Nepal fears fresh row during Dashain festival


Kathmandu : After crippling protests this week by its Newar community over the new government’s attempt to slash grants for a religious festival, the former Hindu kingdom of Nepal is now bracing for a fresh row during the upcoming Dashain ceremony.

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Though Nepal axed its monarchy two years ago and became a secular republic, Dashain continues to be the centrepiece of a nation used to celebrating dozens of religious festivals devoutly every year.

The 10-day Dashain, corresponding to India’s Dussehra, begins on Sep 30 with the Ghatasthapana ritual.

It involves planting sprouts from barley seeds and, in the past, was followed by a worship based on tantric rites by the king of Nepal inside the palace.

After the eviction of the deposed royal family from the Narayanhity royal palace in June, the palace was formally declared to be a national museum. This would be the first time that the Narayanhity will not undergo the tantric puja.

However, despite the Maoist-led government taking over the palace in the name of the people, many palace staffers, especially the priests, continue to remain loyal to the crown.

Now, according to the Nepali media, the chief priest, Shekhar Pundit, is making preparations to plant the sacred sprouts in the traditional prayer room of the royals in the palace and offer worship in the name of deposed king Gyanendra.

The defiance, it is feared, will lead to a clash between the priest and the Maoists, who are trying to demolish all rituals associated with the crown.

The seventh day of Dashain is celebrated by the arrival of offerings from the Gorkha district in western Nepal, from where Nepal’s Shah kings essayed out as conquerors, overrunning Kathmandu valley.

The sacred offering – known as Fulpati – is brought to Kathmandu from Gorkha escorted by soldiers from a particular community.

Recently, Maoists raised a demand for the abolition of those troops, saying they were associated with Nepal’s shameful, feudal past.

Last year, the Fulpati tradition saw a massive change when the offerings were taken not to the royal family in the palace but to the residence of the then prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, whom parliament had appointed interim head of state in place of the king.

Now, there is speculation that the Maoists may try to abolish the Fulpati system altogether.

Cornered by the protests by the Newar community this week over the curtailment of state budgets for animal sacrifices during the Indrajatra festival, the Maoist-led coalition government pledged not to interfere with traditional ceremonies and to form a committee of cultural experts to advise the state on what to do about socio-religious festivals.