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Living Goddesses

Sahar Zand travels to Nepal to find out if the choosing of the Kumaris, young girls who live as goddesses, is an exploititive or an emporwering practice.


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a glimpse of the young girls who live as goddesses.

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Worship and feared by thousands, this young girlies are living

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goddess. The latest in a long line of goddesses or Kumaris that goes

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back centuries. She is confined to the temple and

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has little contact with the outside world. She can't speak to anyone and

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her feet must not touch the ground. Puberty is the end of her reign and

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she must leave the temple. For some, the shock is too much and they

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refused to leave. It has been 60 years. Doesn't your IT want to start

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immortal life, a normal life? Now campaigners are asking

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if becoming a goddess is in the best That leaves a huge mental scar that

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affect their life forever. This is Patan, one of

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Nepal's largest cities, and a focal point of an ancient

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and controversial tradition. Hundreds of people have

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gathered in the streets, hoping to see someone they believe

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is holy and can perform miracles. Someone who is both

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feared and worshipped. This eight-year-old

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girl is who they have Revered by thousands,

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she is considered a living There are even people waiting

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for her outside of the temple, to give her offerings before

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she's taken inside. She was selected to become

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a goddess at the age of six and will remain one until the day

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of her first period. When she does, her feet must

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not touch the ground, That's where the rest of the rituals

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are going to happen tonight, And she will come out

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a few hours later. Nepal is a predominantly Hindu

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country, but with a significant The two religions have coexisted

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and intermingled for centuries. They share priests and temples

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and they both worshipped the kumari. Today is the eighth day of Dashain,

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a festival in which the goddess Durga is worshipped

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in her many forms. The kumari is believed

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to be a living embodiment That is the window to

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the living goddess's room. That is where she is sitting

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and where she gets worshipped I'm having to wait until she's ready

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to see me because today she is very, very busy, maybe because it's one

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of the biggest Nepalese She lives here in the kumari Palace

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and receives visitors in this room. She's not allowed to speak to anyone

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outside of her family as long as she's a living goddess,

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and that includes me. We're waiting for a lady in her 60s,

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and she was a kumari I'm very curious to find out

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how things were for her She became a kumari at the age

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of four and remained one This is a picture of her

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when she was a kumari. Here, she says she was

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around five years old. Was it not difficult to be

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away from your parents? Though they could visit,

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they couldn't take her home, so the young Kumari was brought up

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by priests and caretakers. The role of a living goddess

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is to protect her city, and the tradition is believed

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to have started sometime There are only three official

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Kumaris in the whole country, and they are all in the Kathmandu

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Valley. The living goddesses of Patan have

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always come from the same small Buddhist community

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of about 115 eligible families. Shaneera was a goddess for ten

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years, from the age of five until she got her periods

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at the age of 15. Since Kumari is regarded

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as a goddess, she's not supposed She is called something

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that means "goddess". And dad had to perform

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a special offering everyday. She has to be kept pure

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in every way, and she has But the goddesses aren't just

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respected, they are worshipped. Although Kumaris in the past have

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been as young as one and a half years old,

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they are expected to act as the link between

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the worshippers and the gods. Everyone comes with an offering

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and then they just pray for it. Official people, they would

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come to come for a job. Someone for a visa, flight,

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for passing an exam, But then, as a child, like,

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you have to accept these offerings and you have to consume

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a part of it. When you just take a sip

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on your lip, it's not It's just showing that

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you're accepting it. Maybe because of the power of God,

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you don't feel dizzy. Like other Kumaris, her childhood

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was very different to that of most I didn't have friends because people

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would come entry me as a goddess. They would just come, go down,

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and take blessings and then go. But I have two younger brothers,

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so I used to play with them. My brothers were mentally prepared

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that she is a goddess and you have And neither is moving

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around, or laughing, The living goddess is expected

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to sit motionless and expressionless A challenge for any child,

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even when daddy is right there. That's why a key criteria

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for becoming a Kumari is calmness. This man is part of the committee

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tasked with choosing the Kumaris. He has been involved

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in selecting the last eight. When a new Kumari is needed,

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eligible families are invited to bring their daughters to this

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very courtyard for The selected girl is then

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taken to the royal priest for further inspections,

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before a final decision is made. I remember being carried

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to the royal priest's house. And the royal priest's wife

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was asking something and she was checking me,

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my hands and everything, And then she put a tikha on my head,

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declaring that she is going The girls' lives change dramatically

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and so do their families'. Financially, the family gets

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through with a bit of help from the government,

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a monthly allowance, Offerings paid by visitors

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are another source of income. No matter how young the goddesses

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are, everything they do No matter how young the goddesses

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are, everything they do My mum tells me that

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I used to cry a lot, 24 hours a day for four days,

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continuously weeping She consoled me with the toys

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and she asked me, what's And she thought that

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because I was stopped from going outside and I had

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to follow a lot of rules, But the priest and the devotees,

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they had already forecast something A massacre of the royal

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family occurred on the 1st The crown prince went on a rampage

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in the Royal Palace in Kathmandu, killing his parents,

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the king and queen, three of his siblings and

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several other people. The country was left

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shocked and traumatised. On the first day, I heard

