find it difficult to get married because of a misconception among locals that a retired Kumari brings bad luck - which could ultimately lead to the untimely death of her husband.

Similar "goddesses" are also installed and worshipped in other small Newar towns in the Kathmandu Valley.

The king of Nepal traditionally worships the goddess during the Indra Jatra festival, which is observed in Kathmandu in early autumn.


SEE ALSO
Nepal goddess a rare sight indeed
05 Sep 03 |  South Asia
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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