Pashupatinath bows to Nepal’s winds of change

December 29th, 2008 - 2:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Dec 29 (IANS) The winds of change that began sweeping through Nepal since 2006, transforming the world’s only Hindu kingdom into a secular republic headed by former Maoist guerrillas, have now overtaken the biggest icon in the Himalayan nation - Lord Pashupatinath.From next month, breaking away from a nearly 300-year-old tradition, the deity revered by devotees of all faiths will be ceremonially worshipped by Nepali priests instead of priests brought from neighbouring India.

Since 1747, the kings of Nepal began engaging priests from southern India, known for its orthodoxy as well as knowledge of Hindu rituals. It was done due to the belief that after the death of the king, the father of the nation, all Nepalis had to observe a period of mourning which made them unfit to offer worship to the gods.

The Pashupatinath Temple, which draws pilgrims, tourists and architects from all over the world, is believed to have been built in the 3rd century BC after which it was destroyed several times by earthquakes and rebuilt.

The present structure is believed to have been constructed by King Bhupalendra Malla in 1697.

After the Shah kings of Gorkha defeated the Malla kings and took over Kathmandu valley, they upheld the tradition of employing Indian priests. In addition, the king became the patron of the temple development trust while the queen was its chief.

However, after the last king of the Shah dynasty Gyanendra tried to seize absolute power with the help of the army and failed, a pro-democracy uprising led by his arch enemies, the Maoist guerrillas, brought the downfall of Nepal’s once revered monarchy.

The new government that came to power after the pro-democracy movement ousted the king and queen from the temple management.

Soon after that, the Satnamis, a sect that worship Hindu god Vishnu, began a movement to scrap the old tradition of employing Indian priests.

Finally, heeding the growing demand, the three Indian priests handed over their resignations Sunday.

Mahabaleshwar Bhatt, the main priest and custodian of the deity, and his aides P. Ram Chandra and Krishna Yog Bhatt’s resignations have been accepted and two Nepali priests appointed in their place.

Bishnu Prasad Dahal, a PhD in Sanskrit from Nuwakot district, and Shalik Ram Dhakal, also a Sanskrit scholar from Sindhupalchowk, became the first Nepali priests who will shoulder the responsibility of worshipping the deity from next month.

The Pashupatinath Temple, one of the eight holiest Hindu shrines in the world, has mellowed over the centuries.

Earlier, non-Hindus were not allowed to enter the temple premises. The cold war between late Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and the then king of Nepal Birendra reportedly arose after the Indian leader and his Italy-born wife Sonia Gandhi were not allowed to enter the temple.

Today, non-Hindus can roam around freely inside the complex. However, they are barred from going inside the shrines.

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