Is there a more poignant and intriguing religious tradition to be found anywhere in the world than that of the rouged and kohl-eyed Kumari, or Living Goddess of Nepal? A little girl, aged three or four, chosen by the gods, is taken from her family and enshrined in a residence in the heart of Kathmandu. The object of priestly rituals and veneration, she is looked after by specially chosen caretakers; her parents may visit her as supplicants, but never touch her, still less embrace her. She leaves the building only a dozen times a year to preside over religious festivals. In order to maintain her purity, her feet must never touch the ground; she is carried from the house by attendants and borne aloft around the city’s narrow, twisting streets in a hand-held palanquin.
For the most part she is to be seen only occasionally at an upstairs window of the Kumari house, a fleeting presence, gazing down at a world she is forbidden to join. There she remains until she shows signs of reaching puberty, but before she begins menstruation, at which time