NPR Honors Nine-Year-Old "Goddess" Touring Washington D.C.

News people often hedge on the accuracy of the existence of God, but National Public Radio showed an ease in declaring they were in the presence of a "goddess" (no quote marks for her) on Thursday's All Things Considered newscast. The "feminine divine" in question was 9-year-old Sajani Shakya. Anchor Michele Norris proclaimed "she is a goddess, or Kumari, venerated as a deity in the Kathmandu valley of Nepal," who was visiting Washington as part of the Silverdocs film festival. NPR reporter Neda Ulaby began:

ULABY: The goddess is, frankly, a little jet-lagged. But adorned with golden saffron robes and a ceremonial third eye painted on her forehead, she's the most majestic 9-year-old this classroom of American kids has ever met.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Do you like being a goddess?

Ms. VIJAYA MARK RAHNA (Guardian): Yes, she loves to be a goddess.

After some discussion of what Sajani ate, the G-word broke out again:

Mr. HOLSTEN: I can't say it because I've never met a goddess before.

ULABY: Yet, the goddess did not look quite the way Kevin had imagined.

Mr. HOLSTEN: I thought the outfit would be like bluish, goldish.

Unidentified Man #1: You think our school color...

Mr. HOLSTEN: Yeah. And she would have like a little ponytail in the back.

ULABY: Why did you think she would have a ponytail?

Mr. HOLSTEN: Because a girl, a lot of girls have ponytails.

Ulaby then expanded on how a documentary filmmaker grew very interested in this "female face of God" and "symbol of tolerance" in Nepal:

ULABY: Sajani is like many Nepalese girls her age, but she's also very different, says documentarian Ishbel Whitaker.

Ms. WHITAKER: She's a very remarkable kid. She's cheeky, funny, mischievous. She is able to relate to her work. Whether that means she's divine, I think that depends on your religious persuasion.

ULABY: The Kumaris are Buddhist girls believed to be inhabited by a Hindu goddess. So by embodying the two religions, they're seen as symbols of tolerance. The documentary follows Sajani as she blesses passersby on the street, and performs rituals at a yearly festival. Her perks include being worshipped by her parents and receiving offerings of chocolate. But in the film, she says, life as a goddess is not always bliss.

Ms. SAJANI SHAKYA (Through Translator): Sometimes, I don't feel like going on my throne when mommy asks me. I've got to get up so early.

ULABY: Sajani is unique, in that she is permitted outside of the goddess house where she lives with her family. Her fellow Kumaris, for the most part, lives life of isolation and devotion. The documentary, "Living Goddesses," was filmed during a dramatic moment in Nepalese history. Against the backdrop of a civil war that took 13,000 lives, demonstrators stormed the streets, protesting the king and debating the Kumaris' relevance. Director Ishbel Whitaker says she did not start out to make the film political.

Ms. WHITAKER: I was fascinated by the female face of God.

ULABY: Back in Washington D.C., the feminine divine is admiring a school mural of a zoo with one of the film's producers.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Can I introduce Sajani to our school principal?

ULABY: Lafayette's principal is Lynn Main.

Ms. GAIL LYNN MAIN: I have some girls here who think they're goddesses. But I have never had a real goddess at school before.

ULABY: And the school kids cannot get enough of her.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How long are you goddess for?

Ms. WHITAKER: She's a goddess until about 12 years old. And then, the belief is that the goddess will leave her, and she becomes a normal child.

Ulaby explained that apparently, the "goddess" departs the girl at the onset of puberty. Even the NPR website is confident in declaring her divinity. Their headline for the segment: "She's Small, Sometimes Shy, and Totally Divine."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis