First blow to Maoist Conspiracy in Nepal

published on January 9, 2009

Indian priests return to Pashupatinath temple

IANS

Hundreds of people cried and sang in jubilation Thursday as Hindu
devotees began a victory march to celebrate the return of Indian
priests to Nepal’s 17th century Pashupatinath temple and the pledge by
the humbled Maoist government not to interfere in its management.

“It is a victory for Hindus worldwide,” said Bharat Jangam, a social
activist and regular visitor to the temple, who was among the three
groups that had asked Nepal’s Supreme Court to intervene after the
Indian priests appointed at the shrine nearly a decade ago were
replaced by Nepali priests under the new Maoist government.

After nearly two weeks, the shrine, regarded as one of the eight
holiest Hindu pilgrimage destinations, Thursday returned to its nearly
three-century-old routine with the main Indian priest, Mahabaleshwar
Bairy, resuming the daily worship.

For nearly a fortnight, the 40-year-old Indian, who came from Udupi
district of India’s Karnataka state eight years ago to take up the
challenging assignment, had been keeping a low profile, staying away
from the media and continuing with the ritualistic worship quietly at
his own residence.

Bairy, said to be the only Hindu priest currently in Nepal who knows
all the intricate rituals of Pashupatinath’s worship, had a foreboding
of things to come two years ago.

After the fall of Nepal’s last Hindu king Gyanendra and the new
government’s decision to declare Nepal a secular state in 2006, there
were growing allegations that the Indian priests as well as royalists
controlling the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust (PADT) had
misappropriated millions of rupees and other priceless treasures
offered by devotees.

“It is false,” the beleaguered priest had said. “There is a growing conspiracy to throw out Indian priests.”

His fears came true last month after the Maoist government accepted his resignation.

Though Bairy cited health reasons and said he needed to return to
his village Belve to look after his elderly parents, it is said that he
and the other four Indian priests had been receiving threatening phone
calls.

Soon after Bairy’s resignation, three more Indian priests, Krishna
Bhatt from Uttara Kannada, K.P. Ramachandra Bhatt from Udupi district
in Karnataka and Ganesh Bhatt also resigned.

However, the situation was reversed Wednesday after Prime Minister
Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who came under intense pressure both at
home and from neighbour India, told parliament that all new
appointments made by PADT were annulled.

The Indian priests, Prachanda told the house, would continue with their duties till new appointments were made.

The capitulation came after Nepal’s Supreme Court asked the
government to stay all new appointments till it resolved the dispute.

Nepal’s major parties as well as two powerful parties from
neighbouring India, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Samajwadi Party,
also joined the protests, expressing concern at the Maoist interference
in religion.

For nearly 300 years, Indian priests have been appointed at the
shrine as they are regarded as being well-versed in intricate Vedic
rituals.

The tradition was attacked by the ruling Maoist party, which
professes to have no religious faith and whose ministers took oath of
office last year in the name of the people instead of god.

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