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A Revolutionary Change: Dalit Hindu Temple Priests in Tamil Nadu Temples

The present Tamil Nadu government had made a law in May 2006 that provided all Hindus, whatever their caste, to become priests and conduct temple rituals if they are ‘qualified.’ To educate Hindus in becoming priests the government had setup six priest-training institutes. The first batch of students from the training institutes will be ready to adorn the role of Hindu priests from June 2008.

To train Hindu priests, the government had setup two Vaishnava and four Shaiva priest-training institutes. The Vaishnava Archaka Training Institutes are housed at the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam and the Parthasarathy Swami Temple in Chennai. The four Shaiva institutes are at Tiruvannamalai, Madurai, Palani and Tiruchendur. The centers are run by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department of the Tamil Nadu State Government.

The students are trained in all methods of temple worship and rituals and the year-long certificate course is known as 'Agama Sastras' (priesthood studies).

The first batch of 207 students will graduate in June to become eligible for jobs at the state’s about 36,000 government-run temples. These students include 76 BCs, 55 MBCs and 34 Dalits, the state’s Hindu religious and charitable endowments minister, whose department manages these temples. They have all been trained in the agamas (prescribed methods of temple worship and rituals), said today. (The Telegraph Calcutta)

By tradition only Brahmins could become priests in Hindu temples. But Supreme Court of India had in 2002 ruled that any person who has the knowledge of temple rituals can become priests.

Hope other state governments in India will be inspired by this revolutionary step taken by the Tamil Nadu government.

It is true that no government can change the mindset of a section of Hindu society, which still wants to keep a section of Hindus out of temples, especially Dalits. Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads and teachings of great seers could not change their mindset. But such path breaking decisions by a democratically elected government will help in giving some justice to a section of Hindu society that has suffered a lot.