Living Goddess is a powerful portrait of three normal little girls anointed as goddesses growing up in a country in the throes of civil war. This is the story of Sajani, who is worshipped as one of three living goddesses in the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal, and whose peaceful existence is contrasted with violent political turmoil that threatens their traditional way of life. With beautiful imagery and an intimate story, Living Goddess unfolds a world of spirituality and political turbulence through the eyes of a young schoolgirl.
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Of the three goddesses portrayed, the portrait of the young Sajani Shakya is particularly intimate. We see her interact with her family as a child, and we also see her fulfilling her duties as a goddess. Some of the scenes are humorous and endearing. The movie, however, is not for children.
Graphic scenes of animal sacrifice will be shocking to Western audiences, especially young children, as will scenes of violence in the streets. For older children who may be interested, adult supervision is recommended.
If it seems to be a bit slow paced at first, with its long takes of daily routine, it's for good reason: Nepal is a country with a way of life, a politics, and a culture that is utterly unfamiliar to most of this film's viewers, and to move any faster would be to miss a great deal. The Kings of Nepal have traditionally relied on the goddesses as justification of their rule by divine right. In the midst of a Maoist insurgency against an autocratic King, the role of the living goddess has only come under greater scrutiny. Lengthy takes of protests and riots are interspersed with religious ritual and the Sajani's daily life. The filmmakers go to great lengths to point out that despite her status as a deity, Sajani is just a normal girl; she loves playing with toys, running around with her friends, and pestering her parents. Her life is extraordinary and rather mundane at the same time, and the film draws you in through the travails of its charming main character.
Nepal recently abolished its monarchy and became a republic, so it is possible that this tradition may die out as politics and religion begin to disentangle. Living Goddess is an informative and thoughtful portrait of an unusual element in Hinduism, a faith already alien to most Westerners. The film has stunning visuals, making full use of the colorful traditions and natural beauty of Nepal. By taking a look at an unorthodox part of Hindu South Asian culture, Living Goddess examines the conflict between tradition and modernity, religion and politics.
I'm sure the film-maker went to Nepal to make a documentary about the Living goddesses of Nepsl. And while he was in Nepsl making that film, something extraordinary happened -- a revolution took place!
What's a revolution like? We had one here in America about 200 years ago. I assume it waa similar to the one we see in this film: bloody, noisy, confusing and difficult to understand without a scorecard. That's what revolutions are like, until historians, textbook writers and advertisers get ahold of them 50 years later.
In Living goddess you get to see revolution unadorned.
A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.
Mao ZeDong "Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan" (March 1927), Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 28.*