Indian priests fear for their lives in Pashupatinath
TNN 4 September 2009, 07:27pm IST
KATHMANDU: Raghavendra Bhatt and Girish Bhatt were elated last month when they were shortlisted from a panel of several Brahmin priests in India for appointment at the famed Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu. But on Friday, 24 hours before their tenure is to start, the two priests from Karnataka are in mortal fear, urging the temple authorities to send them back to India tomorrow and provide security till the airport.
The drastic mood swing came as the pair came under an unprecedented attack within the temple premises. The Pashupatinath temple area turned into an ugly battlefield late afternoon as groups of young men waving the Maoist red flag swarmed the secret room where the two priests had been confined two days ago to fast and undertake holy vows in readiness for the puja ceremony tomorrow.
Waving iron rods and batons, the men broke open the lock on the door of the secret door, dragged the two Indians out and began thrashing them. Amidst cries of "Filthy Indians, go back home" their clothes were torn off, photographs taken in that helpless state and their upavit – the sacred thread – ripped off. As police came to intervene, the men clashed with the posse, heightening the tension that had begun simmering in the area from Sunday. Four men, said to belong to the Young Communist League, the Maoist youth wing, were reportedly arrested. However, there was no immediate official confirmation.
"It’s deplorable that such things should happen in the sacred temple," said Bharat Jangam, the man who is fighting a legal battle opposing the decision of the previous Maoist government to scrap the age-old tradition of appointing priests from southern India and employing Nepali priests instead. "Religion is being politicised in Nepal."
The row was triggered last week after the new government of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal okayed the appointment of the two news priests from India. The new appointments had become necessary after three of the five Indian priests resigned following the tumult wreaked during the Maoist government's days.
A struggle committee has been formed of two religious sects – the Sannyasis and the Dashnamis – as well as former Pashupatinth temple officials, who are demanding that Nepali priests be appointed at the 5th century shrine. Though the committee said it has no political affiliation, Friday’s attack is being attributed to the Maoists, who last year too had stormed the temple.
The tension Friday almost led to the abeyance of the ritual of the deity’s evening bath. However, after police beefed up security, the chief priest, India’s Mahabaleshwar Bhatt, finally agreed to go to the temple almost two hours after the scheduled time to perform the rite.
The Indian Embassy in Kathmandu is said to have taken note of the matter. A security officer was sent to the Pashupatineth temple to look into the incident. India's major parties have been expressing concern at the temple row, asking Nepal not to hurt the sentiments of Hindus worldwide.
Updated on Friday, September 04, 2009, 20:40 IST Tagsashupatinath, india, nepal
Kathmandu: A group of Maoists today severely thrashed two Indian priests and tore their clothes and sacred thread at Nepal's famous Pashupatinath temple, marking a violent turn to the agitation over their recent appointment.
Some 40-50 Maoists, posing as devotees, entered the fifth century Hindu shrine at around 1.30 pm and dragged out the priests -- Girish Bhatta and Raghavendra Bhatta, both aged 32, officials said. The Maoists even tore their dhoti and their sacred thread, they said. The priests were badly injured. The policemen with the help of local people rescued the duo, who were recently brought here from Karnataka by the temple authorities, said Shiva Sharan Raj Bhandari, a temple aide and part of a three-member selection committee that recommended the names of the Indian priests. The Indian Embassy swung into action as soon as the news spread and took up the matter with the law enforcement agencies and the political leadership. "Nepal government said that it will take necessary steps to ensure safety and security of the priests," External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said in New Delhi.
Four policemen were also injured as they intervened to rescue the priests. The Maoists also broke the donation box kept outside the main gate of the temple.
Police arrested two suspected attackers.
Maoists have been openly voicing their opposition to the Indian priests performing rituals at the temple. They have demanded that locals be recruited for the job and formed a 'struggle committee' to press their demands.
The incident came after Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal through a cabinet decision on Wednesday approved appointment of the Indian priests by the Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT), which is responsible for affairs of the temple.
The government last month formed a three-member selection committee headed by chief priest of the temple Mahabaleshwor Bhatta to select qualified people from South India to fill the vacant positions of priests at the temple. There are posts of five priests at the temple.
After the committee selected two priests from Karnataka, the PADT Board recommended the names and sent for the approval of the Prime Minister, who is also the patron of the temple.
