Living Goddesses Our World

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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.


Worship and feared by thousands, this young girlies are living


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


back centuries. She is confined to the temple and


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


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


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


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


immortal life, a normal life? Now campaigners are asking


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


affect their life forever. This is Patan, one of


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


and controversial tradition. Hundreds of people have


gathered in the streets, hoping to see someone they believe


is holy and can perform miracles. Someone who is both


feared and worshipped. This eight-year-old


girl is who they have Revered by thousands,


she is considered a living There are even people waiting


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


she's taken inside. She was selected to become


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


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


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


are going to happen tonight, And she will come out


a few hours later. Nepal is a predominantly Hindu


country, but with a significant The two religions have coexisted


and intermingled for centuries. They share priests and temples


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


a festival in which the goddess Durga is worshipped


in her many forms. The kumari is believed


to be a living embodiment That is the window to


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


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


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


of the biggest Nepalese She lives here in the kumari Palace


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


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


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


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


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


of four and remained one This is a picture of her


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


around five years old. Was it not difficult to be


away from your parents? Though they could visit,


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


by priests and caretakers. The role of a living goddess


is to protect her city, and the tradition is believed


to have started sometime There are only three official


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


Valley. The living goddesses of Patan have


always come from the same small Buddhist community


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


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


at the age of 15. Since Kumari is regarded


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


that means "goddess". And dad had to perform


a special offering everyday. She has to be kept pure


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


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


been as young as one and a half years old,


they are expected to act as the link between


the worshippers and the gods. Everyone comes with an offering


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


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


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


you have to accept these offerings and you have to consume


a part of it. When you just take a sip


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


around, or laughing, The living goddess is expected


to sit motionless and expressionless A challenge for any child,


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


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


tasked with choosing the Kumaris. He has been involved


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


eligible families are invited to bring their daughters to this


very courtyard for The selected girl is then


taken to the royal priest for further inspections,


before a final decision is made. I remember being carried


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


was asking something and she was checking me,


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


declaring that she is going The girls' lives change dramatically


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


through with a bit of help from the government,


a monthly allowance, Offerings paid by visitors


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


are, everything they do No matter how young the goddesses


are, everything they do My mum tells me that


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


continuously weeping She consoled me with the toys


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


because I was stopped from going outside and I had


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


they had already forecast something A massacre of the royal


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


in the Royal Palace in Kathmandu, killing his parents,


the king and queen, three of his siblings and


several other people. The country was left


shocked and traumatised. On the first day, I heard


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


forecast a bad omen. Many Nepalese believe that this


prediction was the goddess working The former kumaris rarely get


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


connection to the deity. Since we are like recognised


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


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


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


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


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


curiosity and sadness. Sadness because I was no longer


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


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


the old one must leave. Although this former kumaris only


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


public rejection. The purity dies away


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


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


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


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


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


and then have her food. The kumari must begin her


transformation from holy goddess She must learn to make friends,


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


from grace can be hard. It was suddenly a world


turned upside down for me. The morning you were worshipped


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


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


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


of friends a lot faster No, my friends were


scared of me also. And the teacher used


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


because all these people used to come and worship


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


same school as them. Just a two-minute walk


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


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


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


a former kumari will die Yet many have married


without incident. But there is one rumour that may


have some truth to it. This is done every year


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


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


trying for many years to get the practice of living


goddesses regulated, because they think it can


harm young children, That is undoubtedly against


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


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


affects their life forever. Maybe that's one reason


they probably don't want to talk Whatever the reality


of their experiences, most former kumaris only


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


being a goddess. You are more evolved


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


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


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


to their mortal life. These former kumaris have managed


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


and some are married. But one kumari has not


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


is very different to the others. She was selected when


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


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


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


have the menstruation. But they kumari is more


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


pressure from the committee, we had to have another


official kumari. But she said that I would be staying


within the same rules And that is why our people


still believe in her hand they do It was forecast at


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


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


a mortal life, a normal life? No.


Why not? She could have left her status


when she was officially dismissed. Why?


Why is she so keen? Maybe because she still believes


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


worry about the effects years of being a living goddess can


have on young girls. They applied to Nepal's


Supreme Court to declare The court declined to do so,


but did ask for reforms. Campaigners, however,


still assert the girls The rights that I'm talking


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


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


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


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


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


allowed to go to hospitals, the doctors have to come


to the kumari house. But they can do little,


because neither the community, nor the former goddesses


themselves, are complaining. But this evolution may be overtaken


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


back many generations, But it seems like fewer


and fewer parents are willing to sacrifice their daughter's


carefree childhood for the chance Even if they think it offers


a link to the divine. Yesterday was a disappointingly


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


and the best of this was flying


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.