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Pashupatinath to be dragged to court?

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Seven months after Nepal’s god-king Gyanendra was stripped of his crown and legal immunity, the shadow of prosecution lies over the patron of the deposed monarch, Lord Pashupatinath, whose temple in Kathmandu valley is one of the eight holiest Hindu shrines.

The 17th century temple, a world heritage site that draws tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists from across the world every year, has been dragged into controversy after Nepal’s new government this week decided to depart from a nearly 300-year tradition and appoint Nepali priests to worship the deity.

Since 1804, the temple had been appointing Indian priests brought from southern India. The priests were known for their orthodoxy and knowledge of ritual.

This year however, after a pro-democracy movement ushered in a sea change and transformed the world’s only Hindu kingdom into a secular republic, different sects began urging an end to the tradition and the appointment of Nepali priests.

Bowing to the pressure, the three Indian priests submitted their resignation to the government this month and two Nepali priests were appointed Sunday.

However, while the Indian priests are ready to accept the public verdict, their assistants are not.

Over 100 Nepalis, known as the Rajbhandaris who help the priests in carrying out the elaborate worship, are now up in arms, protesting the break in the tradition.

They have threatened to start demonstrations and if necessary, file a petition in Nepal’s Supreme Court, asking for intervention.

The protesters have received an unexpected boost from Nepal’s main opposition party, the Nepali Congress (NC) of former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala.

The NC, that has locked horns with the Maoists over its demand that the Maoists return the public properties they captured during the 10-year insurgency and stop violence, is also objecting to the ending of the temple tradition.

Laxman Ghimire, the chief whip of the Nepali Congress, Monday raised the issue in Nepal’s constituent assembly, which also serves as the interim parliament, saying that such a weighty decision could be taken only by the council of ministers.

Ghimire said his party was objecting to the change since the government did not follow the proper procedure while making the new appointments.