Politics puts Lord Pashupatinath’s worship in jeopardy (Lead)

January 1st, 2009 - 11:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Jan 1 (IANS) For the first time in the history of Nepal’s centuries-old Pashupatinath temple, devotees were unable to worship the deity revered by billions of Hindus all over the world, thanks to an unholy row between local priests and the Maoist-controlled trust that looks after the shrine, marking an inauspicious start to the new year.The dispute began last month after pressure mounted on the three Indian priests, who were appointed nearly a decade ago in keeping with a nearly 300-year-old tradition, to resign.

Nepal’s kings had begun a tradition in the 17th century to engage priests from southern India, famous for their orthodoxy and knowledge of Hindu rituals.

Since then, 15 chief priests and their assistants had been hired from India. However, with the abolition of Hinduism as the state religion two years ago, there was a growing clamour in Nepal to scrap the old tradition and appoint Nepali priests.

On Sunday, the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust (PADT) announced the appointment of two Nepali priests to step into their Indian predecessors’ shoes.

However, the appointments are being fiercely opposed by the Nepali assistants of the Indian priests, known as Rajbhandaris.

The Rajbhandaris, as well as some former members of PADT, say that while they are not averse to the appointment of Nepalis, they are objecting to the Maoist government riding roughshod over procedures and engaging their own men.

“Even the appointment of a peon requires procedure,” former PADT member Narottam Vaidya said. “But all form was dropped while appointing priests for Lord Pashuatinath, which involves the faith of Hindus worldwide.”

On New Year’s Eve, Vaidya and three Rajbhandaris moved Nepal’s Supreme Court, asking for a stay on the appointment of new priests and to order PADT to make the appointment process transparent.

The apex court Thursday issued a stay order, asking PADT not to instruct the two new appointees to assume their duties for now.

The Rajbhandaris had locked the gate of the main shrine to stop the two new Nepali priests from taking over Thursday.

However, PADT officials forced open the lock and made the new priests go in, creating a tumult.

A large number of security personnel were rushed to the spot as tension simmered in the area and devotees, for the first time in Nepal’s history, were unable to offer their prayers.

PADT says the court order came after the new priests had gone in.

Only the evening lighting ceremony - or aarti - could take place Thursday, leaving devotees simmering with indignation.

It was uncertain if there would be a worship ceremony Friday.

“This is a bad omen,” said 65-year-old Harimaya Neupane, who is a regular visitor to the temple. “In the past, King Gyanendra lost power because his government had stopped the chariot run of (raingod) Macchindranath.”

“We don’t know what catastrophe today’s events will cause.”

Coincidentally, the fifth largest party in parliament, the Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party, Thursday said it was withdrawing its moral support to the Maoist government.

Though the withdrawal would not cause Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda to lose majority in the house, it will create obstructions for his government, especially in the Terai plains where the ethnic party has a stronghold.

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