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Don't insult us, Pashupatinath priest tells Nepal

world Updated: Sep 05, 2009 18:33 IST

Smarting under the continuing attacks on Indian priests and the allegation that they were siphoning off the offerings made by devotees at the altar of Pashupatinath, one of the holiest Hindu shrines, the chief priest at the temple said he and his ilk were ready to go back to India.

Mahabaleshwar Bairy, the chief priest at the revered fifth century temple and the only person allowed to touch the deity, told the government that if Nepalis did not want Indian priests at the shrine, he and the four other Indian priests appointed there were ready to return home.

"We are not refugees," the priest from Karnataka's Udipi district said. "If you don't want us, we are ready to leave Nepal. But don't insult us."

The 41-year-old priest, who has been living in Nepal for nearly two decades, also said that he and his brethren were concerned only with the worship of the deity.

"We have no connection with the offerings made to the deity," he said. "Our only concern is worshipping the God in accordance with the scriptures."

The priest broke his silence after two new Indian priests, appointed by the government of Nepal last week on his recommendation, were attacked inside the temple in an unprecedented incident.

Nepal's Culture Minister Minendra Rijal said the two new appointees Girish Bhatt and Raghavendra Bhatt, also from Karnataka, were appointed in accordance with the rules governing the shrine.

"The priests were chosen on the basis of ability, not nationality," he said. "The Pashupatinath Area Development Trust regulations say priests would be chosen by a three-member committee headed by the chief priest.

"The government is satisfied that both the new priests are the best candidates we have had."

The tradition of appointing Indian priests at the Pashupatinath temple started from the time of the Malla kings of Nepal who reigned from the 12th to the 18th century.

During the death of a Malla king, the entire kingdom was said to have been bereaved since the king was regarded as the father of the nation.

According to Hindu traditions, bereavement makes the mourner unclean and unfit for worshipping the gods. So it was decided to bring a Brahmin priest from neighbouring India and that's how the tradition began.

The protests against the appointment of Indian priests started during the government of the former Maoist guerrillas last year, who said it was a ploy by India to impose its culture on Nepal.

However, a key reason for the tussle over the shrine is believed to be the money received by the temple administration from worshippers.

Till three years ago, when Nepal's royal family controlled the shrine, there was no record of the temple earnings.

The pressure during the Maoist reign forced Bairy to resign last year. However, after Nepal's Supreme Court ordered the government not to meddle with temple regulations, Bairy was asked to continue till the legal tussle was resolved.