A former “living goddess” from Nepal welcomed news yesterday that she and other girls who are worshipped until they reach puberty will get a pension to compensate for their personal sacrifices.

Kathmandu Metropolitan City decided this week that ten former “goddesses,” known as Kumaris, will receive a monthly allowance of Rs10,000 ($101) beginning in July and continuing for the next 10 years.

The Kumari lives in a small palace-temple in Kathmandu’s ancient Durbar Square and is a major attraction for foreign tourists. Selection criteria, which include 32 physical
attributes, are strict.

The council announced the decision this week in an effort to help the girls who must retire and move out of the temple once they reach puberty.

Rashmila Shakya, who in 2008 became the first former goddess to graduate from college in Nepal, said the move was “the first step towards reformingthe institution of Kumari”.

“This is a positive development. It will definitely help us, although it’s not clear if there will be an increase in the amount in the years ahead,” Shakya said.

Shakya, now a Kathmandu-based software developer in her early thirties, lamented the fact that the decision was not taken during her tenure and recalled her struggle to reintegrate into society after she was dethroned at the age of 10.

“It took me some three-four months to adjust ... I wasn’t able to figure out the lanes in our neighbourhood. I struggled even in simple tasks like talking to people,” she recalled.

Prior to her retirement, Shakya attended just one hour of private tuition a day, living in isolation in a small palace and emerging only on feast days when the Kumari, wearing ceremonial dress, is paraded through Kathmandu to be worshipped.

Priests say that to become a Kumari, a girl must have a number of specific physical attributes such as an unblemished body, a chest like a lion and thighs like a deer.

Even if they fulfil all the physical requirements, aspiring Kumaris must then prove their bravery by not crying at the sight of a sacrificed buffalo.

The popular tradition, which combines elements of Hinduism and Buddhism, has continued despite the end of Nepal’s Shah monarchy in 2008.

In recent years, child rights activists have called on the government to reform the institution and ensure that the girls do not miss out on their education while serving as Kumaris.

In a 2008 ruling, Nepal’s Supreme Court called for the living goddess to be educated and Kumaris are now taught lessons and allowed to sit for exams inside the palace.

Child rights activist, Gauri Pradhan said the provision of a monthly allowance was “a
welcome decision”.

“There should be a balance between continuing the tradition and giving them a semblance of a childhood,” Pradhan said.