Wow. What a an educational system! Even their gods can’t excel in school.
Nepal’s ‘Living Goddess’ Stirs Controversy
BHAKTAPUR, Nepal (July 27) – As goddesses go, this 10-year-old Nepali girl has modest ambitions.
“I want to become a photographer,” said the shy Sajani Shakya as she jumped from the couch and grabbed an envelope with photographs of her recent visit to the United States.
Sajani hit world headlines this month as some religious authorities threatened to strip her of her “living goddess” title after she visited the United States to promote a British-made film about her life.
Nepali priests had enthroned Sajani as the Kumari or “living goddess” of Bhaktapur eight years ago — a position worshipped by thousands of Hindus and Buddhists alike in a deeply religious nation.
But some religious leaders were unhappy over the girl’s U.S. trip, saying she had defied time-honored traditions. Authorities say they are yet to take a final decision on whether to strip the girl of her divinity.
In the meantime, Sajani enjoys the more everyday pleasures of many kids — toys, dolls, and instant noodles for food.
Unaware of the controversy over her tour, the bright-eyed Sajani, wearing a white and blue dress, played with a toy camera on a sofa in her first-floor bedroom which can be reached only through a doorway so low one has to stoop to enter.
“This is the White House,” she said showing a picture taken by her in the U.S. capital.
In Washington, Sajani visited the Capitol, met with Nepalis living in the United States, toured a school and met American children.
British film makers say the trip gave the girl an opportunity to share her culture with others.
Under the living goddess tradition followed for centuries in the three ancient cities in the Kathmandu valley, young girls are selected by priests to serve as incarnations of Kali, the Hindu goddess of power.
They remain in their “divine” role until menstruation when they must retire and rejoin the family. A new girl is then chosen.
In Bhaktapur, Sajani lives a normal life with her parents in the house a few paces from the historic Durbar Square among narrow streets paved with red bricks.
“I have been fortunate to have her selected as the Kumari,” her 43-year-old father Nuchhe Ratna Shakya said, sitting on a bench in the inner courtyard of a two-storey brick-and-wood house in the old quarter of Bhaktapur, near Kathmandu.
“It has brought good fortune and luck to the family. We feel great about her,” said Shakya, who says he managed to get a job in a biscuit factory after his daughter was selected.
There are other living goddesses in Nepal.
The main Kumari lives in an ancient temple in Kathmandu and sticks to tighter religious schedules than her counterparts in Bhaktapur and the neighboring town of Patan, which also has its own virgin goddess.
“She lives like a normal child with us except for two weeks during Dasain,” said Sajani’s mother Rukumani, referring to the biggest Hindu festival which is normally celebrated in October.
“She likes to eat instant noodles and biscuits and loves playing with toys and dolls.”
She must not eat chicken or eggs but goat meat is allowed.
At home she plays badminton with her siblings in the courtyard in front of her house.
During the festival, Sajani, her eyelids painted black, wears a red costume and sits on a painted wooden throne that rests on the back of the images of two lions.
Devotees bow their heads towards her feet and she blesses them from the throne, with the heads of Hindu deities and a serpent god carved in wood looming overhead.
Some human rights activists have challenged the practice of nominating goddesses in Nepal, telling the nation’s Supreme Court it was an abuse of the girls’ human rights.
A government appointed panel of cultural experts is looking into the charges.
But Rukumani said she felt “great” to see Sajani in her divine role.
Teachers at the Mount Valley Secondary School where Sajani is a grade four student said the “goddess” was an average student.
“She never picks any quarrel with other children. She is shy but is not particularly brilliant,” science teacher Ratna Mallik said.
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