Nepal priests want to follow ousted king into exile

June 29th, 2008 - 4:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, June 29 (IANS) Saying that politics and religion do not mix, nine Hindu priests, who were once employed in the royal palace of Nepal, have urged the government to allow them to serve deposed king Gyanendra, who has gone into virtual exile on the outskirts of the capital. The nine priests earlier worked in the Narayanhity royal palace, which had its own altar of Hindu deities, including the family icons of the dethroned Shah dynasty.

Though he was a hard-headed businessman before he ascended the throne, Gyanendra, the last king of Nepal, was devoutly religious, offering daily worship before the family deities and visiting public temples regularly.

Following a command by lawmakers to leave the palace, the king turned commoner and left Narayanhity June 11, leaving behind his crown, throne and sceptre.

However, the disgraced king took away with him, to his new abode in the Nagarjuna forest, the Panchayana - a protective family deity believed to be representing the five elements.

The royal flight has left the priests in the palace in a fix. Though one of them retired, nine are still in service.

The government has brought the palace staff under the ministry of general administration, including the priests.

“We are perplexed,” a priest told a private radio station, Ujayalo FM, on the condition of anonymity. “Our only skill is conducting Hindu rituals in accordance with the scriptures. We have nothing to do with politics.

“What are we going to do now that the palace has been turned into a museum? There is no place or work for us.”

The radio station said the nine bemused priests have asked the government to allow them to be transferred to the Nagarjuna summer palace, where the former king now lives with his wife Komal, so that they could carry on with their trade there.

The exit of the king as head of state could create other social complications in future.

Nepal’s ruling parties have agreed that the king’s place as head of state will now be assumed by a ceremonial president. However, with Nepal having become secular, a person from any religious sect can become president of the new republic.

But there are traditional festivals that are meant exclusively for Hindus, like the annual worship at the Pashupatinath temple, that are presided over by the head of state.

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