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June 16, 2007

Sajani Shakya

Sajani Shakya is one of the Kumaris...young girls seens as being manifestations of Kali (also known, I think, as Taleju Bhawani). Shakya is now in the US helping to promote a film about the Kumaris:

In Nepal, Sajani is a living goddess, one of about a dozen such goddesses in her homeland who are considered earthly manifestations of the Hindu goddess Kali.

Sajani arrived in Washington on Monday to help promote a British documentary about the living goddesses of the Katmandu Valley and to see a bit of the United States. She is the first of the Nepalese living goddesses to come to the United States because the girls live mostly in seclusion.

I've heard of the Kumaris before but what really interests me about this story is the way that it's being covered. That NY Times piece above seems pretty good but a quick Google around leads me here:

Along with Sajani, there are 15 other living Kumaris in Bhaktapur. Together, they are known as the Gana (group). The reincarnations of Ganesh, Bhairav and Mahadev also fall under this group.

So she's not actually one of a dozen in Nepal, she's one of 15 from her home town, which is only one of three groups across the country. Minor matter, I know, but it does make you wonder (in so far as you can trust a random article from the net) where reporters are doing their research. More from the same place:

She is just the girl next door in the neighborhood and street of Bhaktapur. Nothing in and about her gives anyone the impression that she is different from the other girls her age. She goes to school like any other child of similar age, plays with other children and is typically mischievous at times. But that does not make her at all an average and common girl.

For she is the Kumari of Bhaktapur!

Sajani Shakya is just six and has been the Royal Kumari of Bhaktapur for the last four and half years. Being a Kumari has, however, not curtailed her freedom. Unlike the Kumari of Kathmandu, who is confined within the four walls of the Kumari Ghar (residence) in the Basantpur Durbar Square, life for Sajani is altogether different. She lives with her parents, goes to school and leads a normal life. It is only in the mornings and in certain festivals like Dashain and during pujas at Bhaktapur’s Taleju Temple that she leaves behind her usual self and becomes a Kumari, which literally means "Virgin". And the Kumari is the living reincarnation of the Goddess Taleju Bhawani.

That does sound a little more like being a mascot almost, than a Goddess. Anyway, the end of her time comes when:

One ceases to be a Kumari after performing her Bel Biwaha (betrothal to the bel fruit), an obligatory Newari custom for girls, and upon reaching puberty and starting her menstrual cycles.

She then receives a small pension and returns to normal life. OK, great, but what's the religious or symbolic meaning behind all of this?

The goddess Taleju Bhawani is an incarnation of the goddess Durga. More specifically, she is the goddess Durga in the form of the Kumari. Far from being the gentle goddess one might expect to take the form of a young girl, Durga is a fearsome deity, the Universal Mother of earth.

Bit of a surprise, eh? The Universal Mother is celebrated in a virginal child? One who steps down as soon as she reaches her menarche?

She is the Universal Mother, the creative energy that keeps the cosmos in motion. She is a manifestation of the shakti of Shiva himself, in the form of Parvati. Whilst normally she keeps her awful energy in reserve, or channels it as a positive creative force, when enraged, her power becomes a formidable destructive force. Similarly, whilst at the side of her lord Shiva, she is portrayed as calm and peaceful, her tantric energy is boundless, making her a demanding and exuberant sexual partner.

Yup, I'd say a prepubertal child is an odd person to choose here.

A young girl is an excellent embodiment of Taleju Bhawani. Symoblically, she represents the creative energy of Durga held in check. The full force of her tantric energy remains latent, allowing her to channel her power as a creative rather than a destructive force. The girl's menstrual cycle symbolizes the unleashing of this force.

Menstruation is the unleashing of a destructive force? What would Ms. Marcotte say about such an attitude? (After she'd got the idea that this was not an invention of white captialists of course, but of another group of Caucasians.)

All rather interesting I thought but the wooden spoon in the journalistic corps here has to go to a Ms. Shipman of ABC:

Sajani Shakya, 10, is the first living goddess to visit the United States from Nepal, where she is worshipped and believed to inhabit the Hindu goddess Kali, who is thought to live in girls until they reach puberty.

It's not even internally consistent (Shakya inhabits Kali, while Kali lives in girls?) while from my brief browsing it also gets the symbolism entirely wrong.

As well, it's not as if most readers of these pieces are as pendantic as myself now, is it?

It looks like this trip out of Nepal has caused problems:

June 16, 2007 in June Experiment | Permalink

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» Yedda: Sajani Shakya - "Child Goddess" from beth's questions on Yedda - People. Sharing. Knowledge.
beth asked: I find the story about child goddesses fascinating. I'm curious to know what happens to them after they reach puberty and stop being goddesses (as described here ) - are they able to live normal lives, or is there any long-term psychologica... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 17, 2007 12:20:22 PM

Comments

Presumably, we can only speculate on official American responses to the promotion of other Hindu religions into the perennially fertile territory there. I have in mind devotees of the divine goddess Yellamma:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellammadevi

I'm wondering how long it will be before some enterprising attorney invokes the guarantees of freedom to worship in the US constitution in trials such as this:
http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/article2311305.ece

Posted by: Bob B | Jun 16, 2007 7:10:32 PM

Question: Is this considered child labour? I mean if you think about it, she is being "forced" into being a goddess. Is that by choice?

Posted by: BT | Jul 21, 2007 12:23:07 AM