04/11/2012, 00.00
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Maoist government gains control of iconic Pashupatinath Hindu temple

by Kalpit Parajuli
After almost 1000 years, management of one of the holiest Hindu temples goes to the civil authority. Priests and vendors salaried by ministry. The measure is to prevent corruption among the temple authorities.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - The management of the Pashupatinath temple has passed to civil authority, after almost 1000 years. As of April 8 priests (bhattas) and shopkeepers (bhandaris) are employees of the Ministry of Culture. The salary for the highest office is about 3 thousand Euros per month. The government must also collect the million dollar of offerings left by pilgrims. The measure aims to prevent corruption among the staff and any waste of the believers' donations.

Narottam Baidhaya, treasurer of the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust (PADT), says that the temple collects an average of 45 thousand Euros per month in contributions to which are added vessels of gold and silver. In addition each believer is charged a puja, or special fee for services, and upkeep of the sacred place. The expenditure for salaries and maintenance of the premises amounts to about 25 thousand Euros per month. The official points out that the revenue triples during major Hindu festivals: Teej, Balachaturdashi and Mahashivaratri.

Since its founding in the eleventh century, the temple has been self-managed and has always refused the interference of civil authority. To date, Pashupatinath was administered by five bhattas, including the Mul Bhatta (high priest) and 101 bhandaris. According to tradition, they have full authority over the collection of offerings. However, the temple authorities have never stated the exact amount of donations.

In recent months, the Supreme Court urged the government to regulate the receipts and expenditures of the temple, following a number of allegations of corruption against bhattas and bhandaris. On 21 March the Maoist government announced the transfer of the economic management of the Unesco site to a the civil authority.

The government decision sparked protests from the PADT and Hindu activists, who consider the act as a misappropriation by the executive led by secular Maoists. Already in 2008, the then Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda, had attempted to interfere with the activities of the temple by prohibiting the appointment of Indian priests under the new pro-Chinese policy in the country. To test the sincerity of the religious PADT allowed a television crew to film the process of collection and submission of bids.

Gopal Kirati, Minister of Culture emphasizes that the PADT has grown disproportionately and become difficult to control. He explains that in this moment of crisis, "there is need for transparency. Every Hindu should be proud of this decision."


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