Hinduism effectively state religion in 'secular' Nepal

Kathmandu, Nepal - A year after Nepal's parliament officially declared the country -- once the world's only Hindu kingdom -- secular, Hinduism effectively remains the state religion with the declaration being mere lip service to appease protesters.

Despite being one of the poorest countries in the world where villages still don't have roads, electricity and running water, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's government spent more than Nepali Rs.10 million during the 10-day Dashain festival alone, considered the kingdom's biggest Hindu ceremony.

Media reports Saturday said that the Guthi Sansthan, a state trust overseeing Hindu religious festivals, had spent the money on Dashain rituals, including a whopping number of animal sacrifices that have been triggering protests from animal rights organisations.

On Thursday alone, the trust had funded the slaughter of 108 goats and an equal number of buffaloes at a major temple in the capital, at a cost of over Rs.1.5 million.

The state is spending over Rs.50 million annually on Hindu rituals, including slaughter of birds and animals.

Instead of trying to slash the expenditure, the 'secular' government encouraged it with the prime minister attending all key Hindu festivals this year in an apparent rivalry with King Gyanendra.

Even on Friday, Koirala -- in his new position as head of state -- attended the conclusion of Dashain rites in Bhaktapur town's Navadurga Bhavani temple, triggering opposition from royalists.

The prime minister was shown black flags with protesters shouting slogans, asking him to leave the country. In an unprecedented incident, his motorcade was stoned, injuring a policeman.

Though facing a series of crises, the Koirala government sanctioned a 10-day state holiday for Dashain with all ministries, government offices and even banks, shops and markets remaining closed.

On the other hand, the government ignored the Muslims' call for a national holiday on the occasion of Id-ul-Fitr with the prime minister not even issuing greetings to the community.

Though the government chose to declare itself secular in a bid to curb the influence of King Gyanendra -- whose dynasty was unquestioningly revered by traditional Hindus in the past in the belief the king was the incarnation of a Hindu god -- it failed to implement the decision once it had axed the king's privileges.

Indeed, now with a leadership tussle intensifying between the Maoists and Koirala, the premier is increasingly turning to Hindu rites to project himself as an alternative to the king and the communist rebels.