Sajani Shakya – Child Goddess
Posted by Shaun Dawson on June 15, 2007
Sajani Shakya is a very special 9 year old girl. She is a living goddess. In her country, Nepal, she is worshipped as the earthly manifestation of the Hindu goddess Kali. She is one of only about a dozen children selected for this honor and is in the US on a tour to promote a documentary film about the living goddesses of the Katmandu Valley.
The Kumari or living goddesses are chosen very carefully from a special Buddhist sect to represent a Hindu goddess, demonstrating the harmony of both religions in Nepal. They are chosen very young, around 2yrs old, and must meet the 32 perfections which include the gait of a swan, a body like a banyan tree, even teeth and golden tender skin that has never been scratched.
Marc Hawker, the film’s cinematographer and producer, describes the role the Kumari play in Nepalese society:
People go to the goddesses to touch their feet as they are carried through the streets. They give them money as offerings. They visit the goddess’s house, where she sits on a small ornate throne, to ask for a better job, better health, a measure of happiness. The girls are not expected to impart wisdom, just blessings.
“It’s not about dogma or rules,” Hawker said. “People relate to her as a divine being but also as a child: they pray to her, but afterwards they sit and joke with her. There is something very comforting about worshiping a child, something about the cycle of life, about renewal.”
Devotees believe that the goddess Kali inhabits the girls, though they do not exhibit unusual behavior, and then the goddess leaves them when they reach puberty. After that, the girls retire with a small pension. They are free to work and marry. “The idea of virginal, pre-menstrual purity, it does seem like a contradiction with worshiping a feminine divine,” said Rachel McDermott, associate professor in the department of Asian and Middle Eastern cultures at Barnard College in New York, “but in all this, there is the devotion to purity.”
As part of her US tour Sajani Shakya visited Lafayette Elementary School in Washington DC. She answered questions from the kids like:
Question: What do you do for fun? Answer: She plays hide-and-seek, computer games, watches Hindi films
Question: “Are there boy gods?” Answer: There are, but they are not worshiped like the girls.
Question: What do you eat? Answer: She is vegetarian, no chicken, no eggs, no pork……..but salmon yes!
Question: What do you want to be? Answer: She wants to be a teacher.
Whitaker’s documentary Living Goddesses was filmed during a dramatic moment in Nepalese history. Against the backdrop of a civil war that has taken 13,000 lives, demonstrators stormed the streets, protesting the king and debating the Kumaris’ relevance.
The documentary follows Sajani as she blesses devoted passers-by and performs rituals at a yearly festival. Her perks include being worshipped by her parents and receiving offerings of chocolate. But life as a goddess isn’t always bliss, apparently. “Sometimes I don’t feel like going on my throne when mommy asks me,” Sajani said through an interpreter. “I’ve got to get up so early.”
Proving that even though she may be a goddess, there is still a child in there!