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Page last updated at 15:22 GMT, Monday, 9 June 2008 16:22 UK

Nepal's 'living goddess' in limbo

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kathmandu

The previous goddess, Sajani Shakya, retired in March. File photo
The previous goddess, Sajani Shakya, retired in March

The appointment of a new "living goddess" in Nepal is being held up by the recent abolition of the monarchy, a Nepalese official says.

According to tradition, the king's priest appoints the girl, who is chosen in her infancy and is treated as a goddess, or Kumari, until puberty.

But the priest no longer has any say in the republic, the head of the trust overseeing the tradition says.

Hindus and Buddhists regard the Kumaris as incarnations of a deity.

'Unthinkable'

Shreeya Bajracharya, 6, has been selected by a religious panel as the "living goddess" in the town of Bhaktapur, near the capital Kathmandu.

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She was chosen to replace the previous goddess who retired early in March.

Under the ancient tradition, she has to have certain physical attributes and undergo special tests to be selected.

But the head of the trust overseeing the Kumari tradition told the BBC that because Nepal is now a republic that priest no longer has any role in the matter.

He said the chairman of the trust's board would have to decide soon who would approve the new living goddess.

This quandary is just one of many set to arise now that the politicians have abolished the monarchy without thinking though the religious or political implications.

It is unthinkable that this deeply religious country would scrap the rich series of traditions and festivals which pepper the people's lives and are also a magnet for tourists.

Yet many traditions are associated with the king and may face adjustments in future.

Nepal is now supposed to be a secular state but for the past two years the elderly Prime Minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, has been trying to take on the king's religious roles with a stream of temple visits.

A few months ago the prime minister was said to be angered when the royal priest refused to give a blessing.

The biggest elected party, the Maoists, are fiercely non-religious.

However, the party's deputy leader was blessed by a priest at the start of his election campaign.




SEE ALSO
Nepal's 'living goddess' retires
02 Mar 08 |  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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