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First Non-Brahmin Priest in Tamil Nadu – Breaking Barriers

non-Brahmin priest

As the caste system goes in India, only Brahmins are allowed to perform the rituals, and prayers in the temple. A Brahmin is considered to be the top most caste among all, for he is learned and a devotee of God. In fact, many consider him close to God. Hence, he performs the rituals and reverence to the God, on behalf of the people. However, this norm appears to change now, in the age where we talk about equality and parity. We have the first non-Brahmin priest in Tamil Nadu now, to execute all devotional rituals, prayers, etc. Karunanidhi’s 2006 reform is finally fulfilled.

The apex court had issued an order in 2015, allowing the all the caste members to become priests in the public temples of the state. This landmark reformation traces its history back to 1970, when the then CM of Tamil Nadu, M Karunanidhi had issued an order to “remove the thorn in the heart” of Periyar, social reformer. This order paved the way clear for the members of all the castes so they can turn out to be priests in the public temples. This order plays an important role in the Dravidian culture and movement, so did in Periyar’s point of view, who considered it to be one of the aims of the movement.

In 2006, when Karunidhi came to power, he issued a similar order again, which like the previous one was challenged in the apex court. However, this time SC didn’t refuse, and gave a verdict during its final ruling in December, 2015, that the appointments are to be made according to the Agamas, adhering to the fundamental rights (at the same time, ensuring that they are not breached). The Agamas are known to be the doctrines that govern temple worship. Hence, ushered in the revolution of hiring a non-Brahmin priest.

This order resulted in the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government appointing  the first non-Brahmin priest of a public temple (governed by the Agamas) on 1st March. He is trained. He was among 206 men, who was trained in the government centers of training that were established in 2007, following the 2006 order. All of them underwent training for one year, to become “archakas” in the temple, after which they were awarded with certificates.

This non-Brahmin priest saw an advertisement that invited applications. “I attended the interview and was given the appointment.” Three more candidates attended the interview with him, but they were rejected for lacking government-issued certificates. Head of the Tamil Nadu Trained Archakas Association, V Renganathan said, “Since the judgement in 2015, the government has not done anything to give appointments to the 206 trained priests.”

Along with other opposition parties in TN, Karunanidhi’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has been urging the government to fill up the vacancies across the temples with all the 206 trained priests. However, the government has chosen to remain silent on this demand, so far. On this side, the chosen and appointed non-Brahmin priest has requested to keep his name concealed so to avoid any thrash or backlash. Let’s see how this system works efficiently, with security (breaking many barriers) and until when.