Girl named by Nepal's Mao government 'living goddess'

A 6-year-old girl has been named by Nepal's new Maoist-led government as a "living goddess," or Kumari, in a town near the capital of Kathmandu.

For centuries, the chief priest of the Nepali monarchy appointed the Kumaris in several towns in the Kathmandu valley. However, with the abolition of the monarchy and the country becoming a republic last May, that position has also disappeared.

Officials at the state-run trust overseeing cultural affairs appointed 6-year-old Shreeya Bajracharya as the new Kumari of the temple town of Bhaktapur. "The government authorized us to appoint the Kumari, and we have done that for the first time," said Deepak Bahadur Pandey, a senior official of the trust.

Shreeya, who is described as "pretty and nice," was "enthroned" Sunday (Sept. 28) amid prayers by Buddhist priests, and will be worshipped by Hindus and Buddhists alike until she reaches puberty.

Devotees worship a Kumari for protection; they also believe that her blessings can cure illness. The Kumaris, who are regarded as incarnations of the goddess Kali, always wear red and have a "third eye" on their foreheads.

Shreeya replaces her controversial predecessor, 11-year-old Sajani Shakya, who retired prematurely earlier this year after nine years in the divine role. Sajani was in the news last year when she was nearly sacked from her position for traveling to the United States to promote a documentary about the Kumaris.

Sajani retired at the request of her family. Her father said at that time that her slightly early retirement had nothing to do with last year's controversy about her U.S. visit.

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