PUBLISHED: 16:15 EST, 24 June 2012 | UPDATED: 17:55 EST, 24 June 2012
A ‘living goddess’ made a rare public appearance on Sunday to take centre stage at a religious festival in Nepal.
Kumari Samita Bajracharya is just 10 years old but already she is worshipped for her beauty.
A Kumari, meaning virgin in Nepalese, is a young prepubescent girl, considered by devotees to be incarnations of the Hindu goddess of power, Kali.
Upon reaching puberty a Kumari will be considered ritually unclean and thus lose her title, as was the fate suffered by her predecessor, Chanira Bajracharya.
Until that point she leads a very sheltered, but privileged life.
She is not allowed to go to school, play outside or even touch her friends, as these thing, too, would make her unclean.
In later life she will likely find that her ex-Kumari status makes scoring a husband difficult.
Whether because of apprehension over marrying one so spoilt in childhood, or because tradition dictates that men who wed a former Kumari will die young, it is a struggle faced by many former goddesses.
Samita attended festivities on the last day of the Rato Machindranath chariot festival, in Jwalakhe, on the outskirts of Kathmandu.
The festival is considered to bring rain, good harvest, prosperity and good luck and is mainly celebrated among farmers.
The goddess sat patiently in an decorative room, awaiting the beginning of the festival procession, having spent a great deal of time getting ready for the occasion.
Her mother, Purna Shova Bajracharya, painted on her make-up at home in Kumari Ghar, Patan, using rich shades of red and yellow as well as thick striking black around her eyes.
Her feet were also painted and she was dressed in an ornate, traditional costume accessorised with jewellery that is passed down from one Kumari to the next.
Prior to Sundays procession workers hosed down her path and a sniffer dog was brought in to ensure her safety.
When all was ready for her arrival she was carried from her home by her mother, father and a member of the Guthi through a crowd of onlookers to the festival.
They were careful not to let her feet touch the ground, something which would be considered inauspicious, as devotees rushed forward to offer her flowers, money and catch a glimpse of their beloved goddess.
A Kumari is typically watched closely for her reactions to gifts. If she receives them in silence devotees believe their wishe have been granted. if she cries or laughs loudly aht is believed to indicated serious illness or death, while if she weeps or rubs her eyes they fear imminent death.
Trembling is thought to preempt imprisonment and picking at food offerings will bring about financial losses.
Should she clap her hands they believe they have reason to fear the King.
The Kumari is known in Nepal as the protector from evil and the bestower of good luck and prosperity.
They are young girls by high priests chosen from the Buddhist community to represent the Hindu goddess.
Patient: Kumari Samita Bajracharya awaits the beginning of the festival (left) after having had her make-up done by her mother (right)
Basic requirements state that she must be in excellent health, never have shed blood or been afflicted by any diseases, be without blemish and must not have yet lost any teeth.
If she satisfies those requirements there are a further 32 tests of ‘perfection’ that must be met.
These are said to include ‘having a body like a banyan tree and golden, tender skin which has never been scratched or shed a drop of blood.’
The Kumaris are a major tourist attraction and are worshiped in Nepal by both Hindus and Buddhists.
One of Samita’s predecessors, Sajani Shakya, made international headlines in 2007 after she visited the United States to promote a film by a British company about the Kumari system.
Under the system, the head priest of Nepal’s former monarchy appointed ‘Kumaris’ – considered to be incarnations of the goddess Kali – in several towns in the Kathmandu valley.
The monarchy was abolished in May when Nepal became a republic.
Some religious authorities criticised Sajani’s trip saying it was against tradition, and Sajani retired at the request of her family.
According to Kumari tradition, girls selected from Buddhist Newar families through a rigorous cultural process become the ‘living goddesses’.
In 2008 Nepal’s Supreme Court ordered the government to safeguard the Kumari’s human rights after complaints that the practice went against the child living a normal life.
Kumaris are appointed in cities across Nepal.
The latest Kumari, Matina Shakya, was three-years-old when she took her seat as Royal Kumari in August 2010 in the capital of Kathmandu.
As the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu, she is the best known of the goddesses. She lives in the Kumari Ghar, a palace in the center of the city and the selection process for her was especially rigorous.
Now aged four, Matina was installed in October 2008 by the Maoist government that replaced the monarchy.
In January of this year the young girl attended the Changu Narayan festival in Kathmandu.
Like Samita her public appearances are rare – she makes just 13 a year and is kept for the rest of the time in a temple.
Perfection: A worker cleans the area in front of where Living Goddess Kumari (centre) sits wearing her traditional attire