Bhandaris to defy PADT regulation

KATHMANDU: Bhandaris (caretakers) at the Pashupatinath temple have decided to defy the new regulation of the Pashupati Area Development Trust that came into effect on Monday.

"We won't abide by the new regulation as it is against the age-old tradition," said Shiva Sharan Rajbhandari, former member secretary of the PADT. He said the PADT had not consulted them and had not addressed their 12-point demand in the regulation.

Kabindra Rajbhandari, a bhandari, said they were not against transparency. "But we are against the forceful implementation of the regulation that reduces our facilities," he said, adding, "This is against the order of the Supreme Court, which will hear the case on May 25."

Bharat Jangum, a Hindu activist, said the regulation would not be implemented as a case related to the priest is sub-judice in the Supreme Court. "No one has the right to intervene into others' religion in this secular state," he added.

The bhattas (priests) and bhandaris have been using all the offerings from the devotees for themselves. However, the new regulation has fixed salaries and other perks for them. According to the new provision, the mul bhatta (main priest) will receive a salary of Rs 21,000, daily allowance of Rs 1,000 and Rs 10,000 for transport, housing and secretariat expenses. Other bhattas will get Rs 19,000 per month and daily allowance of Rs 700. "The regulation came into effect today. The mul bhatta and some bhandaris helped us to enforce the new rule," Paramananda Shakya, member secretary of the PADT, said. He added that all the offerings received from devotees would be registered and used for development activities.

The PADT has placed five offering-boxes on the temple premises. However, not all the devotees put their offerings in the boxes.

According to the new provision, the mul bhandari (main caretaker) gets a monthly salary of Rs 100,000, while his two assistants will get Rs 25,000 each. The bhandaris' term is for a month and comes once in 12 years. Shakya said they would discuss contentious issues and settle the problems through talks. "We talked to the bhandaris today and they complained about low allowances, age limit and other issues. The talks ended inconclusively," he added.

According to the new provision, a qualified person from anywhere around the world can be appointed as mul bhatta. This opens the door to appoint Indian priests as the mul bhatta in the holy shrine.

The PADT brought the new regulation to maintain transparency in the offerings, including cash and jewelleries, collected at the Pashupatinath shrine.