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Religious Clash in Nepal over Holy Temple

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Originally published on GroundReport.com, the citizen journalism site that covers world news at the local level.

Tension is brewing in Kathmandu. This time it's in the temple.

One of the holiest Hindu temples, Pashupatinath, is surrounded by controversy after the Maoist government appointed two Nepali priests to replace the four South Indian priests or Bhattas, who only have the authority to touch the four-faced deity of Shiva. It is centuries old tradition that priests from South India are brought to Nepal to perform the daily rituals of the temple along with the local caretakers, the Bhandaris.

Dissatisfied by the appointment of the new priests without any consultation from the Bhandaris who have been looking after the temple for generations, they have filed a writ petition against the prime minister, the government and the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust, accusing them of violating laws while appointing new priests at the temple, Republica reports.

Formerly, the king served as the patron of the PADT, and most decisions regarding the temple had to go through the palace. But after the abolition of the monarchy, the Maoist prime minister is the patron of the temple.

The Supreme Court of Nepal, on Jan. 1, ordered the government from letting the newly appointed Nepali priests from performing the daily rituals at the Pashupatinath temple.

However, on January 2nd, defying the Supreme Court order, the new priests entered the main temple premises limited only to the Bhandaris and Bhattas to perform the rituals. The police along with the Maoist youth wing, Young Communist League (YCL), escorted the new priests, the Kathmandu Post reports. The PADT officials had also broken the lock Jan. 1, which was placed by the agitating Bhandaris and Bhattas at the southern gate of the temple.

The Maoists have been showing their dissatisfaction with the country's cultures and traditions.

A London Times article on August 16 quoted Janardhan Sharma, a Maoist MP, lashing one of the cultural emblems of the country, the Living Goddess Kumari.

"The Kumari is not an essential institution for the new Nepal," Sharma said.

Many of his colleagues also regard the Kumari as an "evil symbol" linked to Hinduism's rigid caste system and incompatible with socialism.

In an unlikely move, former King Gyanendra issued a statement January 3rd urging the government to keep politics out of the temple affairs.

"I urge the government of Nepal and all else concerned to bring normalcy back to the daily worship and rituals at the temple," said Phani Raj Pathak, Gyanendra´s former press secretary, Republica reports.

According to The Hindu, there have been discontentment regarding the Pashupatinath issue in neighboring India too. The Bharatiya Janata Party's chief Rajnath Singh called the Nepali prime minister and president voicing his party's concern on replacing the Indian priests.

By removing the Indian priests "the Maoist forces have not only dealt a body blow to the centuries-old tradition of the temple but also tried to undermine the inherent India-Nepalese cultural ties," Singh said.

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