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that the royal massacre happened. So my mum said that you really

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forecast a bad omen. Many Nepalese believe that this

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prediction was the goddess working The former kumaris rarely get

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together, but they share a belief that they all had a very special

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connection to the deity. Since we are like recognised

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as a goddess, we can feel the prayers and the feeling

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of the people, the faith of the people that made us

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so powerful and the power But all this comes to a grinding

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halt the day a kumari I told my mother and she said that

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now you are no longer a kumari. The feeling was a mixture of both

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curiosity and sadness. Sadness because I was no longer

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a goddess, and curiosity to join in the new world, and how I would be

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able to cope with the society As a new goddess arrives,

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the old one must leave. Although this former kumaris only

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about 11 or 12 years old, she must endure a very

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public rejection. The purity dies away

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when you experience your period. The way I put it is,

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where there is God, women Be at the temples, be it

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the religious practice in their own home, in the kitchen,

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because in the kitchen, the food is there and if a woman

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with a period touch is the food, She has to sit away from the others

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and then have her food. The kumari must begin her

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transformation from holy goddess She must learn to make friends,

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walk around town and go to school, And adjusting to this fall

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from grace can be hard. It was suddenly a world

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turned upside down for me. The morning you were worshipped

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as a goddess, and the next When I went to school for the first

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time, my friends were very curious They asked me questions like,

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do you feel some powers? Do you find it that you find a lot

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of friends a lot faster No, my friends were

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scared of me also. And the teacher used

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to bring all the friends It must be so kind of weird

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because all these people used to come and worship

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you and you didn't talk to them, And now you're in the

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same school as them. Just a two-minute walk

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was quite difficult for me. I needed my parents to hold my

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hands, and I felt that the streets The tradition of living

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goddesses is one of secrets It's believed that anyone marrying

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a former kumari will die Yet many have married

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without incident. But there is one rumour that may

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have some truth to it. This is done every year

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after being a kumari. The kumari is taken to the temple

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in the dark room, to do this. Human rights organisations have been

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trying for many years to get the practice of living

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goddesses regulated, because they think it can

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harm young children, That is undoubtedly against

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the rights of these little children. I mean, they are just four years

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old, five years old. That leaves a huge mental scar that

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affects their life forever. Maybe that's one reason

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they probably don't want to talk Whatever the reality

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of their experiences, most former kumaris only

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have good things to say, I miss my life so much,

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being a goddess. You are more evolved

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than the normal child in a family. Yet you are a well-known person

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in society and the whole nation Yet Shaneera is keen to start

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a support group for ex-goddesses, to help them adjust

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to their mortal life. These former kumaris have managed

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to build a good life themselves. They have an education, jobs,

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and some are married. But one kumari has not

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been able to move on. This kumari I'm about to meet

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is very different to the others. She was selected when

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she was two years old, So almost all her life,

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she's been a kumari. We have a rule that

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a kumari leaves her status And in her case, she never

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have the menstruation. But they kumari is more

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like a little girl, it is preferred And that is why under

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pressure from the committee, we had to have another

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official kumari. But she said that I would be staying

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within the same rules And that is why our people

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still believe in her hand they do It was forecast at

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the time of her birth. There was a priest and he forecast

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that she would be the long life Doesn't your auntie want to start

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a mortal life, a normal life? No.

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Why not? She could have left her status

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when she was officially dismissed. Why?

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Why is she so keen? Maybe because she still believes

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that she has the goddess in her. Some human rights organisations

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worry about the effects years of being a living goddess can

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have on young girls. They applied to Nepal's

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Supreme Court to declare The court declined to do so,

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but did ask for reforms. Campaigners, however,

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still assert the girls The rights that I'm talking

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about is basically the right to go to school, to learn with other kids,

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to grow in the same manner as other kids, to make sure that

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if they have a health issue, it health problem, they are allowed

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to go to hospitals, for medical checkups, to the hospitals,

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and not that... Because in some systems they are not

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allowed to go to hospitals, the doctors have to come

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to the kumari house. But they can do little,

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because neither the community, nor the former goddesses

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themselves, are complaining. But this evolution may be overtaken

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by the demands of modern living. This kumari tradition is very unique

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and it is a very unique culture, and that is why I believe it

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has to be preserved. But I'm afraid that the candidates

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who apply for this kumari tradition I went to see the selection process

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and I was very sad to see that only So only two girls were volunteered

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by their family to become kumaris. And how many were there before,

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like when you were a kumari? The tradition of goddesses goes

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back many generations, But it seems like fewer

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and fewer parents are willing to sacrifice their daughter's

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carefree childhood for the chance Even if they think it offers

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a link to the divine. Yesterday was a disappointingly

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cloudy day, but it was not cloudy We had some sunshine,

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and the best of this was flying

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For centuries in Nepal girls, some as young as one, have been chosen to be living goddesses - or Kumaris. They are worshipped and revered by Buddhists and Hindus. The title is bestowed on three girls at any one time. Once appointed, the Kumari is confined to the temple and has little contact with the outside world and they hit puberty they must leave and try to live an ordinary life. As part of the 100 Women season, Sahar Zand travels to Nepal to find out if this practice empowers women or demeans them.