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Protests smoulder as Pashupatinath's 'sons' want their legacy back

world Updated: Sep 06, 2009 21:36 IST

IANS
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Forty-eight hours after the attack on Indian priests at Nepal's hallowed Pashupatinath temple and the ensuing outcry in India, protests against the appointments still continued on Sunday with a sect calling itself the 'sons' of the Hindu deity vowing they would keep up the fight for their right.

Hundreds of people blocked the way to the 5th century shrine in the morning and shouted slogans against the appointment of two Indian priests who were initiated into their duties on Saturday amidst unprecedented security.

"The Sannyasi sect has been known since time immemorial as the descendants and followers of Lord Shiva Mahadev (the other name by which Pashupati is known)," said Bidur Bhatt, coordinator of the Nepal Sannyasi Samaj.

Sannyasis are mendicants who reject the Hindu caste system, do not sport the sacred thread that allows Brahmins to officiate as priests and instead of cremating their dead, follow the system of burial.

Though Christians find it difficult to acquire burial grounds in Nepal, the Sannyasis have a burial place on the sprawling grounds of the Pashupatinath temple.

Bhatt points out that many Shiva temples in Nepal honour the Sannyasis' claim by appointing them as priests though they are not Brahmins.

The Jalbile temple in Sindhupalchowk in north Nepal and the Halesi Mahadev in Khotang district have Sannyasi priests.

Bhatt also rejects the claims that India appoints Nepali priests in Indian temples.

"These priests are either Indians of Nepali origin or Nepalis who have been living in India for a long time," he says.

"They are not imported from Nepal like the Indian priests at Pashupatinath are."

The protesters say that Nepal's history shows the first priests at the Pashupatinath temple were Nepalis.

"During the Licchavi kings (starting from 300AD) and the reign of the Kirat kings (around 700 AD), there were Nepali priests," says Rishi Prasad Sharma, who is heading the protest organisation.

"However, the appointment of the Indian priests started only during the time of the Malla kings (around 1400 AD when Yaksha Malla was the king).

"Therefore, if we want to keep the old tradition alive, we should appoint Nepali priests who were the first priests."

Nepal has been expressing mixed feelings about the debate.

Some feel that the earlier Maoist government, which tried to appoint Nepali priests, was motivated by the ambition to control the shrine and its fabled riches and chose methods which tarnished their own image as well as triggered an international outcry.

However, there is a growing feeling that Nepalis should not be barred from becoming Pashupatinath's priests.

"It is not mandatory to appoint Indian priests at Pashupatinath," Nepal's largest-selling daily Kantipur said in its editorial on Sunday.

"... At a time the country has abolished monarchy that was based on religious sentiments, there can be debate on the issue of whether it is necessary to continue having Indian priests."