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Dalit Priests in Hindu Temples – a much needed revolutionary change

Sanskrit and Vedic Universities in India have started opening the doors Hindu priesthood to all those who want to practice it. The Vedic school managed by the world famous Tirumala Tirupati Venkateswara Temple has started training Dalit priests. The much needed progressive and revolutionary change of breaking the male Brahmin monopoly of Hindu priesthood is surely happening but at a snail’s pace.

Tamil Nadu Government has set up a Hindu priest training center and has already started inducting people from all sections of Hindu society as priests in temples run by the government.

Famous temples in Bihar have started appointing of Dalit priests. In 2002, the Supreme Court of India had ruled that a person belonging to Hindu community could be appointed as priests in temples so long as they were qualified to conduct the ritual.

Times of India reports

Is India on the threshold of real change in that most regressive of monopolies, the priesthood? This has always been the domain of male Brahmins. But ‘progressive’ initiatives, launched by the TTD and the Rajasthan Sanskrit University, could potentially smash their monopoly. Will it really?

No, says sociologist Shiv Visvanathan, who takes the “social engineering” theory with a pinch of salt. Visvanathan says: “Traditionally, priests in India have been male Brahmins, with the profession being handed down the generations through oral lessons. But getting that under the umbrella of academic education may lead to a transition of priesthood from gurukul to universities. It looks progressive but how it deals with the sacredness and morality of the priesthood is to be seen.”

So far, so positive. But does this add up to real social change? How acceptable would a Dalit or female priest be to the average client? Visvanathan agrees that “it depends on the clients. Even today, there are several backward castes with their own priests who perform religious ceremonies for people of their caste. But openness about ‘professionally qualified’ priests doesn’t seem likely, more so, if the person is a Dalit or a woman”.

Change should happen in a person's heart, - the openness to accept the basic Hindu teaching that all animate and inanimate beings that is known and unknown is nothing but that Supreme Being. All issues are solved when this self realization dawns in an individual.

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