After Pashupatinath, Nepal faces new row over Living Goddess Kumari

March 5th, 2009 - 3:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, March 5 (IANS) After a raging controversy over the appointment of priests at the revered Hindu shrine of Pashupatinath in Kathmandu, now it is the turn of Kumari, Nepal’s famed Living Goddess, to be at the centre of a fresh row.

For the first time in Nepal’s history, the young girl worshipped as a living goddess by Hindus and Buddhists alike and a major attraction for foreign tourists, has discontinued her much-awaited daily appearances at the ornate wooden window of her palace for the people to worship and cheer.

Also for the first time, tourists have been stopped from entering her antique palace at the heart of the city.

“We took the decision Monday to protest against the government apathy to Nepal’s priceless legacy,” said Gautam Shakya, a member of the local vigilante committee that is up in arms against the municipal authorities.

“Since Monday, we are not allowing tourists to enter the Kumari’s palace; nor will she appear for public at the window of the palace till the government takes action.”

The anger was ignited last week after thieves tried to steal a decorative wooden panel from the temple at the dead of night but were foiled after the army post nearby raised an alarm.

The Palace Area Conservation Pressure Group formed by the local residents says the attacks on the Kumari temple have increased since last year.

The Kumari palace is in Basantapur, a square that also houses the old palace of the deposed Shah kings of Nepal. It was built in 1757 by the last king of the Malla dynasty, Jayaprakash Malla, and renovated only once in 1966.

Decorated with intricately carved wooden doors and windows, the Kumari temple is an architectural heirloom of Nepal that, like many old temples, is now the target of antique thieves.

Two decorative arches once gracing the front windows of the Kumari palace were stolen last year, the thieves taking advantage of the political turmoil in Nepal and the ouster of King Gyanendra.

The pressure group alleges that eight years ago, the government set up an office at the square that was entrusted with the protection and maintenance of the Kumari temple.

“A tourist has to pay between NRS 100-300 to enter the square,” says Shakya. “This month they raised the admission fee. But none of the money is spent on the historic monuments. There is no renovation, no security and even no lights in the square.”

This is the second time during the seven-month Maoist government that the locals are up in arms over the Kumari.

Last year, the Maoist government tried to slash state budgets for festivals related to the Living Goddess. It resulted in violent protests by the Newar community, the original residents of Kathmandu valley, which forced the government to withdraw the move.

The Kumari, a prepubescent young girl chosen on the basis of auspicious physical traits and a horoscope that once had to be in harmony with the king’s, was regarded as the protector of the royal family of Nepal in the past.

Though the world’s only Hindu kingdom last year abolished monarchy to become a secular republic, the tradition of the Kumari is still going strong even though there is no king.

Last year, Kathmandu chose its 14th Kumari, Matina Shakya, who was then only three years old.

Shakya, now three and a half years old, lives in the Kumari palace, which she would have to leave when she reaches the threshold of adulthood.

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