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In a U-turn,the government led by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) decided on Wednesday to legalise a centuries-old practice that only permits Shaivite Dravidian Brahmins to be priests at the revered Pashupatinath temple.
The new law that will come into force from April 8 says that those eligible to be appointed as priests,called Bhatts,have to belong to the Dravid Shaivite Brahman community from the Trilinga area a territory that comprises parts of Karnataka,Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
The first government led by UCPN-M chief Prachanda had appointed a Nepali Brahmin as the head priest of the temple in July 2008 and again in December the same year. This led to massive protests by the Hindu community because of which prayers had to be stalled the first in recorded history of the Pashupatinath temple. Incidentally,Minister of Culture Gopal Kiranti, who brought about the new law,had earlier led the campaign to remove Indian priests.
Official sources said the current law also aims to manage donations at the temple and use them for the social and religious development of the country.
From now on,Indian priests and Bhandaris an extended Nepali clan who have enjoyed a monopoly over managing temple property and assisting priests will be entitled to a regular salary. However,any donations to the temple will be deposited with the Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT),an administrative body that late King Birendra set up around 27 years ago to make temple administration more transparent and accountable.
The law requires that for a Trilanga Dravid Brahmin to be considered for the post of a priest,he must be Shaivite,have a Bachelors degree in Sanskrit with specialisation in the Vedas,theology or tantra. Besides this,he has to be a Hindu by birth and has to be born to Brahmin parents married as per vedic rituals.