The priests were undertaking religious rites before they were allowed to enter the main temple for daily worshipping, when the Maoists attacked them.
Some of those involved in the attack are the staff of the PADT and they were recruited by the previous Maoist government a few months ago, police said.
India fumes over assault on Indian priests in Nepal
PTI 5 September 2009, 01:41pm IST
BANGALORE: India on Saturday said it has taken up with Nepal the Pashupatinath temple incident in which two Indian priests were yesterday thrashed,their clothes torn and sacred thread cut by dozens of Maoists who stormed the temple protesting their recent appointment.
"We are in touch with the Government of Nepal," External Affairs Minister S K Krishna told reporters on Saturday on being asked about the incident.
Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood has taken up the matter in Kathmandu with Nepal Home Minister Bhim Bahadur Rawal and Culture Minister Sarat Singh Bhandari who assured him that steps will be taken to ensure safety of the priests.
"We are also in touch with the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust and they have enhanced the security around the temple and they have provided enough security to the priests where they stay and where they operate," Krishna said.
After the incident, Nepal government provided a personal security officer to the head priest of the temple and a platoon of armed police was deployed at the shrine.
The minister said India was aware that "there is Maoist pressure on the temple authorities to prevent the Indian priests from conducting religious ceremonies".
Some 40-50 Maoists, posing as devotees, barged into the 5th century Hindu shrine at around 1.30 pm and broke open the door of a room where the priests -- Girish Bhatta and Raghavendra Bhatta -- were preparing for daily prayers.
Maoists deny hand in attack on Pashupatinath priests
TNN 5 September 2009, 07:13pm IST
KATHMANDU: As the row over Nepal’s sacred Pashupatinath temple continued on Saturday with the governments of both India and Nepal condemning the attack on the two newly appointed Indian priests, the opposition Maoist party, blamed for the incident, denied they had any hand in it.
"Our attention has been drawn to yesterday’s incident at Pashupatinath and the ensuing propaganda by a section of the media at home and abroad about our party being involved in it," Maoist lawmaker and in-charge of the party’s foreign affairs Krishna Bahadur Mahara said in a press release on Saturday.
The former guerrilla party said it was well-known that Nepalis had been raising the demand for the appointment of Nepali priests at the shrine for a long time and that a struggle committee had been formed by the people to oppose the recent appointments.
"Our party believes in people’s right to religious freedom," the Maoist statement said. "We also respect people’s right to support or oppose any issue."
The Maoist MP said his party did not believe in interfering in religious matters or fomenting religious differences and should not be dragged into a mass struggle that was not its programme.
The statement came as the former ruling party came under fire at home and in India for the attack on the two newly appointed Indian priests Friday. With the Indian government conveying its strong concern to Nepal, Nepal’s Culture Minister Minendra Kumar Rijal and Indian ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood visited the besieged temple Saturday to stage a show of solidarity and offer a joint puja.
Girish Bhatt, 33, and Raghavendra Bhatt, 34, the two new priests from Karnataka whose appointment triggered an unprecedented attack on them inside the temple yesterday, were initiated into their official duties today despite the wild protests outside. Protesters carried banners that said "Down with Indian expansionism" and demanded the appointment of Nepali priests.
Police arrested 30 protesters from the Pashupatinath area after Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal himself pledged tough action against the attackers. "The government is stunned by the uncivilized barbaric attack," Rijal told the media. "It is an attempt to mar the age-old harmonious relations between India and Nepal. We share the same culture, religion and tradition and Nepali priests perform the puja at the Jagannath temple in Puri and other Indian temples."
The Indian envoy said that religion and nationalism should be kept separate. "God doesn’t belong to any country," he said. "Religion has brought Nepal and India together. We will be able to keep the relationship alive at Pashupatinath and other places."
In India, Nepali priests are appointed at the shrines of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Kashi and several temples in Karnataka.
However, the whole imbroglio was condemned by Bidur Bhatt, whose Nepal Sannyasi Samaj had been the first organisation to seek the appointment of Nepali priests at Pashupatinath. "The Maoists have hijacked our movement," Bhatt said. "We had raised the demand 16 years ago."
