Ex-king urges Nepal to keep Pashupatinath out of dispute

By Sudeshna Sarkar,IANS,

Kathmandu : Breaking his long silence, Nepal’s deposed king Gyanendra Saturday urged the Maoist-led government and others to keep the hallowed Hindu shrine of Pashupatinath out of dispute.

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The last king of Nepal, who left his crown, sceptre and palace in June following an election that saw the Himalayan kingdom vote overwhelmingly to end the 239-year-old institution of monarchy, Saturday finally came out of his low-profile life as a controversy mired the 17th century Pashupatinath temple, pitting the government against the Supreme Court.

Quoting sources, Kantipur, Nepal’s biggest private television station, said Gyanendra had asked the government of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, civil society and others not to tarnish the image of Nepal as a country where different religions had co-existed in harmony down the ages.

The ousted king, who had been the patron of the temple in the past, and his wife, former queen Komal, the president of the trust managing the shrine, said that religion, tradition and religious rites were a way of life in Nepal and should be accepted by all.

The former king’s concern came after a row over the sacking of three Indian priests at the temple.

On Sunday, the trust administering the shrine said the three Indian priests appointed by the temple nearly a decade ago had submitted their resignation and two Nepali priests had been chosen in their place.

The new appointment broke away with a nearly 300-year-old tradition that had seen only priests from southern India, known for their orthodoxy and knowledge of vedic rituals, appointed to lead the prayers at Pashupatinath.

While Nepalis in general hailed the new move, there has been mounting criticism of the Maoist government for allegedly not following any procedure and thrusting its own people even in a religious place.

“The Maoists are trying to take over the Pashupatinath temple,” said Bharat Jangam, an activist and writer who this week filed a writ in Nepal’s Supreme Court seeking to halt the appointment of the new priests.

“Hindus are Hindus, wherever they are,” Jangam said. “There are Nepali priests at the Kashi Bishweshwar temple in India’s Banaras city, in India’s Kedarnath and Badrinath temples. Nationality is not the criterion but whether they have the required knowledge to conduct the ritualistic worship.”

For two days, due to the fracas, Pashupatinath was not offered the traditional daily worship, much to the consternation of devotees.

For the first time in its history, the 17th century shrine has been dragged to court with three different groups asking Nepal’s Supreme Court to intervene.

Now, though the Supreme Court has ordered the trust to allow the three Indian priests to carry on with the rituals till its verdict, the new priests have begun their work in violation of the order.

Maoist lawmaker Dinanath Sharma, who is also the newly appointed spokesman of the former guerrilla party, said “Hindu extremists and regressive elements” were whipping up propaganda accusing Maoists of trying to interfere in religious matters.

“The propaganda is intended to provoke India and affect India-Nepal relations,” Sharma said, adding that his party did not have any policy of interfering in religious matters and had not tried to impose its diktat in the appointment of new priests at the temple.