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Nepal Gets Its First Graduate Goddess

As the world observes Women's Day to celebrate the emancipation and empowerment of women, Rashmila Shakya has a special reason to rejoice//. In addition to the distinction of being a goddess, she now has the additional laurel of becoming Nepal's only graduate goddess.

From 1987, when she was only four, Rashmila, now 24, was worshipped and revered throughout Nepal for eight years as Kumari, the kingdom's living goddess.

The tradition of the Kumari is one of the oldest and best loved in Nepal.

According to legend, Kathmandu Valley's presiding deity goddess Taleju Bhavani decided to forsake the king when he made overtures at her, or, some say, when a jealous queen suspected her of a liaison with the king.

However, the king, whose fortunes ebbed with her disappearance, managed to pacify her and she agreed to reappear as Kumari, an unblemished young virgin.

Every eight years or so, a four-year-old girl from the Shakya community, the Buddhist clan from which Gautama Buddha came, is chosen to be Kumari on the basis of certain secret signs and a horoscope compatible with the king's.

The four-year-old lives in her own palace, never walks on the ground and is worshipped by all, including the king, who never bows before another human being.

The little goddess, however, turns mortal when she reaches puberty and a new four-year-old is chosen to replace her.

Though the state pays former Kumaris a pension, it is still a traumatic experience for the teenagers having to learn to start living as a human being, no longer entitled to unquestioning obedience and reverence of all.

Most of the Kumaris before Rashmila had a difficult time making adjustments to their new status. Also, most were barely literate, the exception being Nani Maya Shakya in the 60s, who completed school.

Rashmila remembers one former Kumari she visited, who spent most of her time sitting in front of her
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