Protesters attacked at Pashupatinath temple (Lead)

January 4th, 2009 - 9:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyKathmandu, Jan 4 (IANS) After a week of simmering tension, violence erupted on the hallowed premises of Nepal’s Pashupatinath temple Sunday as a mob, alleged to be Maoists, attacked a rally by temple helpers who were protesting the ouster of three Indian priests and the controversial appointment of two Nepalis in their place.Ten people, including Rajbhandaris - Nepalis who have traditionally been assisting priests during worship at the 17th century temple - as well as a cameraman of the state-run Nepal Television station were injured as the attackers began the assault, accusing the protesters of trying to bring back deposed King Gyanendra, who lost his crown in an election this year.

The attack came even as the Maoist government, alarmed by the rising anger at home and abroad over the unceremonious removal of the three Indian priests, said it was launching a three-month nationwide yatra or foot-march from Monday to maintain religious harmony.

Maoist Minister for Culture and State Restructuring Gopal Kiranti said the rally would kick off from Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport and travel across Nepal to convey the true state of affairs to people and gauge their response.

The yatra announcement came after former King Gyanendra, whom the Maoists still fear as a formidable foe, urged the government Saturday to keep the revered shrine out of dispute and respect traditional rites and belief.

India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), once the former king’s ally, also took serious note of the controversy with its chief Rajnath Singh urging Prime Minister Prachanda and President Ram Baran Yadav not to politicise the Hindu icon.

Prachanda said the matter has been politicised and blown out of proportion. He said the three Indian priests resigned voluntarily nearly three months ago and would not be persuaded to stay back even though he asked them to.

He also said the appointment of two Nepali priests as their successors was a mere coincidence.

Kiranti dismissed the fears that the removal of the Indian priests would affect India-Nepal ties or create a backlash for Nepali priests employed in temples in India. He also ruled out the row enabling a return of monarchy in Nepal.

“The Maoist government has not intervened in religious matters,” he said. “The decision to appoint Nepali priests was taken by the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust that is an autonomous body and takes its own decisions.”

The controversy erupted last Sunday after the government announced that three of the five Indian priests appointed in the Pashupatinath temple have resigned and the trust has appointed two Nepalis in their place.

Since the 18th century, Nepal has been following the tradition of appointing priests from southern India. Brahmins of the region are renowned for knowledge of intricate Vedic rituals.

On Sunday, a fourth Indian priest resigned, leaving only one more Indian priest, who is currently on leave.

Three separate groups of people filed applications at Nepal’s Supreme Court, calling the new appointments illegal and asking for a stay order.

Kiranti said the government has Sunday received the court order asking the prime minister, his own office, the trust and the new priests to show cause why the decision was not illegal. The court has also asked the new priests not to step into their predecessors’ shoes till the dispute was resolved.

The minister, however, remained evasive about whether his government would heed the apex court’s order.

Justifying the move, he said the daily offerings by devotees since the new appointments are almost NRs.30,000-40,000 daily despite the controversy.

“This shows Nepalis have accepted the new appointments,” he said.

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