Battle over Pashupatinath begins in Nepal’s court

January 6th, 2009 - 6:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Amitabh BachchanKathmandu, Jan 6 (IANS) The battle for control of Nepal’s revered Pashupatinath temple has now reached the republic’s apex court with the pro-Nepali lobby crossing legal swords with the pro-Indian group.A week after three separate groups of people moved Nepal’s Supreme Court, asking for a stay on the appointment of new priests at the 17th century shrine, the trust that runs the temple has now retaliated, asking the court to vacate the stay order.

The Pashupatinath Area Development Trust (PADT), which has come under growing public criticism for appointing two Nepali priests and breaking away from a nearly 300-year-old tradition, Monday asked the Supreme Court to lift the stay and allow the newly appointed Nepali priests to perform the ritualistic worship at the temple.

The controversy over one of the world’s holiest shrines and a Unesco-declared world heritage site erupted a fortnight ago after PADT announced that three of the five Indian priests appointed at the temple had resigned on health grounds and would be succeeded by two Nepali priests.

The new appointments saw an end to a 19th century tradition that only priests from India’s Kerala and Karnataka states, known for their orthodoxy as well as knowledge of intricate vedic rituals, could be appointed as Pashupatinath’s cup bearers.

The move has come under fire from the priests’ assistants, devotees and Hindu groups, who accuse the Maoist government of trying to interfere in religious matters and cementing its grip on all spheres.

It was challenged in court by three separate groups who asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the appointments and order the reinstatement of the Indian priests.

The court stepped in this month, asking PADT not to make any changes till the dispute was resolved.

However, though Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who has been under growing pressure both at home and from Indian leaders to heed the court order and defuse the row, said the court order would be obeyed, his ministers are on a collision course with the law.

While Maoist minister for culture and state restructuring Gopal Kiranti says the Indian priests will not be reinstated, Information and Communications Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who is also the government spokesman, Tuesday said the appointment of the Nepali priests was appropriate and would bring transparency to the temple dealings.

Two years ago, after king Gyanendra was forced to step down and the new government began the process of abolishing monarchy as well as Hinduism as the state religion, there were allegations that royalists had misappropriated the deity’s coffers.

While the battle has now reached court, Nepal’s Hindu groups have warned that they would not brook state interference in the temple.

Protests have also begun in India with demonstrators burning Prachanda’s effigy.

The growing row this week made Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan and Indian tycoon Anil Ambani shelve their plans to visit Kathmandu.

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