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1 more Indian priest quits Pashupatinath

The controversy over the ouster of three Indian priests from Nepal's Pashupatinath temple, one of the holiest shrines of Hindus worldwide, deepened on Sunday.

world Updated: Jan 04, 2009 20:48 IST

As the controversy over the ouster of three Indian priests from Nepal's Pashupatinath temple, one of the holiest shrines of billions of Hindus worldwide, deepened on Sunday, a fourth Indian priest handed over his resignation while temple authorities engaged two more Nepali priests in violation of a court order.

Ganesh Bhatt, one of the two remaining Indian priests at the 17th century temple, quit reportedly fearing for his safety.

Narottam Vaidya, a former official of the trust that administers the shrine, told IANS that Bhatt had been receiving threats and feared for his life.

Vaidya, who is among the three groups of people who have moved Nepal's Supreme Court asking it to strike down the "illegal" new appointments of two Nepali priests, also predicted that the remaining Indian priest would also quit.

"At present the fifth Indian priest is on leave," Vaidya said. "He has gone home in south India for 35 days."

Gopal Kiranti, the Maoist minister for culture and state restructuring, confirmed that Bhatt had left but rejected the allegation that the Young Communist League (YCL), the strong arm of the Maoists, had intimidated the Indians into leaving.

"It's a question of giving a dog a bad name and hanging it," he said. "People are laying every crime at the door of the YCL."

The Maoist leader said that the resignation of the Indians had been accepted and there was no question of reinstating them.

As if in confirmation, the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust that manages the shrine Sunday announced it had appointed two more junior Nepali priests to assist the newly appointed two Nepali senior priests.

The appointments come on the very day the trust as well as the Prime Minister's Office and Kiranti received a stay order from Nepal's Supreme Court, asking them not to appoint new priests and to allow the old ones to continue till the dispute was resolved.

Kiranti said his office would reply to the Supreme Court, defending the appointments of Nepalis in the place of the Indians, a move that broke away from a nearly 300-year-old tradition.

"We need a new Pashupati in a new Nepal," he said.

Asked if the Maoist government, which sees religion as the opium of masses, would now also try to intervene in the running of two other hallowed shrines in Nepal - the Swayambhunath and Bouddhanath temples worshipped by Buddhists and Jains, Kiranti said that the will of the Nepali people would be obeyed.

First Published: Jan 04, 2009 19:17 IST