Nepal Maoists blame ‘fanatics’ for Pashupatinath row

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Nepal’s ruling Maoist party is blaming “Hindu fanatics” for the raging controversy over the sacking of three Indian priests at the Pashupatinath temple, one of the holiest Hindu shrines revered by millions of Hindus worldwide. The Maoists are calling it a conspiracy to mar India-Nepal relations.

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

“The propaganda is intended to provoke India and affect India-Nepal relations,” Nepal’s official media Saturday reported Sharma as saying in a programme in Baglung district in western Nepal.

According to the Maoist spokesman, 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, which sparked an unprecedented row since Sunday.

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.

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

The new appointments broke with a nearly 300-year-old tradition that had seen only priests from southern India, known for its orthodoxy and knowledge of vedic rituals, appointed to worship 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, asking for the appointment of the new priests to be halted.

Jangam says that the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust now has a Maoist lawmaker on its board though he comes from a different electoral constituency and should not be there. He also says that the Maoist Minister for Culture and State Restructuring Gopal Kiranti led a crowd to the temple that supported the new priests’ entry despite a stay order by the apex court.

“Hindus are Hindus, wherever they are,” Jangam said. “There are Nepali priests at the Kashi Bishweshwar temple in India’s Varanasi 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, to the consternation of devotees.

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

Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, Kiranti and the trust have been asked by the court to show cause why the old priests were removed and new ones appointed, as well as make the appointment process transparent.