The Sannyasis – travelling mendicants who are found at all Shiva temples – call themselves the sons of the Hindu god. The Sannyasis have no caste and in many Shiva temples in Nepal, the priests belong to the Sannyasi sect.
Kathmandu: 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.
Nepal 'regrets' attack on Indian priests by Maoists
STAFF WRITER 15:22 HRS IST
Shirish B Pradhan
Kathmandu/New Delhi, Sep 5 (PTI) With India condemning as "unprovoked and criminal act" the attack on its two priests by Maoists at the Pashupatinath temple, Nepal today described the incident as "most regrettable" and stepped up security for the pujaris as about 24 people were arrested in connection with the assault.
"This is very sad and most regrettable to attack Indian priests inside the holy temple, which is not only the centre of faith for millions of Nepalese and Indians, but also for Hindus across the world," Nepal's Culture Minister Minendra Rijal said.
His remarks came a day after the priests Girish Bhatta and Raghavendra Bhatta, both 32 and hailing from Hassan district of Karnataka, were severely thrashed by some 40-50 Maoists, who entered the shrine posing as devotees.
Attack on priests criminal: India
TNN 6 September 2009, 01:52am IST
BANGALORE/ NEW DELHI/ KATHMANDU: India on Saturday described the attack on priests in Nepal’s Pashupatinath temple as an unprovoked and criminal act of violence that goes against ‘‘the grain of the civilisational ties of friendship that have existed since time immemorial between the peoples of Nepal and India’’.
Foreign minister S M Krishna said India has already done enough to ensure the safety and security of the two Karnataka-based priests. ‘‘Nepal is a sovereign country and we have had traditionally good relationships with Nepal. I am sure they will do enough to ensure such incidents don’t recur,’’ Krishna said.
‘‘India shares historical bond with Nepal, in Kashi priests from Nepal perform the pujas and in Pashupatinath it is the Indian priests. It is a tradition being followed from centuries. So I think there should no problem between us,’’ Krishna said.
He said he was aware ofMaoist pressure on temple authorities to prevent Indian priests from conducting religious ceremonies and Nepal government had no role in it.
In New Delhi, the external affairs ministry said, ‘‘The matter was immediately taken up through our embassy in Kathmandu at the highest levels in the government of Nepal and our concerns conveyed. The safety and security of Indian citizens abroad is an abiding and core concern of the government of India and we continue to closely monitor the situation surrounding the unfortunate incident in Kathmandu,’’ said official sokesperson Vishnu Prakash.
India’s ambassador took up the matter immediately at the political level and the police authorities were also contacted. A team from the embassy in Kathmandu visited the Pashupatinath Temple to reassure the Indian priests. ‘‘We understand that the Nepalese authorities have apprehended over 25 persons in connection with this incident, including the ring leader,’’ said Prakash.
Culture minister Minendra Kumar Rijal and Indian ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood offered puja at the temple on Saturday morning when it was kept closed to other visitors for fear of a fresh attack on the newly-appointed priests.
The Nepal PM vowed tough action against the attackers. ‘‘The government is stunned by the uncivilised, barbaric attack,’’ Rijal said. ‘‘It’s an attempt to damage the age-old harmonious relations between India and Nepal.’’
After the attacks on two Indian priests by Maoists, the chief priest of Pashupatinath temple on Saturday said he and his four colleagues were ready to return to India rather than face 'humiliation'.
“The newly appointed Indian priests are not refugees taking shelter at the temple, we have brought them from Karnataka, after fulfilling all the criteria and following due process as per the Act and following centuries old tradition”, chief priest Mahabaleshwor Bairy said.
“The temple’s accounts were also made transparent and they (the priests) are ready to cooperate in the matter”, Nepal’s Minister for Culture Minendra Rijal said. “The priests told the government that if Nepalese did not want Indian priests at the holy shrine, he and the four other Indian priests appointed there were ready to return home rather than being insulted,” Rijal added.
NEW DELHI: Even as the Nepal government assured protection to Indian priests at Pashupatinath temple, there is a strong China connection emerging Protesters chant slogans against the appointment of two new Indian priests to the Pashupatinath Temple. Highly placed sources close to the investigations in Nepal told TIMES NOW on Sunday that the Maoists, who attacked the Indian priests, were Chinese sympathisers. The source has also added that the Maoists are working to a plan to try and supplant India with China to further their own political ends. The Maoists are also stoking anti-India sentiments in Nepal so that China can step in and take advantage of the situation, added sources. This is incidentally happening in the backdrop of China trying to sign a number of key agreements of the type India enjoys with Nepal.
