Maoists announce yatra to defuse Pashupatinath row

January 4th, 2009 - 5:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyKathmandu, Jan 4 (IANS) Alarmed by rising anger at home and abroad over the unceremonious removal of three Indian priests from the Pashupatinath temple, a hallowed shrine revered by Hindus, Nepal’s Maoist government Sunday said it was launching a three-month nationwide yatra Monday to maintain religious harmony.Maoist Minister for Culture and State Restructuring Gopal Kiranti, who Thursday led a crowd of people to the 17th century temple to install two Nepali priests and triggered a raging controversy, Sunday said he or Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda - who is also the ex officio patron of the trust governing the temple - would lead the foot march.

To kick off from Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, Nepal’s sole international airport, the rally would include civil society members and organisations and would travel across Nepal to convey the true state of affairs to people and gauge their response, the minister said.

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

Once the king’s ally, India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also took serious note of the controversy with its chief Rajnath Singh ringing up Prachanda and Nepal’s President Ram Baran Yadav and asking them not to politicise the icon.

Calling Singh and the former king’s call “interference”, the Maoist minister said while some procedures may have been violated in the appointment of the new priests, a mountain had been made out of a molehill.

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 Sunday after the government announced that three of the five Indian priests appointed in the Pashupatinath temple had resigned and the trust had appointed two Nepalis in their place.

Since the 18th century, Nepal had been following the tradition of appointing priests from southern India, known for its orthodoxy and knowledge of intricate vedic rituals.

The new appointments created an unprecedented scenario.

Since the new appointments, the icon, which attracts thousands of devotees from all over the world, has not been worshipped as per tradition. To make matters worse, three separate groups of people have filed applications at Nepal’s Supreme Court, calling the appointments illegal and asking for a stay order.

Kiranti said the government has Monday 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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