What it's like to be a living goddess

A Kumari, or living goddess, in Nepal, has spoken out about what it's like to be worshiped and then return to life as a mere mortal.

Who wouldn’t want to be a goddess? Preeta Shakya can point to some downsides. When she was three years old she was chosen to be a living goddess, or Kumari, in Nepal. According to ancient tradition, a Kumari is worshipped until they hit puberty, and now that Preeta is 16 she has given an interview to Xinhua news agency about her adjustment to life as a mere mortal.

To be chosen as a Kumari, you must be remarkable. Kumari are chosen by committee, and are always drawn from the same clan. As well as having an auspicious horoscope, you need to fulfil the “32 perfections” including – and I quote from an LA Times article here – “thighs like a deer, eyelashes like a cow and a voice as clear as a duck.”

"By the time you're around 6 or 7, you start realizing you're the living goddess and get used to being worshiped," one of Preeta Shakya’s predecessors, now in her thirties, told the LA Times. There are some perks to being a goddess: you are sent to live in a palace, with an entourage of devoted attendants, and are dressed in ornate costumes and lashings of mascara.

According to Preeta Shakya, however, it can be lonely and restrictive, too. She was only allowed to leave the palace thirteen times a year, and her mother could only visit her once a week. When she did visit, it was as a worshipper rather than as a mother (which in itself doesn’t sound too awful, in my view.)

Leaving the palace has been a difficult transition – Preeta told Xinhua it was hard to make friends initially, after years of being worshipped, and it was difficult to adjust to not being waited on. Local superstition dictates that the husbands of a Kumari dies young, so finding a husband could be hard.

All in all, she says she’s “happy nowadays when I think that I can get out of my house anytime I want". In recent years, human rights groups, politicians and Maoists have increasingly said the practice is exploitative and outdated because of the psychological impact it has on chosen girls.

Kumari Devi, or Royal Living Goddess, Preeti Shakya, 9, watches the White Machindranath Chariot festival from a window March 28, 2007 in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo:Getty.

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.