Will Pashupatinath temple row mar India-Nepal ties?

December 31st, 2008 - 11:12 am ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Dec 31 (IANS) As the row over the sacking of three Indian priests at the temple of Nepal’s hallowed Hindu deity Lord Pashupatinath continued to grow, a former temple official warned that the dispute could hurt Nepal’s relations with its southern neighbour.Narottam Vaidya, a former official of the trust that administers the 17th century temple, told private television station Kantipur that the unceremonious ouster of three Indian priests who had been brought from south India to conduct the ritualistic worship of the icon was likely to adversely impact the Nepalis employed in India.

“If one Indian is slapped in Nepal, 100 Nepalis feel the backlash in India’s Meghalaya state,” Vaidya said. “Hundreds of Nepalis are employed as priests in Indian temples. The forced exit of the Indian priests could rebound on them.”

The former official said the Maoist government was trying to politicise religion, which was a matter of faith, and would have a negative impact.

“Pashupatinath is worshipped by Hindus all over the world,” he said. “It involves people’s faith. But the Maoists are trying to push their own people (as priests) and dispense with all procedure. I call it a hasty decision taken for cheap publicity,” Vaidya said.

The controversy erupted this week after the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust announced that the three Indian priests appointed nearly a decade ago had submitted their resignations and were to be relieved by Nepali priests.

It was a stark departure from a nearly 300-year-old tradition. Since 1804, the kings of Nepal had been appointing priests from south India, renowned for its orthodoxy as well as deep knowledge of Hindu rites, to worship the icon in what is considered one of the eight holiest Hindu shrines.

While people hailed the appointment of two Nepali priests, there were however growing objections to the Maoist “interference” in one of the most sacred shrines. Kantipur alleged that Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, despite being an atheist, had himself written to the trust, asking them to appoint the two Nepali scholars.

“Even the appointment of a peon has to go through a series of procedures,” Vaidya said. “But none was followed while appointing priests at one of the most sacred Hindu shrines.”

The appointments have also been criticised by the main opposition party, former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC).

The chief whip of the party, Laxman Prasad Ghimire, has raised the issue in Nepal’s constituent assembly, saying that only the council of ministers was empowered to effect such a change.

From Tuesday, dozens of Bhandaris - Nepali assistants of the priests - began a sit-in at the temple premises, warning they would challenge the appointments in court and stop the newly appointed Nepali priests from stepping into the shoes of their Indian predecessors.

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