A girl who is considered a "living goddess" in Nepal has been demoted after a trip to the United States. Sujani Shakya, 10, was visiting America to publicize a documentary made about her, but the committee that appointed her now says that leaving the country has spoiled her purity and have started looking for her replacement. Liam Cochrane reports from Kathmandu.
Nepal's citizens have revered the Kumari, or living goddess, for more than 800 years. She is a young girl chosen for her physical and mental purity who lives in an ancient house giving blessings to Hindus until she reaches puberty and is replaced.
Wearing heavy make up and a large "third eye" painted on her forehead, the Kumari only leaves home for religious festivals and even then must always walk on a red carpet.
There are always three Kumaris - one for Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur - each of the ancient cities that united to form modern Kathmandu.
The Kumari of Bhaktapur, Sajani Shakya, 10, was recently the subject of a documentary film called Living Goddess, which is being shown in the United States. The Kumari broke tradition by leaving her house and traveling to the U.S. at the invitation of the filmmakers.
In her absence, a municipal council has announced that it is taking away her status as a living goddess and has begun searching for her replacement.
Jamuna Bajrachrya, a cousin of the Kumari of Bhaktapur, says the decision will not affect the Kumari's family as they did not benefit much from the arrangement, but she says Sajani Shakya will be disappointed because she wanted to remain Kumari for at least another two years.
Bajracharya says the incident was a misunderstanding. She says the rules surrounding the Kumari of Bhaktapur are more relaxed than those of the other two Kumaris, and so her family thought there would be no problem with Shakya leaving the country.
However, Shakya's family will respect the wishes of the Kumari council.
While in the U.S. Shakya visited an elementary school, conducted interviews and went to the zoo in Washington.
She is currently in India and will return to Nepal on Saturday.
The living goddess tradition is coming under scrutiny in modern Nepal. A case currently before the Supreme Court will decide if the Kumari is a form of child abuse.
The life of the Kumari has changed in recent years, with modern goddesses receiving private tutoring in between their religious duties. Kumaris are also less affected by the superstition that any man who marries a former Kumari will die prematurely.
After an initially tough transition, many Kumaris do resume normal lives.