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Matina Shakya is seen after she was appointed as the new living goddess or Kumari in Kathmandu October 7, 2008. Authorities in Nepal enthroned a three-year-old girl as a new Kumari, or the main "living goddess", on Tuesday, in a centuries-old ritual the country's new Maoist-led coalition has allowed to continue.

REUTERS/Gopal Chitrakar





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Sent: Friday, August 29, 2008 1:12 PM

Subject: Nepal Supreme Court Landmark Ruling on Kumari 'Goddess' Rights






Nepal Supreme Court Landmark Ruling on Kumari 'Goddess' Rights

Nepalese Lving Goddess Kumari

KATHMANDU (AFP) A Nepali tradition of locking a young virgin girl in a palace and worshipping her as a "living goddess" has been dealt a blow with the country's Supreme Court ruling she has the right to go to school.

The court said there was no justification for the specially chosen pre-pubescent girl, known as the Kumari, to be subjected to a practice that dates back centuries.

The current Kumari is nine-year-old Preeti Shakya.

The ruling comes barely three months after Nepali lawmakers abolished the country's 240-year-old Hindu monarchy, who received annual blessings from the Kumari in a ceremony designed to underpin the legitimacy of the royals.

The court's verdict was prompted by a complaint from local lawyers that keeping a young girl cooped up in an ornate but decrepit palace in Kathmandu's medieval quarter was a violation of her rights.

"The Supreme Court came up with a verdict... asking the government to take action to protect the rights of the Kumari," Supreme Court spokesman Hemanta Rawal told AFP.

"The court ruled there were no historic or religious documents that state the child should be denied the rights of education, movement etc. She should not be denied these things just because she is the Kumari."

Furthermore, the "living goddess" concept is facing redundancy given that Nepal is now officially a secular republic run by ultra-leftist ex-rebel Maoists keen to do away with the country's "feudal" practices.

But it was not immediately clear whether the court's decision would herald the end of the tradition, given that the Kumari's aura is to a large part dependent on her total separation from the outside world.

The people in charge of looking after her said they took orders from the heavens -- and not the Supreme Court.

"This is not good news. In any case, she is a goddess so how can court rulings apply?" asserted Rajan Maharajan, the vice president of the committee that looks after the Kumari and her palace.

He also said the girl's rights were not being violated because "her teacher comes to the Kumari Palace every day, and she has three hours a day when she can meet people."

"We do not keep her prisoner," he said of the current Kumari. "We will ask the goddess if she wants to go outside more, and if she wants, she can go, but I don't think she feels comfortable leaving the palace."

The Kumari is chosen as a three or four-year-old girl from a Buddhist caste, and remains in the position until she starts menstruating, when the process to choose a new goddess begins anew.

There are two other Kumaris in Kathmandu valley, but the young girls worshipped in the towns of Bhaktapur and Patan have more freedom and are not confined to palaces.

The Kumari in Bhaktapur, a beautifully preserved medieval town 15 kilometres (nine miles) west of Kathmandu, caused controversy last year after she made a trip to the United States.

Traditionalists said she had polluted her divine status.

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