KUSHAL REGMI/KIRAN CHAPAGAIN
KATHMANDU, Jan 1: The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday ordered the government not to appoint for the time being new priests at the country´s most revered Pashupatinath Temple.
Earlier on Wednesday, lawyers and the chief bhandaris or caretakers of Pashupatinath Temple had filed a writ petition against the prime minister, the government and the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust (PADT) accusing them of violating laws while appointing new priests at the temple.
The bhandaris, the traditional temple caretakers, have been protesting the new appointments and preventing the new priests from performing rituals at the temple, saying the new appointments violate traditional norms.
But PADT officials on Wednesday afternoon broke the lock placed by the bhandaris at the west gate of the temple, to allow the new priests inside,
Four days after their appointment as head priest at the main temple and priest at Basuki temple respectively, Dr Bishnu Prasad Dahal and Saligram Dhakal finally performd the nitya puja (daily worship) late this afternoon with police protection.
Tension has been brewing at this spiritual centre of all Hindus of the world because this is the first time that Nepalis have been appointed as head priest (mul bhatta) and priest at the temple.
PADT had resorted to a prime ministerial prerogative to alter the centuries-old tradition of appointing an Indian as priest at the temple.
“It is a question of property; how can anyone enter [as a priest] just like that!” mutters a bhandari dissatisfied with the developments.
The bhandaris, who are responsible for looking after property at Pashupatinath temple worth billions, do not trust the new appointees.
“We can’t support bhattas who have been appointed without the consent of the people. We would want a presidential committee to look into this matter and choose the mul bhatta according to the traditional norms of the temple,” says Sudarshan Rajbhandari, a bhandari at Pashupatinath.
He takes out a Nepali-paper scroll explaining why current developments flout centuries-old tradition.
“I was born on the premises of Pashupatinath but I still haven’t ever touched the Shiva linga inside Pashupatinath temple,” says Rajbhandari.
“It is our tradition that someone of a vegetarian lineage becomes the main priest; that is why we need someone from a special family in India,” he adds.
He also says that there was a tradition of exchanging priests between temples in India and Pashupatinath in Kathmandu.
“What if all the Nepali priests in India are also sent back?” he questions.
Traditionally, the newly appointed priests need to go through a month-long training imparted by the old priests before they can take over. The current priests have gone through no such training period.
The bhandaris feel that what has been going on is a bad omen for the country.
“I just hope that Lord Pashupatinath is not angered because of all this,” says Subarna Baidya, a ghate baidya [traditional physician who operates at the cremation sites] at Pashupatinath.