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Ex-Nepal king urges end to temple priest row

world Updated: Jan 04, 2009 15:59 IST
Gopal Sharma

Nepal's deposed King Gyanendra has urged an end to a row over the appointment of a chief priest for one of the holiest Hindu shrines in Kathmandu, an aide said on Sunday.

Regular worship and religious functions at the centuries-old Pashupatinath Temple have been disrupted since last week as junior priests are protesting against the replacement of an Indian chief priest with a Nepali national.

The Himalayan nation's Maoist-led government has not commented but temple authorities say the appointment of the new priest was approved by Prime Minister Prachanda, the former Maoist rebel chief.

"I request and urge Nepal government, devotees and all others to keep the Lord Pashupatinath Temple above politics," Gyanendra's aide Pahniraj Pathak quoted him as saying.

"Faith, tradition and religious practices are matters closedly linked with the right and responsibility of our life and nationalism," he said.

For centuries the chief priest of the Passhupatinath Temple was appointed by temple authorities with approval of the king of Nepal from high caste Hindus from neighbouring India.

Gyanendra, who was the patron of the shrine when king, has been living a quiet life since Nepal abolished the monarchy in May and became a republic.

Many Hindu holy men and junior priests accuse the Maoists of not following the correct process for replacing the priest.

"It is good to have a qualified Nepali for the job but the appointment must be made in accordance with the cultural and religious tradition. That is what we want," said Om Rajbhandari, a junior priest standing outside the temple.

Nepal's Supreme Court asked temple authorities not to allow the new priest to carry out his job last week but authorities say they were yet to receive a formal court order.

The Maoist former rebels are heading the new government after winning the landmark election for a constituent assembly in April last year.

The pagoda-roofed Pashupatinath Temple, listed by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site, is located by the side of a small holy river in Kathmandu and draws tens of thousands of pilgrims from Nepal as well as from neighbouring India every year.