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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 March 2008, 20:55 GMT
Nepal's 'living goddess' retires
By Charles Haviland
BBC correspondent in Kathmandu

Sajani Shakya, revered as a living goddess in Nepal, aged 10 in 2007
On Monday morning the search for a new goddess will begin
A young girl worshipped in Nepal as a living goddess has retired early from this ritual status.

Eleven-year-old Sajani Shakya is one of the three most revered living goddesses or Kumaris.

She was in the news last when she was almost sacked from her position for travelling to the United States.

For centuries the three major cities of the Kathmandu valley and a few smaller towns have upheld a unique tradition whereby a girl is chosen in infancy to be a Kumari.

To become a living goddess she has to pass ritual tests and have 32 beautiful physical attributes.

She will then live in a special house and be worshipped by both Buddhists and Hindus, including the king of Nepal, until the onset of her menstruation. That is deemed to make her human, so she retires.

Controversy

Sajani has been the Kumari of Bhaktapur city since she was two, but it has now emerged that she has left the post early, at the age of 11.

Another Kumari, Preeti Shakya
Kumaris only retain the status a few years

Last July, some senior priests were outraged when she travelled to the United States to promote a new film about Kumaris. She was sacked but later reinstated.

Her father told the BBC however that this slightly early retirement had nothing to do with last year's controversy.

She has left the post because her family wanted her to undergo another religious ritual, a symbolic wedding, that most girls of her ethnic group experience in early childhood.

From Monday morning, the elaborate search will begin among Bhaktapur's ancient streets and squares to find a new living goddess.

Sajani may be unhappy with her early retirement.

Speaking while in Washington last year, she lamented that she wouldn't be as well treated when she stopped being a goddess.

SEE ALSO
Living goddess makes rare outing
27 Sep 04 |  South Asia
Nepal goddess a rare sight indeed
05 Sep 03 |  South Asia
Nepal chooses new living goddess
15 Jul 01 |  South Asia
Country profile: Nepal
14 Aug 04 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Nepal
01 Sep 04 |  Country profiles

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