05/22/2015, 00.00
NEPAL
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Amid crumbled temples, Nepal’s Hindu holy men are out of a job

by Christopher Sharma
Because of the earthquake, the mostly Indian pilgrims who crowded Nepal’s Hindu temples are now staying away. the collapse of hundreds of temples has also left hundreds of holy men unemployed. Beggars too are without patrons, forced to go to aid centres for help.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – More than a hundred Hindu temples collapsed in the Kathmandu Valley during the tragic earthquake that struck the country on 25 April. This has left scores of Hindu religious officials without their livelihood. The same is true for beggars who used to crowd temple entrances, and are now forced to gather recycled materials to survive.

The Kathmandu Valley is known for its hundreds of temples, visited each year by millions of devotees. More than a thousand holy men were employed to bless the faithful and place the ‘tika’ or ‘tilaka’, the typical red mark, on people’s forehead.

However, the earthquake dramatically changed everything, since hundreds of old and dilapidated temples collapsed because of the violent shock – along with 90 per cent of the buildings and 55 per cent of the country's prisons. Because of for fear of new tremors, worshippers no longer visit even the religious sites that survived the quake.

"We had a lot of work before the earthquake,” said Ganesh Bhatta, a holy man from Pashupatinah temple, one of the few left standing in the capital, who spoke to AsiaNews.

“Every day, thousands of people came to Pashupatinah temple to pay tribute to the gods. But now almost all the temples are deserted, except for cremating bodies. We are all out of work, and will be so until the end of the emergency."

He noted that most visitors used to be from India, but as a result of the earthquake pilgrimages from that country have stopped. The net result is that Nepali Hindus are paying dearly for the quake.

Anil Maharjan, an assistant to the Bangalamukhi temple, in Lalitpur, agrees. "My temple suffered only little damage, but visitors are rare. Our work has decreased, but at least the temple is standing. The holy men from collapsed temples have nothing to do, and sleep all the time."

The earthquake hit the poor especially hard. Usually they got together to beg just outsides holy places, but now that is no longer possible.

“I have been begging at the Pashupatinah temple for 15 years,” said one of them, Rina, a 50-year-old woman. “This is hardest time because no one is coming to the temple to pray, and we cannot collect any alms."

"In this area, there are usually 300-400 beggars,” she noted. “Since they are not getting their daily bread, most have gone to the aid stations. Some went to get an aid package, but I am too old and cannot be in a crowd. I beg all day and in the evening, I go to the field shelters."

"Some donors, Christian and others, as well as charities are handing out food to earthquake victims in the field shelters,” she explained.

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