Nepal president endorses child goddess

KATHMANDU, October 6, 2008 (AFP) – Nepal’s Maoist president has endorsed the choice of a three-year-old girl to be worshipped as a goddess, officials said Monday, upholding an age-old tradition despite his government’s atheist stance.

The selection of the child goddess, or Royal Kumari, had for centuries required the approval of Nepal’s kings, but the abolition of the monarchy earlier this year brought about a shift of protocol.

“In Nepal’s changed political context, President Ram Baran Yadav has taken the responsibility of approving the Kumari as he’s now head of state,” said Hemraj Subedi, an official on the board that selected the girl in Kathmandu.

Three-year-old Matine Shakya was chosen to replace the current Royal Kumari, 12-year-old Kumari Preeti Shakya, because the older girl is close to puberty, after which she will be considered ritually unclean.

The Maoist government has maintained the tradition of living goddesses despite being officially atheist.

Nepal is the world’s newest republic after rebel Maoists ended their civil war two years ago, won landmark polls in April and quickly pushed through the abolition of the planet’s last Hindu monarchy.

The Kumari, which means virgin, must meet 32 stric