For the first time in the history, the Travancore Devaswom (temple) recruitment board has recommended to appoint 36 non-Brahmins, including six Dalits, as priests.
The Travancore Devaswom Board came into existence in 1949 and the demand for reservation for Dalits in appointment of priests has been persisting for several decades.
Travancore Devaswom Board is an autonomous body formed as per the Travancore Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act of 1950. Sabarimala temple also has been administered by it. The second largest temple under this board is Chettikulangara temple at Mavelikkara. The Constitution of the Board was based on the covenant entered in to by the King of Travancore.
Travancore Devaswom Board president Prayar Gopalakrishnan said there was a petition pending in the high court seeking appointment of Dalit priests in Sabarimala Ayyappa temple, which is under the board. “As per the existing norms, only Brahmins can be appointed in Sabarimala. The board will go with the court’s direction in this regard,’’ he said.
“The Devaswom Board took over the temples which were under the control of the Maharaja of Travancore after independence. A board was created to administer the temples. This is an elected body. The entire temple administration setup in Kerala has been under the control of caste supremacists. They have been resisting any kind of reforms. Recently, the government created a Devaswom recruitment board which has been given the task of recruiting temple administration. This new body has decided to bring in non-Brahmins for temple rituals. Traditionally, this has been a preserve of Brahmins. There was resistance to it but the government was able to overcome it. The issue went to the court but the court upheld it. In the last few years, some non-Brahmins have come in.
“But, hardly there is any dalit. Now the new recruitment board has brought in reservation into this and they have shortlisted appointees and there are dalits also. It makes a difference in the way temples are administered. The non-Brahmins who are brought in are all trained from institutes giving training in temple rituals. They are quite capable of doing whatever the Brahmin priests are doing,” he said.
“Now, some people want to open temples to people of all faiths. The most cited case is that of renowned singer Yesudas who has been denied admission to Guruvayur temple despite the fact that his song has been played to put the Lord Ayyappa to sleep. But, recently, Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thriruvananthapuram has allowed him to offer prayers at the temple.”
He also evoked the movement by Sree Narayana Guru in Kerala who had erected a temple for Shiva in 1888. “Guru declared 100 years ago that he does not belong to any caste or religion,” he said.
Story compiled from Indian newspapers