Nepal says attack on Indian priests 'most regrettable'

Nepal says attack on Indian priests 'most regrettable'

Newly appointed Indian priests are escorted by Afghan police as they leave the Pashupatinath Temple during ritual ceremonies in Kathmandu on Saturday. AFP

"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. The priests' clothes were torn and their sacred thread cut by the former rebels, who stormed the temple protesting their recent appointment.

"This is the most condemnable incident and the government assures to provide full security to the Indian priests," Rijal said. "The government will not spare any one who disrupts the temple affairs and those who were responsible for the incident will be punished."

In New Delhi, the External Affairs Ministry said the matter has been taken up with the Nepalese government and the developments surrounding yesterday's attack on the priests would be closely monitored.

"We strongly believe that this unprovoked and criminal act of violence goes against the grain of the civilisational ties of friendship that have existed since time immemorial between the peoples of Nepal and India," External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said in New Delhi.

In Bangalore, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said India is in touch with the Government of Nepal as well as the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust.

Nepalese officials said that "almost two dozen people" have been arrested in connection with the incident, including one leader of the group that beat up the priests.

The two priests, appointed by Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, entered the main Pashuptinath temple this morning after three days of rituals and initiated the regular worship or 'Nitya Puja' as per the centuries-old tradition.

Girish performed daily rituals at the Basuki temple, situated outside the Shiva Linga, while Raghavendra took part in worships at the northern gate of the temple along with three other Indian priests.

The temple opened at 4.30 am this morning amidst tight security and was closed at 6.45 am to carry out initiation procedure for the two new priests, who are well versed in 'Veda' and 'Tantra', with help of chief Priest Mahavaleshwor Bhatta, also an Indian national, for two hours. After this, they participated in the 'Nitya Puja' which started at 10.30 am and lasted for two hours, according to eye witnesses.

Soon after, Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood, accompanied by Rijal, also chair of the Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT) that looks after the temple affairs, and PADT member secretary Shushil Nahata visited the temple.

Rijal and Sood, who were at the temple for about 30 minutes to take stock of the situation, assured the chief priest and other Indian pujaris of full security and support.

Rijal spoke to the chief priest Mahabaleshwor in the temple complex and expressed regret over yesterday's incident during which the Maoists dragged the two new priests out of the temple premises and paraded them half naked before beating them up with iron rods and sticks.

"This is not the place to do politics and to cause obstruction to the age-old tradition of worshipping," the minister said. The government guarantees full protection "to ensure their honour and security," he added.

He said the government has followed all legal procedures, traditions and practices while appointing the priests.

He said that those opposing the government's decision are trying to disrupt the age-old friendly ties existing between Nepal and India.

The Minister also apologised to the devotees for the inconvenience caused to them due to the incident.

The temple authorities had stopped the general public from worshipping at the temple following the incident. However, they hoped to re-open it for the general public by Sunday as soon as the situation returns to normal.

"I am very touched as the Minister himself is taking so much interest in the security of the temple," Sood told journalists outside the temple. "The Pashupati is the holy place not only for Indians and Nepalese but also for Hindus around the world. What happened at Pashupati Temple yesterday has hurt us all."