The source has also added that the Maoists are working to a plan to try and supplant India with China to further their own political ends. The Maoists are also stoking anti-India sentiments in Nepal so that China can step in and take advantage of the situation, added sources. This is incidentally happening in the backdrop of China trying to sign a number of key agreements of the type India enjoys with Nepal.
This comes after two newly-appointed Indian priests at the famous Pashupatinath temple in the Nepalese capital were on Friday (September 4) beaten up by a group of Maoists, who entered the shrine pretending to be worshippers. A group of 25 to 30 Maoists went inside the temple pretending to be worshippers and beat up the two new Indian priests from Karnataka -- Girish Bhatta and Raghamendra Bhatta.
Maoists have been openly voicing their opposition to the Indian priests performing rituals at the temple. They have demanded that locals be recruited for the job. Activists of the Maoist affiliated 'Struggle Committee', formed to appoint Nepalese priests at Pashupatinath, had threatened to launch an agitation if the Indian priests were appointed.
Some 300 Maoists had stormed the building of the temple's managing committee and locked its main office on August 30 in a bid to foil the recruitment of the new Indian priests.
Updated on Sunday, September 06, 2009, 20:04 IST Tagsashupatinath, Maoists
Kathmandu: As the famous Pashupatinath Temple re-opened on Sunday for devotees after a two-day gap amid tight security, Maoists blocked roads adjoining the 5th century Hindu shrine and shouted slogans against the Nepalese government for appointing Indian priests.
The former rebels protested the government's action of appointing Indian priests to perform puja at the shrine and demanded that they be removed from the post and Nepalese should be appointed in their places through "open competition."
The Maoists also held a meeting in which the Struggle Committee Chief Rishi Sharma and Maoist-appointed chief of the Pashupati Area Development Trust Parmananda Shakya demanded that an independent selection committee be formed to appoint qualified priests by calling applications.
The UNESCO-listed temple, which was closed temporarily on Friday after two Indian priests were trashed by Maoists, opened its doors for the public at 4.00 am as hundreds of worshippers queued up to offer prayers at the temple.
The Indian priests, Girish Bhatta and Raghavendra Bhatta, both 32 and hailing from Karnataka, were assaulted, their clothes torn and their sacred thread cut by a group of 40-50 Maoists, who stormed the temple on Friday protesting their recent appointment.
Security guards checked each and every devotee today to prevent any Maoist infiltration into the temple again.
"The temple has been opened and people are allowed to worship at the shrine," said Shushil Nahata, Member Secretary of the Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT) that looks after the temple affairs.
"The situation is calm now and there are no demonstrations," he said to a news agency.
Meanwhile, Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahar claimed that their cadres were not involved in Friday's incident.
"They are the local people, who beat up the priests and the blame has been put on Maoists," he claimed.
Nahata said the office of the Pashupati Area Development Trust is being re-opened by breaking the locks put by the Maoists.
"We are breaking the locks put by the Maoists last week to start the office work," he added.
He dismissed reports in some section of the media that the two new priests wanted to return home.
"This is totally false and baseless news report," he said adding the Indian priests are discharging their duties at the temple. "We will provide security to them," he added.
Meanwhile, Nepalese Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala today termed the attack as a "deplorable act" and warned that such incidents could hurt the age-old friendly relations between India and Nepal.
Indian government had condemned the attack on the two priests as an "unprovoked and criminal" act.
Kathmandu, Sep 7 (PTI) Nepal today dismissed suggestions of any Chinese "connection" behind the recent Maoist attack on two Indian priests of the Pashupatinath temple.
Deploring the incident that took place at the temple premises on Friday, Nepal Culture Minister Minindra Rijal told an Indian private news channel that "It's very clear that they (Maoists) are involved."
However, when asked about suggestions of a "Chinese angle" and reports that pro-China Maoists were behind the attack, he said inventing "conspiracy theory" is not going to help the government.
"As an independent Nepali citizen some might be little more sympathetic to China, some might be little more sympathetic to India...being sympathetic does not mean you are part of a Chinese conspiracy," he said.